Seth Godin has some useful things to say about this. Here’s a great example from his latest book, Tribes:
“Sternin went to Vietnam to try to help starving children. Rather than importing tactics he knew would work, or outside techniques that he was sure could make a difference, he sought out the few families who weren’t starving, the few moms who weren’t just getting by but were thriving. And then he made it easy for these mothers to share their insights with the rest of the group.”
Godin goes on to quote Jerry Sternin:
“The traditional model for social and organizational change doesn’t work. It never has. You can’t bring permanent solutions in from outside.”
This is powerful stuff. This tells us we need to think and act differently than we have been. The old model, as Sternin points out, has been to look outward for the big solutions. So we hire consultants to come in and tell us how to do things better. And sometimes that works fine.
But mostly it will not. Here’s why.
Unless your organization is completely dysfunctional, you already have most of the solutions you need. They exist in the knowledge, creativity and experience of your management, your employees and your customers. These people know your company best. Put them all together and nobody has more insight into how your company works.
The key is to engage all three of these groups so they want to find and implement solutions. I call this “getting everyone involved”. To do this you need to create a persistent and transparent flow of information between these three groups.
This enables you, as a manager or leader, to dive deep into the most valuable asset your organization has: your employees and customers. Find out what your customers want from you. Figure out how to deliver that in a way that is sustainable and meets your goals. And ask your employees and customers to help you deliver on that promise.
It’s okay to get help from the outside. You need to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. And bringing in new ideas from the outside can be healthy. Otherwise you risk becoming stagnant and inbred.
But don’t expect complete solutions from the outside. Don’t look outside for every detail on how to implement your plans. Just because a specific model or plan worked in one company does not mean it will work for yours. Because your company is different.
The key is to take in the best ideas and from them synthesize a solution that will be most effective for only one company: yours. And you need to do this with your people: you employees, your managers and your customers.