Are You Creating Bobbleheads?

If you want your own Dwight Schrute bobblehead, you can find them at

Have you ever been in a conversation where it looks like everyone has bobblehead syndrome? They nod, giving you the impression they are completely in agreement with what you are saying – except that they haven’t thought about it at all. They are just agreeing automatically.

Yet some executives create this culture in their organizations. Whenever they speak in an authoritative fashion, they see everyone bobbing their heads in agreement without a thought, without speaking up and identifying potential problems, and without considering methods to take a good idea and make it great.

The executive walks out of the meeting like a hero, feeling that everyone is in step and will execute the plan perfectly. But disaster is waiting to happen.

Even the greatest visionaries need to do more than put together a vision, strategy and execution steps. They also need to create a neutral, safe environment for collecting the team’s thinking. It is their active participation – their emotional engagement – that can be the difference between a failed initiative and success.

The need for a culture of open communication

When employees don’t have the opportunity to provide thoughtful feedback, they treat communication as marching orders to follow without question. As a result, the staff will find it difficult to execute the plan since the executive didn’t take steps to gain true buy-in or promote open, honest communication.

Creating a culture of open communication means involving employees in the business early in specific initiatives. This helps gain support and compels employees to feel like they have a stake in its success.

For starters, implement a process to collect feedback from employees at least twice a year to find out what they’re thinking. Make this process about them, about the company, about getting information on what they think is important and what they think is working. (Our Sales Baseline, as well as our other Baseline assessments, provides a great methodology to do this, but there are other inexpensive tools you can use too.)

Improving execution success rate

In “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” author Larry Bossidy advises testing to make sure the organization can execute. Too often, organizations fail not for lack of strategy or planning but because they’re not prepared with the resources to achieve the goals. When companies assess employees’ ability to execute a plan, they’ll have a better chance of knowing whether the plan will sink or swim.

The success rate is always higher when you take the time to go through the exercise of giving your employees a chance to add their perspective, and identify potential problems they recognize.

This means there may come a time when the roll-out plan has to be postponed to prepare the team, address ancillary supporting issues or wait for a better market window to emerge. This can mean enjoying a superior result in a few months versus a mediocre result forced through by strength of personality.

Gaining employee support

Yes, senior executives have a lot of experience on what works and doesn’t work. However, no one can think of everything and middle management and staff associates fill that gap. Given that execution will succeed or fail largely due to their efforts, engage them early!

Here are four steps to gain that support:

  1. Involve people early. Wait too long and it’ll be harder to fix the problems that could’ve been caught earlier.
  2. Tell them what’s in it for them and the company. How does this project affect them? What will it do or improve? Why do we need to do this? What’s the cost of not doing it?
  3. Identify person responsible for project. The executive isn’t always the one who is responsible for overseeing the project. Decide who owns the project and communicate this to employees so they know whom to talk to when they need to communicate or ask questions.
  4. Determine how long it will take. When everyone knows the schedule for the plan, they work to meet the deadlines. Again, it’s better to miss a deadline and get it right than to complete it on time with marginal results.

A bobblehead collection can make a great talking piece and add personality to an office or a room. But they’re not something executives want in their staff. Smart, well-executed ideas come from teams where everyone has a say without fear of backlash.

That’s what I think – what do you think?

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