You Had Me Before Hello

 

When considering the guest experience, we typically think about the interaction between the guest and staff, and we hold the employee fully responsible for the success or failure of the experience. In the brick-and-mortar business, this person could be the retail associate on the floor, the associate behind the counter, the host at the restaurant door, and the server at the table. In tasting rooms, it is the person pouring the wine that we credit with the success of the guest experience.

But the guest’s first impression begins long before their first greeting. Their subconscious takes inventory of their surroundings from the moment they enter the property, and without knowing it, they form opinions of the brand. Smart organizations create design strategies that thoughtfully develop an identity. Their attention to details exemplifies their values and standards and defines their market.

While recently visiting a restaurant for a lunch date, I drove into the parking lot and cringed as my front bumper scraped the pavement. I searched for directional signs, pointing me to the area designated for restaurant patrons. The lot was shared with medical offices and banks, and I worried that I would get ticketed, or worse, towed. With no direction, I warily parked and hoped for the best.

I felt more unease as I stepped into the restaurant. I looked for a host stand. There was none, so I scanned the restaurant until I finally made eye contact with the server. At this point, I hadn’t yet been greeted, and I had cringed, worried, searched and felt unwelcome. It would now be up to the server and the talent of the cook to shift my experience into a positive one.

According to BBC Future, the hippocampal portion of our brains are finely attuned to the geometry and arrangements of the spaces we inhabit. Every detail of the exterior and interior expresses volumes about the brand. Bright exterior lights exude a feeling of safety, while dim lights can create anxiety. Chipped pavement conveys low quality, while pristine, clean concrete transmits a message of care and pride. In addition to visual cues, sound also makes a profound impact on us. Have you ever dined in a restaurant where the music was too loud to engage in a conversation? Has there been a time when you hoped for a relaxing shopping experience, and left a store because of the grating music? The feelings that result from these elements, and the perceptions that are formed, for an impression about the brand.

There are countless design decisions that will impact the guest. For example, the placement of customer service stations should be handled thoughtfully. Host stands angled directly toward the door allow the staff to view incoming guests, but when hosts position themselves solely behind their station, they create a barrier, sending conflicting messages to the guest. POS stations facing walls break the continuum of customer care, forcing the employee to turn their back on their guest during the most uncomfortable part of the transaction for the guest– the exchange of money. At the time when they should be receiving the best care, guests are momentarily abandoned.

Thoughtful design elements translate to the digital world, too. A clunky, hard-to-navigate website will make a customer feel as lost as if they were wandering through a vast store without signs. Web stores that offer irrelevant descriptions, or take too many steps to get to the checkout, will result in abandoned carts. In contrast, attractive, time-efficient web stores result in sales and loyal customers.

Businesses have endless ways to create positive experiences through design. Handled thoughtfully, they can create brand fans before their first hello.

Engage Through Change

“What’s happened here?” a manager of a client recently asked. “We used to be so agile, and now we have to wait months to get a request for a new project approved.”

“You grew,” I answered.

I thought how human development and organizational development are remarkably similar. Early childhood growth is marked by easily identifiable milestones. A crawl turns into a walk. A walk transforms into confidence and balance, and sprinting soon follows. Speech develops, as do cognitive skills. Internal systems of processing make sense of the world, and meaningful interactions develop. It’s the time of invention, risk taking and hopefully, adaptability.

In their early days, businesses rely on exploration and experimentation. They are clumsy at best, yet their can-do spirit is unflappable. They take pride in the “let’s figure it out” mentality.  Going through this messy process is the only way to discover the true personality of a company. This stage of the business attracts talent that loves to shoot from the hip, and follows the fire, aim, ready approach to growth. It is usually a forgiving environment, too. “Well, we gave it a try,” is often the casual statement to a failed project, before the team brushes off their elbows and attempts their next idea.

Like a small plane whose engine sputters before it whirs, a successful business will be bumpy before it catches and soars. Left to their own devices, employees will struggle to navigate through change. The excitement that fueled the “Will it fly?” question, needs to be replaced with a new question to move your staff to the next phase of growth, and you’ll happily grow the company together toward a new target.   Without declared direction, the starting team can be left on the runway, bewildered and lost, wondering, “What now?”

When a company graduates from its early development years to maturity, the very employees that launched it can feel left behind and become disengaged unless a new vision is declared. You’ll know you’re succeeding in communicating through growth if your employee turnover is low. You’ll know you’re failing if you’re constantly looking at empty desks and new faces.

According to Towers Watson’s 10th annual Change and Communication ROI Study, companies that are effective in change management and communication are three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers that are not as effective. Yet, they found that the emphasis companies had on managing change was minimal. While about nine out of 10 organizations provide management training to communicate change, only 22% report they do so effectively. Only 43% of organizations report that their HR and communication teams have a long-term plan to support their employee value proposition.

In any organization, all eyes go to the top when looking for direction. The CEO represents strength, wisdom and knowledge. When the message comes from the uppermost leadership, it is trusted. The executive team must also give clear direction, setting the compass supported by a sense of purpose. Unity is vital, and enthusiasm is non-negotiable. When the senior leadership is aligned, and more layers are involved, it is easy for employees to follow, and no talent will be left behind.

There are many ways to communicate the strategy and purpose of growth to staff:

  • Hold a company meeting and unveil the new strategy, with excitement. The presentation will be memorable and become a compass for the organization. Make it an annual meeting to refuel enthusiasm.
  • Repeat the message in company newsletters
  • Write a State of the Company message in a company-wide email
  • Discuss the vision for the company in the executive team meetings, with a plan in place for each layer of management to share it with their teams
  • Include the message in all employee trainings

Communication is key. Engage your team, and you will happily grow the company together.

 

 

 

 

Internal Hospitality

“What exactly is ‘hospitality?” I asked my former college roommate.  She had completed her degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management twenty years earlier, and I remembered she had had a course in hospitality.

“I’m interviewing for a Vice President of Hospitality role, and I wanted your take on the definition.”

“It’s really simple,” she said. “Hospitality is welcoming people. It is having a generous spirit.”

It was a pivotal moment.  I realized I had been living and working in hospitality all my life. It was my essence. I just hadn’t known how to label it.

From my first job as a busgirl at a local steakhouse, to my many retail jobs, to sales and management roles, treating customers with genuine kindness had come naturally to me. Hospitality pros have keen awareness from the customers points of view, and they can’t help but notice standards of hospitality wherever they go – noting tone of voice, eye contact, and gestures of baristas, clerks, waiters, and bank tellers.  They are aware of how they are made to feel, because Hospitality is the business of feelings.

True hospitality comes from a pure heart, and it is non-discriminating. I was recently working with a client that employs a superstar salesperson. He cares for his guests, offering them his knowledge, passion, and warmth. Yet, with his coworkers, he can be gruff and dismissive. The cost of his sales success is the diminished productivity of his coworkers.

Service industries seek professionals to represent their brands in a positive manner. Having a staff that genuinely cares about their customers is a necessity for a sustainable business. No matter what the industry, all organizations are in the business of hospitality. Accountants have clients, chefs have vendors, and artists have suppliers. Success in businesses happen through successful relationships. And relationships within the company are even more important that customer relationships.

Creating a culture of internal hospitality, where employees treat one another with the same consideration they treat their customers, can be powerful. In 2013, scientists gathered at Stanford University at a “Kindness and Compassion” conference, sponsored by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Olivia O’Neill, who studied the effects of companionate love in the workplace, facilitated a panel of psychologists and organizational scholars. They shared that when employees get burned out, they’re not capable of feeling caring or compassionate. And if leaders feel stressed, it is a contagion to their staff. A culture of kindness can make a significant difference to the company. Skewing to the compassionate reduces turnover, absenteeism, and makes recruiting easier. Happier employees make for happier customers.

A culture of internal hospitality is created with intention, and occurs in the small moments. Leaders set the tone for the culture, and making a shift to internal hospitality can be simple.  The Ritz Carlton has gratitude cards that staff give to one another, and are presented at daily line ups. As a leader, there are many things you can do to shift your culture to a climate of hospitality:

        Say thank you. Praise the specifics.

        Write an email with only one message:  to congratulate and show appreciation.

        Refrain from negative talk.

        Give the benefit of the doubt for shortfalls and offer support.

        Publicly acknowledge acts of kindness at employee gatherings.

        Extend your hospitality beyond your people to other departments.

According to a Glassdoor study in 2016,  the primary reason people stay in their jobs is workplace culture. Nurture a culture of care, and you will lower turnover and increase productivity.  When you create a culture where your employee care for each other, it will organically extend to your customers.

 

 

Taking the Helm with Heart

I was recently talking with the staff of a major retailer, trying to solve their problem of low membership for credit card applications. One part-time staff member summarized his experience.

“Basically,” he said, “my job is to sell the company’s credit card to customers. That’s my whole measure of success. If I reach my quota, I get to stay on the first floor. If I don’t reach my quota, I’m banished to the third floor.”

“What’s on the third floor?”

“Home fashion. And about three customers a day.”

“What do you do there? With no customers to sell to, do you straighten the merchandise? Learn the inventory?”

“No. There’s no reason to. I don’t get rewarded to do anything except sell credit cards.”

“What motivates you to sell credit cards? “

“Well, nothing. It’s why I spend a lot of time on the third floor.”

The retailer pays $1 for every approved credit card application. For a struggling college student, this could add up to some valued grocery money. But it wasn’t enough to inspire staff to close sales. Further conversation revealed the staff could not describe why their customers should sign up for their credit card. I wondered how the store’s management conveyed the benefits of the card to the staff. When I asked employees about store leadership, they described their leader of their daily lineups  as a lethargic manager who only cared about the numbers.

In contrast, a winery client I recently worked with has grown its wine club by 170% in less than a year. Given the competitive landscape in the direct-to-consumer business in the wine industry, this is especially remarkable. I pulled a group of the associates together and asked them to describe the key to their success.  They exuded unbridled enthusiasm about their product.

“How can you not sell this membership. Our wines are fantastic. We have great events. And our property is beautiful!”

“We have the best wine club!”

“We want people to feel part of our winery – forever!”

They described a Vice President of Sales who worked alongside them on the floor, and frequently led the lineups. He inspired them with a sense of purpose as he passionately shared his love for the brand and for the company. It was common for their CEO to talk about the vision for the company, from the purchase of vineyards to their winemaking philosophy, as well as their community involvement.

Gallup’s State of the American Worker survey delivers analytics on the changing workplace by polling more than 195,600 U.S. employees. In their latest survey, they found that only 15% of respondents felt their leaders were setting good direction.  The same low percentage of respondents felt their leaders were getting them excited about the future of the company. In short, the majority of American employees are not engaged with their company’s purpose.

There are countless responsibilities of the company leader, and achieving objectives is high among them. But, if leaders lead their teams without gaining their staff’s trust or a instilling a sense of purpose, it is like setting a ship to sea with a full deck of sailors and no helmsman at the wheel. It is the leader’s role to inspire and motivate their staff.  There are several methods managers can use to lead with purpose:

  • Be committed to your team.  Leaders go through an arduous hiring process to assemble their team, and it’s fair to say that most employees start their jobs wanting to perform well. Supervisors should focus on giving their staff the tools they need to do their jobs – from training, to supplies, to work-life balance. If you are authentically working to be of service to your team, your team will be of service to you.
  • Walk the talk. If you want your staff to exemplify excellent customer service, put on a uniform and work alongside them to role model. If you want them to be on time for meetings, show up five minutes early and adhere to hard starts. Staff will may not do as you say, but they will mirror what you do.
  • Praise often. As managers, we are trained to have acute eyes on the opportunities. Yet, our teams are looking for indicators that they are on the right track with their performance. Praise them for specific accomplishments and you will get more of what you praise.
  • Know your team. Try to recall the feeling of your first job, and how easy it was to feel insignificant. Did the Vice President know your name when she visited your location or walked by your desk? How empowering would it have been if she had? When you have subordinates under your subordinates, it doesn’t take much to start slipping in who’s who. As Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  Take the time to introduce yourself and learn the names and interests of your staff. If they feel you matter to them, they will strive to impress you.

Magic happens when leaders exemplify purpose in their work. When they take the helm with heart, and embody the company’s ethos, they have crossed the bridge into authentic leadership.

 

Fill the Tool Box

“He comes in at 9:00 and leaves at 4:00,” a client complained about his manager. “I get so frustrated that he isn’t putting in longer hours. I pay him a lot – higher than industry average. But he isn’t delivering on results.”

“Is he analyzing his department’s data?”

“Absolutely not. The guy is taking me for a ride.”

“Is he incentivizing his team to sell more?”

“Not at all. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“Was he trained in your company standards?”

“We shouldn’t have to train him. He’s the manager!”

Too often organizations place employees in their positions, expecting immediate high performance. They pay for employment ads, staff a recruiter, spend hours to review resumes, and conduct interviews, drug screens, and background checks. By the time they’ve hired their candidate, the company has invested thousands of dollars. Then, like plugging an appliance into the wall, they expect their new hire to show up to their job and immediately perform with ease. Organizations lose sight that it is their responsibility to give their staff the tools they need to do their jobs. Without  training, the employee can feel frustrated, as can the employer, and too often they end up parting ways.

The cost of losing an employee is high. A recent study from the Center for American Progress found that the average cost of replacing an employee earning less than $50,000 per year is estimated at 20% of the person’s annual salary. Using that formula, the employee earning $25/hour will cost the company $10,400 when they leave. The price of losing a senior level person is even higher. According to the same study, a highly trained person costs the company 213% of their salary on their departure. So, a Director earning $75,000 will cost the company $160,000 upon their resignation.

Many separations can be avoided with generous and effective training of their employees. Southwest Airlines is a leader in this area, known to be a company that is devoted to the personal growth and development of their employees. Their training is a declaration of commitment that employees have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Go to the People tab of southwest.com website and you’ll see their list of trainings made public.  After their on-boarding orientation – which includes diversity training, sustainability, and the company’s desire to contribute fun to the world – all Southwest Airline employees have access to classes in emotional intelligence, personal and professional development, project management, and Microsoft classes. There are Leadership Summits, Manager-in-Training workshops, and Customer Service Sessions, too.  The fact that they have a People page publicizes  to the world that they value their staff and their growth. The result? Southwest Airlines boasts an astoundingly low 2% turnover. 

Training offers the opportunity to create consistency in the company culture. By explicitly stating universal expectations, employees can quickly be held accountable for performance issues. Other areas of onboarding can include education on company history, product knowledge and the outlook for the future. When companies can’t afford to create ongoing training programs for their staff,  they can enroll their company in third-party training subscriptions that offer a host of topics and locations for trainings. Organizations such as Star 12 offer a variety of workshops nationwide, and specialty, industry-specific companies can be explored as well.

When you support your employees with training opportunities, you send them a clear message: We value you. You are worth our investment. Value your employees and they’ll value working for you.

What really happened?

A regional manager recently lamented that she had forgotten a significant expense on the department’s annual budget. As a result, her business would miss plan by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and other divisions would have to make up the shortfall. She was distraught by her error. How could she have done this?  She had an acute, analytical mind, and her reputation was stellar for being reliable in paying attention to the details in her department. Her confidence began to slip as her insecurities soared. She worried that there would be a permanent write up on her 10-year employment record.

Companies frequently address situations like this one as an employee performance issue.  But simplifying problems down to individual performance rarely creates sustainable results. A recent study posted in Harvard Business Review revealed 90% of performance appraisals are painful and don’t work. They produce an extremely low percentage of higher performers. It is often because the issue being addressed is often misdiagnosed. It’s too easy – and inaccurate – to point the finger at a person’s performance. If organizations had the right model to help them to reveal the true source of the problem, they would find a gold mine of opportunities for paradigm shifts.

The challenge in dissecting shortfalls is finding a framework that provokes insights. The models are many. Theory X focuses on individual behavior, while Theory Y stresses psychological understanding. Theories in Systems Management looks at process and technology, and Cultural Management explores the dynamics in a company.  Through my years of leading and consulting, one model proves to enlighten leaders every time: the Integral Model.

Created by the philosopher, Ken Wilber, the Integral Model integrates all of human wisdom into a comprehensive framework, forcing us to address the whole picture. Not a modest claim.  Integral Theory is based on four quadrants. Pick any situation, and one can gain insights into it’s hidden treasures by applying the Integral quadrants. The top half of the quadrant represents what happens to the individual, while the bottom half represents the group. The left side represents the internal perspective, and the right side holds the experience from the objective view.

In managing people, we typically address the employee’s abilities and behaviors, represented in the Upper Left “I” quadrant. This is why supervisors are often led to performance conversations. It is the most identifiable quadrant. They also tend to address the Upper Right “It” quadrant – the employee’s knowledge, training and work quality. Too quickly we consider the issue addressed, resolved, and move on. Had we done that with the regional manager, we would have missed out on the real story.

It is in looking at the lower two quadrants that we do our learning in this case study. When the manager set aside his self-criticism and scrutinized  the company systems – represented in the Lower Right  –  he evaluated the company’s budgeting process. Their software was outdated, the finance department was slow to communicate deadlines, and the general experience was chaotic at best.  For the first time, he saw clearly that the systems did not support success.

Nor was management supported by the company culture, as represented in the Lower Left quadrant. The fast-paced environment overloaded its leaders, making the goal of 100% accuracy nearly impossible.

With this new enlightenment, the company installed a new  software system, and the finance team dedicated a member to focus on budgets. The manager’s morale was improved and his confidence returned.  Sure, the other departments still had to make up the inevitable shortfall, but who doesn’t like a good challenge? It was a proposition that was supported by knowledge. Thanks to the Integral Model, the company knew exactly what had happened.

Back Your Boss

I was recently talking with a friend who taught math in a large high school. She was complaining – again – about her principal.

“He doesn’t support me. He hasn’t a clue to what I do, and how hard my job is.”

“Interesting….” I responded.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, let me ask you: what do you do to support him?”

The phone line fell silent.

“You know… I’ve never thought of that before. In my entire career, that’s a question I’ve never asked myself!”

A survey by DDI Talent Management revealed that only 64% of the 1,200 people surveyed felt their manager provided the support they needed.  This reflects the employees’ expectation for support. Leaders must be motivating, fully present to the workload of their employees, acknowledge contributions, and reward results. The burden of success is on them, even though they can only impact the business through their subordinates. They must manage the high level supervisors above them, and be nurture their subordinates so they can succeed and grow. The higher a manager is on the company ladder, the more extraordinary qualities are expected. And, frequently, the less forgiving is their staff.

For all that employees expect of their managers, it is rare to find an employee that takes pause and considers what they need to do to ensure their supervisors have the tools they need to do their jobs.

We might find that while we expect tolerance for our own shortfalls, of our supervisors we expect perfection. Sometimes we even become competitive with our manager, certain that we could be more effective than they are. Yet, most of us forget the most basic rule of employment: our job is to make our manager successful in his role.  If the boss is successful, everyone wins. The company does well, and the employees shine.

Even more interesting is to examine the source of the critique. Very often we criticize in others our own confronting traits.  Consider the qualities you condemn in your boss and ask yourself, are these the very qualities I dislike or judge in myself?  Carl Jung, the renowned developmental psychologist, called this the shadow – an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. He said if a parent wants to reveal their shadows, they should pay attention to what they criticize in their children. The same can be applied to the workplace.  By identifying behavior in your supervisor that you don’t like, and changing your own behavior, the relationship will become healthier. For example:

  1. Do you feel your supervisor isn’t being open? Step up and share. You hate surprises. So does he. He shouldn’t hear about your staff issues, financial successes or problems from others. Make sure he hears it straight from you. Remember – your supervisor has to inform others of business developments. Make sure he has the right information, in a timely manner.
  1. Do you believe your boss isn’t supporting your goals? Support your supervisor’s objectives. You expect her to support your goals. Do you know hers? If you don’t know what her markers for success are, you can’t possibly support her achievements. If she achieves her goals, everyone wins. 
  1. Do you think the demands on you are too high? Bless the deadline. It is your manager’s job to delegate. Each time you are given a task, you have the opportunity to shine. It is as if you are put on center stage with a spotlight dedicated just to you. Welcome it. Step into it. And always perform on target. If you meet your deadlines, you secure the reputation of being reliable, and your supervisor meets his deadlines as well.
  1. Do you feel underappreciated? Say thank you.  We say “thank you” to our staff all the time. When is the last time you stopped by your boss’s office with unsolicited gratitude? When did you last thank her for your job, her advice, and her support? Stepping outside of yourself and showing a moment of appreciation goes a long way – for both of you. It helps you focus on the positive aspects of his work and promotes a trusting relationship. 

Work relationships are similar to those in our families  Just as toddlers don’t expect to take responsibility for their relationship with their parents, an under-developed employee will expect the onus of their relationship to fall on their boss. As children mature into adults, they appreciate their own impact on the relationship with their parents and relate as equals. A sign of mature professionals is the ability to be able to find their own opportunities for improvement in their criticism others, and to relate to their supervisors as peers. The opportunity for a flourishing relationship is just one supportive conversation away.

 

Give It Away

With the holidays quickly approaching, our minds often turn to giving. As leaders, we may be considering how our companies can give back to the community. Yet, this time of year also gives us an opportunity to evaluate our position on year-round generosity.

Every year Forbes Magazine publishes an article sharing the results of the ten most charitable companies in the United States. It quotes The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which polls three hundred companies with the largest revenues in the country, to find out how much of their profits they donate in cash.  Of those surveyed, about one-third of the companies responded. The list of corporate contributions is impressive, including Wells Fargo, which donated $314 million, or 1.3% of their profits. This percentage reflected the average donation of most of the companies surveyed. 

There is no questioning the social impact of Wells Fargo’s generosity. Yet, I have to wonder, is giving cash enough? Could Wells Fargo create even farther reaching effects with another type of support? What if they also committed to enrolling their employees in their philanthropic efforts?

There are countless benefits to establishing an employee volunteer policy. Creating a charitable mission can create unity and a sense of purpose among employees. Becoming connected to a charity icreates marketing and networking opportunities. When employees show up to help others, an identity of goodwill is created for the company. The word quickly spreads employees offer hands-on support at the soup kitchen or community garden, and often the press helps spread the word. 

But perhaps the most importantl benefit of volunteerism through the workplace is a simple one:  volunteering makes people happy and feel connected. Sonja Lyubormursky, author of The How of Happiness, reminds us that altruism—including kindness, generosity, and compassion—are keys to the social connections that are so important to our happiness. Research finds that acts of kindness, can boost happiness in the person doing the good deed. The results of that kindness are the qualities that help retain employees and bring out their best work:

  • Being generous leads us to perceive others more compassionately. Co-workers who give one another the benefit of the doubt work well together
  • Being kind promotes a sense of connection and community with others. Community creates cohesiveness and teamwork.
  • Being generous helps us appreciate and feel grateful for our own good fortune. An employee who feels grateful for their job is likely to make positive contributions and spread positive energy.
  • Being generous boosts our self-image; it helps us feel useful and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way. Feeling valued at work spurs more productivity.

More and more, companies are encouraging their employees to volunteer, and often pay their staff for their humanitarian time. The Society for Human Resource Management surveyed companies about their employee benefits and found 20 percent of the respondents give their workers paid time off for volunteering. This figure is up from 15 percent in 2009. US Bank, for example, pays their employees for 16 hours of volunteer time every year. Their staff in Minneapolis work side by side, volunteering at a kitchen every Friday morning serving homeless people.

It costs a lot less to pay for employees to volunteer than it does to replace them. Promoting volunteerism reflects the wisdom of creating purpose, pride and an opportunity to team build outside of the office. Volunteerism through the workplace is a great opportunity for companies to make a difference to their community while also making a positive impact on the lives on their employees. And, as is the law of giving, they receive expontential rewards in return for their generosity.

Are we brainwashed about brainstorming?

We all cringe a bit when we are invited to a brainstorming meeting. While we thrive on the creativity, we also question the productivity and the cost of the meeting. I know one executive who clicks on an app to tally the cost of the salaries at the table. In essence, she is asking the question we all ask ourselves: are the meetings worth the investment?

Brainstorming is a term that was coined in the 1950’s to describe people coming together in a room to generate ideas. Brainstorming sessions fall under the category of “generative conversations.” And, while sometimes uplifting and exhilarating. they are not without their challenges. Extroverts tend to dominate introverts, and ideas generated by all participants can be slowed or even eliminated.  These meetings can be time wasters when not run well.

Dr. Tony McCaffrey, researcher of innovation tools at Innovation Acceleration, offers an alternative called brainswarming. In this practice, a goal is written at the top of a large piece of paper or chalkboard. Resources that are available for solving the goal are written at the bottom . The group works silently, coming up with their ideas of how to reach the goal. They will either consider how the goals can grow downward by creating subgoals that use resources. Or they will use their resources to create subgoals, that extend upward to reach the goal. Both are valid ways of accomplishing the goal.

This model allows for both top-down thinking – when a person looks at the big picture, focusing on end results – and the bottom-up thinker – looking at a problem from the ground up. For example, wineries constantly strive to sell more wine. A top-down thinker will consider the goal of selling more wine, and create subgoals such as increasing the average sale per guest, and attracting more guests to the winery. A bottom-up processor, on the other hand, will consider the resources- the bar, the displays, the wine –  and consider how they can utilize them to increase average sales and draw in more guests.

If efficiency is the goal of the meeting, brainswarming is the way to go. According to McCaffrey,  brainswarming produces up 115 ideas in 15 minutes, while brainstorming produces 100 ideas per hour.  By switching from talking, to writing on a graph, group work improves with brainswarming, and all ways of thinking are acknowledged.

Whether brainstorming or brainswarming, there are several factors that should be present:

  • Invite the right people. They should be a resource for information, and invested in the goal.
  • Request pre-work. This gives everyone time to process at their own pace and arrive prepared for the discussion.
  • Clearly state the goal
  • Keep the conversation moving forward and on track
  • Welcome all views and ideas as valid.

It is imperative that companies create cultures that are gratifying to their employees. Empowerment through involvement in generating ideas can be an effective way to create a rewarding environment. But, the generating ideas doesn’t have to involve time wasting meetings. Revisiting the structure of brainstorming sessions can ensure the company benefits in creative output and efficiency.