“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” — Steve Jobs
While many elements of his management style were unorthodox (some might say questionable), Steve Jobs had this one right. Many business leaders echo his sentiment that the key to their success is hiring people smarter than they are. There is no question that building a team of the best and brightest positions any organization for success. But it is also true that managers, particularly those more seasoned professionals whose careers developed in a different business climate than today’s, can’t resist feeling that they have all the answers. So they may have a team of people smarter than they are but they aren’t actually listening to them. Those brilliant minds are shut down by road blocks built from years of doing things a certain way. The way we know. The way that works. The way that’s safe.
That happens sometimes here. Our firm is built on 25 years of quality, excellence, superior client service and award-winning work. Mere days into my 16-year tenure I learned that things had to be done “The Stanton Way.” There is no official definition of The Stanton Way (it sure would have been nice to see one) but we learned it quickly and we complied. Those who didn’t rarely stuck around.
One of the words we heard quite often was “no.” An idea wouldn’t work because it was too outside-the-box. Or someone’s writing wasn’t up to par because it was stylistically different than the founder of our firm, who is a brilliant writer. Or a candidate wasn’t suitable because he wasn’t polished enough. Not the Stanton Way.
This worked. For a really long time. We are entering our second 25 years with a track record of exceptional work behind us and a solid reputation as a strategic and reliable firm. I am proud of that. But it’s time to change.
As the new President of Stanton Communications, I am working very hard to build a culture of “yes.”
Yes is the default position that is driving our business forward. Team members, both experienced and right out of school, make recommendations on how we can improve our client programs, boost our business development efforts, and change our firm for the better. Sometimes these suggestions don’t make immediate sense. Or they feel uncomfortable because they require us to explore new ground and think in completely different ways. In these cases it is easy to reject the idea and redirect energy on less risky propositions. But more often than not, despite the discomfort and occasional fear, the answer is “yes.”
This posture is embraced and encouraged for a number of reasons.
It empowers our people.
Every person in this firm is here because he or she has talent, intelligence, and abilities that enable us to provide stellar service to our clients. They can only reach their peak potential if they are empowered to bring their ideas to life. It is easy to focus on the 100 reasons why an idea might not work. It is harder, but far more rewarding, to have faith in our people and their vision of the one reason why it will. And that’s what we’re striving to do.
It fosters a positive environment.
Negativity can be fatal to creativity. And in this ferociously competitive field we must be as creative as we are strategic if we want to be around for another 25 years. A positive environment where new approaches are embraced and unorthodox thinking can spark real innovation is essential to our success.
It expands our thinking.
This is particularly true for those of us who are struggling to break out of the old ways of doing things. Saying yes and exploring unfamiliar territory can be invigorating. It exposes us to new possibilities and helps our own future thinking.
It allows us to fail and learn.
The Stanton Way left no room for failure. Safe was always preferable to the possibility of disappointment. We must be more open to risk if we want to achieve breakthroughs for our clients and for our business. But we also must not lose our tether to strategy and ensure that, when we do fail, we learn from it.
It truly can be transformative.
For our people and for our business, a culture of “yes” can be nothing short of transformative. It demonstrates faith in our talent, trust in our abilities, and commitment to a future without unnecessary barriers holding us back.
Does a culture of yes mean the word no will never be uttered within our walls? Absolutely not. There will always be circumstances when an idea or an approach simply won’t work. But we will arrive at no only after beginning at the default position of yes and collectively examining an idea from all angles. It’s a change, for sure, but it’s one that will usher us into a new era. Which, in case you are wondering, our founder and CEO wholeheartedly supports.