Radical Ideas for 2020

Normally, as we approach year-end, I look for emerging ideas, books or other resources for organizational leaders. Most of those ideas are practical, if a little bit of a stretch.

This year, I am writing my “year-end” article early to share some radical ideas for cultural transformation and a whole new level of organizational performance. Read on, but be warned, there is nothing timid about the ideas that follow. Nothing here can be tested with a toe in the water or watered down into a tepid imitation. Enter into these ideas with a courageous heart … or not at all. But if 2020 is your year to break away and reinvent your organization, then gird your loins and read on.

Create a meritocracy through radical transparency. What if everyone at your organization was not just empowered but systematically encouraged to provide frank feedback to anyone else in the organization, at any time, regardless of seniority or job level? The newest junior recruit could say to the CEO, “I do not think you were adding value in that meeting. You were not prepared, and you were not communicating clearly,” and still be employed at the end of the day.Before you dismiss this as a ridiculous, unworkable new-age concept, you need to know that the champion for this idea is Ray Dalio, co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. The company has automated, continuous, transparent feedback at its meetings and in its decision-making processes, with no regard to title or seniority. Dalio’s firm has used the credibility and accuracy of the feedback (and, by extension, the feedback provider) to drive decisions. To see more about how Bridgewater handles this level of openness to form a meritocracy, go to Ted.org and search for his Ted talk on radical transparency.

Embrace millennials rather than resisting or complaining about them. If you are one of those managers who loves to rag on millennials, citing everything from their lack of loyalty to their constant use of social media — and even their disdain for American beer, as one manager complained at a recent conference — I have some bad news for you. Based on demographics and the technology available today, things are going to get much worse for you. Post-millennial generations will be far more challenging for the employer who needs the workplace to look like it did in the “good old days.”

Given that 3.5% unemployment will sustain a competitive environment for employees in the near future, what would happen if you focused on embracing millennial mindset and culture in all ways organizationally possible? There are, of course, jobs that require physical presence at an assigned time, a manufacturing shift supervisor for example. But a tech-enabled team can meet and work virtually at 7 p.m. if that is what the team members prefer.

Because they have grown up with tech, millennials are very skilled with networks (far more than with hierarchies), so take advantage of the kind of online collaboration tools that were science fiction as little as a decade ago. (Most are SaaS-based, so they do not require big capital outlays.) In short, since millennials make up the largest bloc of the workforce, how would your organization look different if you went out of your way to leverage their strengths and preferences to get work done?

Mine for creativity at all levels of the business. Organizational leaders often depend on marketing, process engineering or research and development to come up with new ideas; however, there are most likely people all over your organization who can see opportunities for both process improvement and new products. Your newest employees have not been absorbed into the hive mind that is the modern corporation. Try engaging the least knowledgeable in problem-solving either before or alongside the experts.

Between 2008 and 2010, a unit at Coca-Cola saved a total of $5.5 million based on projects generated by a team of Six Sigma black and green belts working in a business improvement unit. In that same period, they recovered more than $10 million based on suggestions from front-line employees — and at a significantly lower cost for planning and implementation.

While the examples here may seem extreme, they represent opportunities to not only contribute to the bottom line, but also to make your business a place that will attract the most qualified and creative candidates. In a competitive market for talent, shouldn’t that encourage you to experiment with something radical?