#214 – Integrity Idea 044: Re-Imagine the Box

Integrity Ideas are specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  You can find more Integrity Ideas at Integrous | Integrity Ideas (integriosity.com)

Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process.  Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.

“Re-Imagine the Box” falls into the “necessary” category.  Without access to the wisdom, knowledge and experience of other people in an organization, a leader cannot make the best decisions for the organization or its stakeholders.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Re-Imagine the Box

“Re-Imagine the Box” is about re-imagining the traditional “Suggestion Box” by putting in place practices to ensure that the ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience of everyone in an organization are given a voice and are available where needed in the organization.

In addition to finding ways to encourage and facilitate “suggestions”, “Re-Imagine the Box” may require taking steps to identify and dismantle barriers to information and wisdom “flow” that can exist within an organization (for example, barriers created by leaders not seek “suggestions” or leaders creating a culture in which it is not considered “safe” to share it or leaders choosing to filter all information through “yes” people).

“Re-Imagine the Box” reinforces an organizational culture built on Imago Dei and the commandment to love your neighbor by recognizing that every person was created with special gifts and that unleashing and embracing the unique contribution of a person humanizes them, enriches the organization and its people, and glorifies God.

Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires faithful leaders with the humility to know who they are in relation to God and other people, to understand that they are stewards subject to the Creation Mandate, to acknowledge they do not have all the answers, and to take the initiative to learn from the people they lead.

We believe “Re-Imagine the Box” has two key aspects.  One aspect is putting in place practices and procedures and cultivating a culture that encourages and facilitates sharing their ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience with others in the organization.  The second aspect is identifying and dismantling wisdom and information “walls” that block the flow of wisdom and information.  Both require leaders with humility.

Encouraging Flow

The name “Suggestion Box” conjures images of a wooden box with a slot on the top and a lock on the side into which an employee could drop an idea or suggestion.  It sat in the office or on the factory floor, probably near an entrance or exit.  In all likelihood, people were skeptical about whether anyone actually read the ideas or took them seriously.  Should a submission be anonymous?  If anonymous and considered brilliant by management, the employee might never get the credit.  If signed and considered stupid by management, the employee’s job or career might be impacted negatively.

In his book Leadership Not by the Book, David Green of Hobby Lobby Writes:

People who work for you have good ideas. No leader has to implement every new idea suggested, but we must create a culture that welcomes new ideas and gives them a fair hearing.

Green’s observation captures three key concepts.  First, people in the organization have ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience that are valuable.  Second, faithful leaders must cultivate a “culture” that encourages people to have the courage and take the time to share their ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience.  Third, people must believe that their ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience aren’t sitting in a dusty old box that is never opened, or worse, being mocked and devalued in a closed-door meeting of executives.

We believe the sharing of ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience is best encouraged by a business a better way culture that prioritizes excellence, relationships, human dignity, and flourishing.  It is a culture that shows people that they are seen and valued and that the organization’s leaders recognize they have unique gifts, skills, experiences and perspectives that can help the organization serve its bigger WHY more effectively.

Dismantling Walls

Ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience that exist within an organization will not help its leaders if those ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience are “walled off” from its leaders.

We devoted an entire Integrity Idea to “Tear Down Those Walls” (post #198). We will just offer a brief refresher.

• We identified what we believe are the two most relevant “walls” to people seeking to lead in alignment with Biblical faith through “Re-Imagine the Box”:  wisdom walls and information walls.

• “Walls” are an inherent by-product of business as usual.  Walls flow from work as usual, which flows from business as usualBusiness as usual (and its key underlying assumptions, such as Profit as Purpose, Scarcity and Self-Interest) rewards competition more than collaboration, devalues human dignity, is devoid of trust in God and does not prioritize community. As a consequence, work as usual prioritizes the pursuit of money and power rather than the development of relationships, and people working in a business as usual culture begin to see co-workers as either competitors in a zero-sum game.

• Wisdom and information are guarded as sources of power (or survival) and aids in making money. “Walls” become tools for success or survival in that culture.

We use the term “wisdom wall” to describe a situation in which a leader cuts themselves off from the wisdom that resides below the leader in the organization. Wisdom walls are bad for the leader, bad for the organization and bad for its culture, which makes it bad for the people in the organization.

• A culture in which people do not feel like they have a “voice”—a culture in which their unique “wisdom” is not recognized and appreciated–is more likely to breed disengaged workers and is unlikely to be the type of a healthy culture that maximizes human flourishing in alignment with faithful integrity through business a better way.

• Wisdom walls largely occur as a result of pride. Indeed, the link between pride and wisdom is pretty clear in Proverbs 11:2:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

• For a leader of an organization, humility in loving others is critical because it permits the leader to learn from the people they lead and to unlock the God-given productivity and creativity of those people. Humility in loving others allows a leader to recognize that they do not have all the answers and to unleash and embrace the unique contributions each person they lead has to offer, which enriches the leader, the organization and its people.

• We identified two types of wisdom walls:

I’m the Smartest” Wisdom Walls are when a leader believes he is smarter and more skilled than those who work for him (or is so insecure in his ability that he needs to give the impression he is smarter and more skilled) and does not seek their insights. These are the people closer to the nuts and bolts of the business–closer to customers, closer to the factory floor, closer to the distribution system, closer to customer service, closer to problems that need to be addressed, closer to opportunities that can be realized.

• “Just Tell Me What I Want To Hear” Wisdom Walls are built by leaders who give people a “voice” but do it in a way that obstructs the flow of wisdom. If a leader’s ego (whether through pride or lack of self-confidence) leads her to surround herself by people who only affirm her decisions rather than challenging them (or if the leader has created a culture in which challenges are perceived as “dangerous”), that leader will be making decisions in a vacuum, again devoid of the wisdom, knowledge and experience of “the organization”.

• We use the term “information wall” to describe a situation in which a person or group in an organization fails to share the information with others who could do their jobs better if they had the information.  Whereas wisdom walls get created by leaders, information walls can be built by any person or group in the organization with unique access to information.

• We identified four types if information walls:

I Wasn’t Taught To Share” Information Walls exist simply because the organization has never developed systems or avenues for sharing.  Different divisions, groups or people with unique information go about their activities oblivious to others in the organization who could do their job better with the information.

• “I Don’t Like You” Information Walls.  Information walls can exist even in organizations that have created systems and avenues for sharing where relational breakdowns interrupt information flow.  For example, information may not get to other departments that need it or leaders who rely upon it because a person who represents a node in the information path is difficult to work with.

I Don’t Want To Share” Information Walls arise when people in the organization see co-workers as competitors in a zero-sum game. The assumptions of business as usual infect how people do their work and how they treat others, and knowledge, information and influence are guarded as sources of power (or survival) and aids in making money.

I Want To Control It All” Information Walls are created by leaders who recognize the power of information held by others in the organization and want it all–exclusively. The leader purposely creates reporting chains and information flows that ensure the leader is the only one who knows what is happening across the organization.  People feel disconnected because the culture has been designed to disconnect them.

CONTINUUM: Practices

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

“Re-Imagine the Box” is on the Practices Continuum. It involves establishing practices to ensure that the flow of information and wisdom in the organization is encouraged, facilitated and not being blocked by wisdom and information “silos”.

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert

The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented.  “Re-Imagine the Box” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) because even a secular organization would benefit from ensuring that its leaders have the benefit of the wisdom, knowledge and experience of everyone in the organization when making decisions.

“Re-Imagine the Box” can also be Overt (An overtly faith-based action known generally within the organization) if the leader chooses to explain the practices in terms of Biblical beliefs, principles or priorities, such as Imago Dei and the importance of humility.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Owners, Employees, Customers/Clients

When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.

“Re-Imagine the Box” principally serves several stakeholders.  Employees are humanized when their unique wisdom, knowledge and experience is acknowledged and used to further the organization’s bigger WHY. Leaders benefit from being able to fulfill better their responsibility to steward the organization and its people.  Owners benefit from having the organization operate based on better decision-making.  Customers/Clients benefit because decisions are more likely to take into account the wisdom, knowledge and experience of those employees who are closest to them and have the best understanding of their needs.

People who work for you have good ideas. (David Green)

IMPLEMENTATION

Implementation of “Re-Imagine the Box” requires some imagination.  Faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires more than putting out a Suggestion Box and hoping someone drops in a brilliant idea.

The best way to encourage the sharing of ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience and dismantle walls is to create opportunities for employees to share ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience with each other and with leadership.

It is important to convey that the heart of leadership is to prioritize collaboration over competition. Faithful leaders should be clear in their belief that everyone has unique experiences and perspectives that can help everyone in the organization more effectively pursue its purpose.

In starting to prayerfully “Re-Imagine the Box”, faithful leaders need to consider that some people will be willing to speak up in meetings and others may be reluctant.  Some people will be more comfortable sharing ideas one-on-one and others will only be comfortable submitting suggestions in writing, whether on paper or electronically.  Some will only be comfortable with anonymous submissions.

Reluctance to share publicly or in a group setting may be a reaction (e.g., a reaction born of fear or a sense of futility) to information and wisdom walls that exist in the culture, or they may be a reaction based on experiences in other work environments.  Some people will find it hard to believe that the organization is really different from others they have experienced or even that it is different from its past.  As Seth Godin brilliantly observed:

“Trust me” is easy to say, especially when you mean it, but hard to hear.  Showing tends to beat telling, and it takes a very long time to earn trust when you’re running counter to culture.

People may need to see efforts to dismantle walls, and they may need to see ideas, wisdom, knowledge, and experience shared by others and celebrated before they feel safe sharing themselves.

As faithful leaders consider how to encourage people to make “suggestions”, here are a few of our suggestions:

• Create ways for people to share ideas safely or by identifying themselves.

• Consider a safe path of “confidential” rather than “anonymous” so that ideas can be followed up and recognized.

• Acknowledge and express appreciation for every idea personally–human to human and not just with an automatic electronic reply.  Do it promptly.  It is humanizing.

• Put in place procedure to ensure suggestions are considered by appropriate management.

• Consider ways to publicly recognize “suggestions” that are implemented.  Consider ways to reward suggestions that are adopted.

Meetings can also be an effective way to encourage the sharing of ideas, wisdom, knowledge, and experience and to dismantle walls because they create information and wisdom flow.

Group meetings should be prefaced with ground rules about keeping the best interest of the organization and purpose in mind, maintaining civility, and avoiding personal attacks.  The heart and spirit of the meetings must be about helping everyone do better, but doing it with a spirit of humility and a heart of caring for each person.

Meetings can be “skip level” meetings in which a manager and their direct reports are invited by more senior leadership to share ideas together.

Here are a few examples of opportunities to consider (thanks to Michael Stallard’s “100 Ways to Connect” for inspiring a number of these ideas):

“Do Better” Meetings.  Invite employees to group or one-on-one “Doing Better” meetings in which people are encouraged to share ideas on how the organization can better pursue its purpose.  These can be general meetings at which all ideas are welcome or focused meetings aimed at certain areas of improvement.  For example, how do we “Do Better” at increasing revenue, reducing costs, improving quality, improving efficiency, serving customers, handling customer problems, serving our community, treating vendors, caring for employees, welcoming new employees, giving feedback to employees, or terminating employees.

“Wall Breaking” Meetings.  Invite employees to group or one-on-one “Wall Breaking” meetings in which people are encouraged to identify information and wisdom walls that they have experienced (or built) in the organization and make suggestions on how those walls can be “taken down”.

Create ways for employees to provide feedback on “Do Better” and “Wall Breaking” meetings, as well as ways to follow-up on ideas that were presented.

Just putting in place practices to encourage the sharing of ideas, wisdom, knowledge, and experience and to identify and tear-down walls is part of cultivating a culture that tells employees the organization and its leaders prioritize excellence, human dignity, relationships and flourishing.  It is showing them that they are seen and valued and that the organization’s leaders recognize they have unique gifts, skills, experiences and perspectives that can help the organization serve its bigger WHY more effectively.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  Lisa and I recently had the privilege of attending a benefit dinner at which Ken Langone (a co-founder of Home Depot) was the speaker.  As I was writing this post, Lisa reminded me of a wonderful story Langone told about something that happened at the opening of a new Home Depot store.  While I might mess up a few details, the essence is accurate.

Langone was attending the opening and doing a walkthrough of the store on the day before opening.  A young man stopped him and asked if he had any authority.  The young man then pointed to a huge box of toilet plungers on the floor, suggested that they might sell better if they were displayed on the wall rather than simply in a box, and asked if he could hang some.  Langone told him it was unlikely to make a difference but that he was free to hang a few and see, adding that if it didn’t work, the young man could always just put them back in the large box.  On opening day, Langone walked past the area again and noticed that there weren’t any plungers hanging on the wall.  Assuming the young man had decided to put them back in the box, Langone asked him what happened.  The young man told Langone that they were all sold.

ESSENCE:  Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Re-Imagine the Box

COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  Practices

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt): Highly Covert

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Owners, Employees, Customers/Clients

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  “Re-Imagine the Box” is about re-imagining the traditional “Suggestion Box” by putting in place practices to ensure that the ideas, wisdom, knowledge, and experience of everyone in an organization is available where it is needed in the organization.  It recognizes that a leader without access to the ideas, wisdom, knowledge and experience of other people in the organization cannot make the best decisions for the organization or stakeholders.  In addition to finding ways to encourage and facilitate “suggestions”, “Re-Imagine the Box” may require taking steps to identify and dismantle barriers to information and wisdom “flow” that can exist within an organization. “Re-Imagine the Box” reinforces an organizational culture built on Imago Dei and the commandment to love your neighbor by recognizing that every person was created with special gifts and that unleashing and embracing the unique contribution of a person humanizes them, enriches the organization and its people, and glorifies God.  Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing requires faithful leaders with the humility to know who they are in relation to God and other people, to acknowledge they do not have all the answers, and to take the initiative to learn from the people they lead. 

Copyright © 2024 Integrous LLC.  Integriosity is a registered Service Mark of Integrous LLC.

Photo credit: Original photo of box by Photo by Lia Trevarthen on Unsplash
(photo cropped and edited with text and images)