Energize Your Employees With Debate 

The conventional wisdom in today’s workplace is that debate is a sign of dysfunction. It’s a sure signal that a company has lost its focus, or that the company’s employees have lost confidence in management. People push back against debate as synonymous with dispute. People may feel judged or deemed an ideolog. That shouldn’t be the case. Legendary CEO Steve Jobs was famous for encouraging debate to take place within the halls of Apple. And many of today’s most visionary companies actively look for ways to energize their employees with debate.  

The reason is simple – companies are no longer solely top-down organizations. At one time, of course, orders and directives flowed down the chain of command, from the CEO to the lowliest employee at the very bottom of the career ladder. When you received an order or directive, you were expected to act on it quickly – or risk losing your job. This is what gave rise to the corporate “yes man.” 

Giving Employees A Voice

However, that’s no longer true in today’s workplace. Young millennials expect to have a voice in every major decision made by the organization. Maybe it’s the result of today’s digital culture – a world of “upvotes” and “likes” – but the reality is that the best ideas are now expected to bubble to the top through a much more democratic process. It’s a bottom-up process, not a top-down process. The power of “the crowd” is undeniable. 

As a result, one of the best ways to get the very best ideas for your organization and tap into the power of the crowd is by encouraging active debate at all levels of the organization, not just within the C-Suite. And this means more than just setting up an old-fashioned “suggestion box” in the lobby! 

How To Encourage Debate

A good example of how to encourage debate comes from the legendary consulting firm McKinsey, long known as a breeding ground for future corporate CEOs. The firm has created a set of values for each new hire to follow, and one of them is the “obligation to dissent.” That’s right – the firm says that each employee has an obligation to raise objections and concerns. At McKinsey, you are supposed to feel profoundly unsettled if people around you are not engaged in debate, challenging your ideas. And that means junior-level staffers are empowered to challenge their senior advisors, as long as it helps to create a more innovative solution. 

Criticism ≠ Debate

Of course, there needs to be a sharp line drawn between “criticism” and “debate.” As a rule of thumb, all criticism should be handled in private, behind closed doors. Personal criticism can be dangerous, and that’s why any criticism should be based on the merit of the underlying idea. It should be based on facts, data and arguments. This is what “the marketplace of ideas” means. To ensure that the best ideas really do win out in this marketplace, you can encourage employees to debate with facts and data, rather than with personal criticism. 

And remember – debate can sometimes be raucous and loud. Some boundaries need to be placed on the type of debate that takes place. Steve Jobs of Apple has compared the process of organizational debate to a rock tumbler, in which the process of grinding up rocks makes a lot of noise and friction, but what comes out is beautiful and refined. That’s the power of energizing your employees with debate. 

Getting Comfortable With Debate

Without practice and encouragement, debate is uncomfortable. At Adapt Consulting, we are comfortable with discomfort. Our decades of experience as Improvement Strategists, we understand the power of your people and have the human understanding to establish a “permission zone” that empowers your people with the freedom to confront the hard topics and the confidence to challenge assumptions in how your organization “always” does things. This change in perspective results in massive new opportunities to elevate your business. 

Ready to unlock your team’s full potential, but don’t know where to start? We can help. Talk to an Improvement Strategy Expert who can help you optimize your team in a fun and engaging way. Click here to get started.


Quote of the Day:

“It’s not how good you are. It’s how good you want to be.” – Paul Arden

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