The greatest management gift is being able to see the world through the eyes of your employees. Yet too often, managers find themselves only looking at the world through their eyes. For example, have you ever thought (or said), ‘Why don’t they get it?’ This universal complaint is a dangerous assumption and the cause of many management issues.
Company leaders often assume that every employee shares the same passion for the business as they do. For example, in a crisis they expect all employees will put in the necessary extra hours just as they will. But this sets up unrealistic expectations that often won’t be met but that will inevitably interfere with group harmony as the leader is always disappointed.
Similarly, it’s often difficult for a senior leader to understand that not every member of the group operates in the same way. For example, team leaders tend to think strategically as they’re responsible for multiple business functions and overall profits. Yet, they are often frustrated when teams fixate on tactical issues.
I had the opportunity of exploring the assumption that ‘employees only think tactically’ with a group of high-level leaders at an executive seminar. These leaders represented well-known companies in shipping, mining, transportation, utilities, and finance.
During this time, I picked up a common theme. Even though they came from very different industries, they were all complaining about their employees’ tendency to think tactically rather than strategically. The more these business leaders talked about it, the more they reinforced each other’s belief that employees cared only about tactics.
I decided to challenge their collective assumption through the process of challenging Assumpts!
The difference between the words ‘assumption’ and ‘Assumpt!’ is symbolic. Within every decision lies an assumption, which is subconscious, leading you in a specific direction.
Your assumption turns into your Assumpt! – the moment you become aware that you are taking something for granted or treating a belief as fact. Once you gain that awareness, you can begin to manage your Assumpt! helping you drive new solutions and opportunities. In this example, it works to shift perspective and see the world through the eyes of your employees, not just yours.
I asked them to put themselves in their employees’ shoes. Specifically, I asked these executives to jot down all the assumptions their employees might be making. Here are four recurrent responses:
4 problematic assumptions
Strategy is someone else’s job
Their job is to carry out actions given to them by their managers who are already thinking strategically. Their only role is to execute.
Incentives and culture do not encourage strategic thinking
Any idea or concept that doesn’t fit into the ‘norm’ will be dismissed or discarded without any real thought or discussion.
I have no time (not a priority)
We don’t have the time to think strategically – we have too much to get done, with too little time and resources.
I don’t have the authority or ability
No-one will listen to my ideas.
Once you understand how another person is wired, something magical happens. You begin to see the situation through their eyes. Instead of ‘us versus them’, it’s now ‘we’. In this case, the executives began seeing how they were contributing to the problem.
They realised they weren’t communicating the need for strategic thinking, or even explaining what they meant by strategy versus tactics. Once understood, the leaders started taking responsibility for issue. They were no longer complaining about the problem; they were owning it.
Share your Assumpts
Turning your assumptions into Assumpts! is a powerful way to generate transformation. Here is a quick way to frame those discussions, leveraging the Assumpt! to promote strategic thinking:
Motivate your group to ‘think differently’: Help your team identify three assumptions standing in the way of reaching a specific goal. Call them Assumpts!
Explore the reasons your group feels these Assumpts! are obstacles. For example, discuss what ‘strategy’ means to them. Identify times when they can think ‘strategically’. Now have your group challenge those Assumpts! For example, “I am too busy carrying out tactics therefore I have no time to think strategically.”
But what does ‘too busy’ mean? How long does it take to think strategically? These are all Assumpts! Challenging them gives people permission to start questioning and discovering where perceptions are out of alignment.
How we see the world frames our decisions and dictates our solutions. Being able to switch perspectives and see the world through the eyes of your employees is not just a skill but a powerful way to enhance your management success. Surfacing your assumptions around employee behavior and then challenging them is an important step in this process. After all, migrating your organisation to think like you often begins by thinking like them.