The old axiom ‘don’t be afraid to take chances’ may be upended by ‘rethink everything you thought you knew.’ At the very least, business leaders should adopt a rethinking mindset in their work strategies. But why and how? Adam Grant, the rockstar Wharton professor, author, podcaster and TED talker, explains.
In his work, Grant compels his audience to adopt a ‘rethinking’ mindset. In late 2020, he told us why companies should kill traditional brainstorming and open office floor plans. He continues to expand on this idea. One example — rethink negative feelings. Why? Doubt and being wrong actually have surprising benefits like better listening and decision-making. Rethink the urge to avoid your critics. Why? If you engage them you will probably learn something about how to improve.
In a recent webinar, Grant discussed how to make an impact on individual employees and the broader organization. Here are three strategies to help businesses and employees rethink what they do so they can succeed from anywhere.
#1 Rethink collaboration
As offices slowly reopen, business leaders are grappling with the question of what type of work can best be done at home, and what work requires in-office collaboration. Grant suggests stepping back to figure out what “sport” you’re trying to play before starting a new project.
If a project is like gymnastics and everyone does their own floor routine or vault, you don’t need to be synchronous. If your workflow is based on a handoff, like a relay race, you need to be much more synchronized to ensure everyone is running in the same direction.
Instead of making commitments [to hybrid plans] we should be running experiments.adam grant, organizational psychologist, author, podcaster
Of course, all of this begs a couple of questions. How do we make collaboration work in a post-pandemic world where hybrid work environments are likely to become commonplace? How do we create asynchronous and synchronous modes? The answers may not be totally knowable right now but the key, as we are in uncharted waters, is to be flexible and experimental. Grant hopes that businesses consider how much they still have to learn, and not make too many immediate commitments
“I am watching too many workforces say, ‘Okay, this is our hybrid plan,’” he said. “It’s too soon to have a plan … I think, instead of making commitments, we should be running experiments. At the very heart of rethinking is to think like a scientist.”
#2 Rethink recognition
We’re just emerging from the most challenging 15 months many of us have ever experienced. As challenging as it was, productivity stayed high. As such, there is a new appreciation of our collective work and what each of us brings to the table. Taking the time for kindness and recognition is even more important — and it has the added benefit of creating increased value.
Think of the pride you’d feel as an employee if you received a letter from the CEO, knowing what you did was recognized at the highest levels of the organization.adam grant
“With recent experiments and research, Francesca Gino [professor, author, and organizational psychologist] and I have found that just being recognized, appreciated, or thanked by a single leader is enough to increase the effort that people put into their weekly tasks by about 50%,” Grant said. “When people feel valued, they add value.”
Grant has some ideas for how to give and receive meaningful recognition.
One of his favorite examples is from a former CEO of a major CPG brand, who would handwrite 10 letters each day to employees whose actions had a positive impact on the company. In all, he wrote more than 20,000 of these letters. “Think of the pride you’d feel as an employee if you received such a letter from the CEO, knowing that what you did was recognized at the highest levels of the organization.”
Another exercise he cites is Laura Morgan Roberts [professor, author, and organizational psychologist] and her colleagues’ “The Reflected Best Self Exercise.” Here you’d identify 15-20 people from different areas of your life — work, friends, family — and ask them to email you a story about a time you were at your best.
These emails are not only an energizing, confidence boost, but also an opportunity to analyze the bright spots for common themes. Often, people in your life recognize strengths you might not even realize you have.
#3 Rethink your starting point
The seemingly counterintuitive philosophy of rethinking is what drives people to reimagine their businesses. At Salesforce, we celebrate the innovation of our customers, who we call Trailblazers, who make rethinking a daily practice and are beacons shining a light for others to follow. But for every Trailblazer, there’s an organization with systems, processes, and tools that cement them into the old way of doing things.
Often, organizations are stuck in “digital concrete.” They know it’s time to evolve digitally, but the nagging question of where to start is always looming. And it can seem scary when you feel like your entire business will be flipped upside down and everything reimagined with a digital evolution.
Grant’s advice is to start with the decisions you need to make — those you can change and those that are high-stakes and irreversible. For example, it could be the decision to abandon physical offices altogether. You can’t go back and change that one because real estate is such a large capital investment.
At the same time, leaders should give themselves a bit more credit. If they’re even rethinking in the direction of a digital transformation, they have already taken some important steps.
“These leaders may not know it, but they are already rethinking and doing it,” Adam said. “They just need a little more clarity about where and how it’s going to happen.”