The following is an excerpt from our CEO Mark Sebell's book Ban the Humorous Bazooka:
The Well Intentioned Fable
One innovation roadblock is the Leadership-Empowerment Fable. The fable is a by-product of the creation of a false sense of empowerment. The sad part is that it results from nothing but good intentions. The fable comes into play when senior managers try to delegate to their innovation teams in the same they empower their established businesses.
Between January and March, while that innovation task force was busy developing ideas, senior management was eagerly anticipating the results of its efforts. Unfortunately, both were unwittingly becoming caught between an ugly by-product of the Leadership-Empowerment Fable that I call the Corporate-Rain-Dance-Bat-and-Bow cycle.
Corporate rain dances are exercises in futility that waste energy without producing results. They occur when an allegedly empowered team engages in fun, stimulating strategy meetings and idea-generation sessions in which they often are extremely creative. But because of management's misguided attempt to make the group feel empowered without really giving them true power, the team invents in a vaccum, without any agreed-upon strategic direction and with an unrealistic view of the decision-making authority that has been granted to them.
The term Bat-and-Bow describes what happens when that allegedly empowered innovation team wraps up all of its inventive thinking in a slick presentational bow for its review with senior management. Usually, the more pleased the team is with the ideas (and with itself for having developed them), the fancier the bow becomes and the higher the team's expectation's rise. The team hopes management will love everything and not change a thing. This is a surefire formula for disaster, and it can happen at any level of an organization.
Meanwhile, senior management, having honestly tried to empower team members by not unflunecing them with any preconceived ideas, too often come to the review unconciously expecting exciting, new, and highly feasible ideas that can be easily launched through established pipelines. Wanting to love everything, management understandably panics when, instead, the ideas presented are scary and have high degrees of teeth-gritting newness.
Unfortunately, the forum for this meeting only exacerbates the situation. The formality of the presentation and the love-it-or-hate-it mentality that governs idea evaluation in most organizations leaves management only one reactive option--to point out all the flaws in these concepts.
Metaphorically, management's reaction is like taking out a baseball bat and beating the crap out of everything--including the spirits, enthusiasm, and egos of the team members it wanted to empower. While this is most often unintentional, it is incredibly demoralizing for everyone.
In such situations, blamestorming replaces the brainstorming that should by occuring. The likelihood of disappointment, frustration, and no small amount of finger pointing on both sides of the table is almost 100 percent. Without ever articulating its assumptions, its objectives, or its own beginning ideas, senior management still expects the team to somehow understand what management wanted. Without realizing it, everyone has played a well-intentioned but very destructive game called "guess what's in my head." Often this pattern repeats itself over and over, and, after a couple of Corporate-Rain-Dance-Bat-and-Bow cycles, good people stop wanting to participate in the Leadership-Empowerment Fable.