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Editor's Notebook

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Editor's Notebook

Collaboration is Smart Capital

Originally published
Originally published: 7/1/2022

It’s been proven that a collaborative management strategy can lead to higher motivation and increased productivity. It need not be an either-or proposition – only collaborative or hierarchal. Adapting to a more collaborative strategy and allowing it to fit with your company’s processes, can be beneficial to your business. It’s what I call, smart capital. Funds up defines it as “…wealth in the form of money, knowledge, and expertise owned by a person.” – the best definition in my opinion. In the HVACR industry, this style can work quite effectively because teams are often already working independently when out in the field. More collaboration may only be needed with long-term goals, team building, processes evaluation, and customer service. But it can still greatly benefit the company’s bottom line. Below are all the reasons why a move to collaborative management, is a smart investment in your business.

Bottom-Up Management vs. Top-Down Management

What is Bottom-Up Management?

Bottom-up communication is a more collaborative approach. It requires senior-level managers to be inclusive of employees’ ideas both in the creation and delivery of an overall business objective. In a bottom-up approach, management encourages the team to contribute to decisions that affect their department and the business holistically. For management, it requires executives to empower employees to carry out assigned tasks, without micromanaging them.

What is Top-Down Management?

The top-down approach is a management process akin to autocracy. This is typically referred to as a hierarchical management style. Managers assign tasks to lower-level employees without collaboration. Certainly, there needs to be management decision-making at the highest level. Eliminating all higher-ranking management is not the idea here. A good balance will foster a company culture that feels more collaborative. Studies show that a balanced approach with a larger focus on a holistic bottom-up strategy, allows employees to feel included and as such, more motivated to deliver.

A study from the Harvard Business Review compares biological systems to business systems and concludes:

Leaders must avoid…trying only to directly manage individual behavior and instead seek to shape the context for that behavior. Questions or rules aimed at fostering autonomy and cooperation…can be more effective than top-down control in shaping collective behavior.

Value, Motivation & Productivity

When employees feel like their feedback matters, they feel more valued. When they feel more valued, there is a level of empowerment and trust that occurs. This interaction leads to increased productivity which shows up as increased profitability for your business. That is smart capital. The chain of cause and effect that the Harvard study so brilliantly charts, is the reason this approach can lead to best business practices and increased productivity. How can you begin to foster a collaborative company culture now? Below are tips on how to change the culture from hierarchal (top-down) to more collaborative (bottom-up):

1. Create Opportunities for Collaboration

If this is new, assess where there is room for collaboration. Perhaps employees might have ideas to elicit more service reviews, ideas for better recruitment or training processes, and maintenance reward plans.

2. Assign Collaborative Leaders from Your Senior Team

Meet with your senior team first to explain your vision and the need to foster a more collaborative company culture. Assign the leaders to head the collaboration on respective tasks. Be clear about the micro and macro goals and expectations. Include benchmarks, team suggestions, and follow-up meeting dates.

3. Companywide Meeting

Meet with the entire team to let them know about forthcoming changes. Be clear on your intention and explain that more collaboration may ultimately mean more initiative and responsibility. This first meeting is your opportunity to get feedback on where changes are needed and to assess any potential resistance.

4. Resist the Need to Veto

If you’ve been running the business with a top-down approach, you may be more comfortable striking ideas with quick vetoes. Resist the need to veto any feedback at first. Hear it out and allow each employee to support his or her idea, before striking it down.

5. Create Departmental Team Accountability

If you truly want a culture of collaboration, let department teams meet individually at the beginning stages of a project. Allow employees to be accountable to respective team members. Social cues will dictate that they deliver on expectations. Then, at company benchmark meetings, assess the status, progress, and/or stagnation of the project.

If you commit to creating a more collaborative company culture now, the research indicates that this change will trickle down and result in increased productivity. And there it is – we end where it all began – smart capital!

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