The Best Of 20 Crowdsourced Solutions To Save Your Dysfunctional Organization

A reader hit the ‘Contact Us’ button and asked a question about change management and organizational behavior.

Kenneth Larson, our change management and organizational behavior expert

KL shows off the first small mouth bass of the season.

What Suzanne Whang asked was:

The problem I see with us “over-40-ers” is that we grow resistant to change; we don’t want to embrace new ways of thinking. What usually happens where I work is that when somebody, usually somebody younger, brings up a new idea, the older folks shoot it down saying we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work. I’d like to read an article about how to take calculated risks, how to be open to new ideas, and/or how to encourage new ways of thinking.

That’s a superb question, isn’t it? In fact, Tracy Deemer similarly asked me how to invigorate an ingrained culture and adopt a more creative approach at an institution of higher learning. So I made it my mission to crowdsource the answer on LinkedIn Answers.

I re-worded the question slightly, selected the categories of Change Management and Organizational Behavior (every query can be tagged with two), and let her roll. Over the next 7 days, I received 20 answers, and 18 were good, making it extremely hard to select the best. (If you would like to see the entire range of responses, log into your LinkedIn account to view them here.)

Ultimately, one response from Kenneth Larson, stood out. This was his insight:

Team the players at the worker level, let them interact and see the results in synergistic recommendations.

The most successful organizations pair experienced personnel on a staff basis with junior ones as models. Each has individual assignments and reports to the boss but the senior party is the example in the process/experience-driven aspects of the job and is available to answer questions. The younger individual infuses the older one with energy and new ideas much like osmosis. The result is a hybrid of old and new that works and has been put together by a team.

The approach works extremely well, imposes on no one, results in the young and old learning by observation, satisfaction and recognition for collective efforts and reduction in the boss’s work load. A win-win all around.

Sound intriguing? It did to me. I clicked through to his profile, which was tantalizing. And did the thing that the digital networker par excellence would do, send him an email:

  • to show appreciation for his best answer, and
  • to ask if we could take if offline, in a phone call, to learn more about him and how to test-drive his advice.

One night earlier this week, I got hold of him at the state-run Veteran’s Home in Hastings, Minnesota, where he lives. This gentleman is one extraordinary individual with 36 years in the corporate world (for employers such as Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, in addition to running his own consulting firm on the Beltway), preceded by 2 tours of duty in Vietnam, and followed by 7 years of mentoring not-for-profits who want development funds from Uncle Sam. The latter advising is entirely done on a voluntary basis.

Kenneth explained, “My answer was the product of roughly 20 years’ experience doing that in the aerospace industry. Wherever I worked, there were similar symptoms of organizational dysfunction. For 15 years, as part of my staff work, I taught executive training courses that would inculcate the following change management processes. I would physically team a senior cadre, a person most likely stuck in the mud who needed to be energized, with a younger people. The more senior person wanted the energy of the younger transferred, and the younger person needed the stoicism of the senior person.

Both junior and senior people had to have their own assignments and no subservience between the two, i.e., the senior person could have a higher rate of pay, and they usually did. And they usually had a greater workload, too, but the junior person with the lesser workload had more energy and would naturally gravitate toward the senior. It was like an osmotic process. If one was absent, the senior person would NOT step in, the boss would. And vice versa. The idea was not to get these people mixing in their professional assignments because they needed to be held accountable for their own work. The senior person had no role in evaluating the junior one. He was only a model. They each had to keep their internal (and external) customers happy. They were both from the same department–don’t do this across departmental lines–and they had the same supervisor. The manager is key in cultivating these relationships. You had to have the right kind of supervisors to make this work.”

What has Kenneth Larson been doing since his time in corporate America? Several things, including:

  • mentoring over 4,000 cases at SCORE, for which he received a lifetime achievement award in 2010
  • running a blog and business called Smalltofeds to advise (for free) how to get moneys from Uncle Sam
  • showcasing his opinions, photos, and poetry at
  • advising 7,000 clients over the last 7 years, 20% of whom are overseas. To illustrate: One client is building 17 parks in Kabul, Afghanistan for USAID; several others are helping the recovery effort in Haiti
  • walking 3 miles a day and getting out and about in his community.

There is an amazing online interview with him, and here’s an excerpt:
“In order to manage the high volume of inquiries in federal government contracting, I set up a Google blog as an extension of my volunteer work that blossomed into a website. It costs $10 a year to buy and convert it from a blog to a domain in my name. This blog contains the basics of entering and succeeding in the government contracting venue, as well as my books and articles on the subject for download via Box.Net, also a free application. The idea was to refer clients to article links at the site to avoid being repetitive to new clients, while still keeping myself available for specific inquiries and problems.

I linked everything together on LinkedIn and began answering questions using the “Answers” feature, as well as registering to use other free applications for networking websites to see how that could benefit my work. I’ve also used Twitter, BlogCatalog, Facebook, Widgetbox, Friendfeed, Ning and similar free applications on my site.

The AdSense Feature added cash flow. I gained nearly 30% of my clients from LinkedIn or LinkedIn related networking.

As a result, I’ve seen heavy traffic and good efficiency in supporting more than 5,000 counseling cases within the last seven years with virtually no expense to me as a volunteer working for non-profit organizations. I received a SCORE National Achievement Award in 2010 for volunteering 1,600 hours to 500 small businesses that year.”

Heavy traffic is being modest. In our conversation, KL shared his Key Performance Indicators. His sites receive 2,500 visitors per week and 1,800 folks have downloaded his pdfs since January 2012.

Does this blow apart the stereotype of the out-of-touch elder? I asked, “How is it that you do all these technology things?” and he replied, “I was at the cutting edge of business and computer systems for all my working years. I was there, so when I retired I just continued to be there.”

Suzanne Whang began by wanting to learn how to encourage new ways of thinking in her “fossilized” workplace. THIS is the kind of person that has given me inspiration to think anew. How about you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • resourceful ms.

    The difficulty with making suggestions, presenting new ideas, to a corporate group is that the listeners will think, “This means more work for me.” The new ideas should be simplified to show that more work won’t be needed, that the learning curve will be modest, and that time will be saved.

  • Sara D

    I really enjoyed reading this post! This wisdom should be shared with everyone in the corporate world. Forward it to your management team, collegues, friends and clients alike. They’ll really value this model of professional and personal success!!

    Diane thanks for reaching out so effectively to uncover this wisdom to share here, and Kenneth, you are a remarkable individual with extraordinary values, insights and experience that you have so generously shared with so many over the years truly making a difference in people’s lives and corporate cultures. On behalf of everyone you have touched – thank you!’

  • Hughie Bagnell

    Excellent Diane…hey, I am looking down at the skill-testing question and may need a calculator…this is great ‘Leadership’ information to be shared…we all must focus on thinking young to maintain the much needed flexibility, creativity, competitiveness and leadership which will keep us on, as Jack Welsh calls ‘The Edge’….Thank you, Hughie

  • Jennifer Lavelli

    Really interesting and timely article – – keep them coming, Diane!!

  • laurie goldsmith sperandio

    Thanks for sharing. This advice can be carried over to other areas of our lives as well.

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