The Bellwether Effect: Stop Following, Start Inspiring
Working with some of the most inspiring leaders in the world he has pondered why organizations adopt, invest in and continue to support ineffective business practices, often erroneously referred to as “best practices”, even though there is scant evidence that they work, and plenty of evidence that they don’t. Many leaders are so disconnected from the operating and administrative practices of their organizations that they are relying on what they are told by others for their sense of the organization’s pulse. This creates an echo chamber, an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, and what Lance Secretan refers to as the accompanying “dissonance”—a perception at the top that all is well, while the experience in the rest of the organization is that it isn’t.
In working closely with leaders Dr. Secretan has observed that before we can create the kind of workplaces that inspire everyone, we must first remove the business processes that are deeply uninspiring for them. The two are closely related—we just need to introduce them in the right order—remove antiquated and demoralizing business processes that are a barrier to inspiration first, so that we can then concentrate on building great organizations that inspire. Secretan writes that there are a number of embedded, old-fashioned, ineffective business practices and beliefs, which, collectively, present a formidable barrier to creating high-performance organizations. Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is also the noble art of removing things that add no value. Often, it is necessary to remove things in order to achieve things. Lance Secretan writes that we need to take away some redundant and hindering business practices so that we can add more modern approaches that inspire. Doing so could change everything.
In The Bellwether Effect, Dr. Secretan first proposes a theory that explains how and why leaders are attracted to, and seduced by, trendy ideas, and the process by which these ideas then become mainstream. He calls the originators of these trends, “bellwethers”, hence the book’s title. He then goes on to describe eight examples of counterproductive business practices, among them, fear-based management, motivation, separateness and silos, employee engagement surveys, performance appraisals, salary grades and pay scales, mission, vision, and values statements, and the use of war as a metaphor for business. In each case, Dr. Secretan proposes a novel and inspiring alternative that could lead to transformation and an inspiring culture.
Lance Secretan claims that we have lost our passion for corporate life—during his presentations to audiences, he often asks them this question: “What percentage of the population do you think would leave corporate life and pursue different interests if they had a completely free hand?” Like an auction, he starts at 50% and the audience will typically raise the offer until they settle at an estimate of something close to 80%. Why is this a tragedy? Because apart from the human anguish and suffering it causes, we live in a capitalist society, one of whose main engines (besides the church and government) is commerce, and if we botch this critical source of livelihood and exchange, we risk losing everything. So this is not an inconsequential issue—and it is time to reset our beliefs about what really matters in corporate life.