Employees with Great Ideas May Hesitate to SpeakUp

Tricia, just mentioning your name in meetings would trigger your innermost shyness and embarrassment – hopefully this blog post is less painful for you.

One of the roles I had while working for BlackBerry in Asia was Head of Distribution for Southeast Asia.  To do my job effectively, I had to work closely with the team that managed demand planning, fulfillment, and logistics.

Part of working in Asia requires a heightened perception of body language, which prompted me to notice Tricia in a sales meeting one afternoon in Singapore.  The outspoken and dominant salespeople (myself included) were going on about our assertions of expected sales volume, and required purchase orders, to fulfill that demand.

I noticed Tricia’s face and saw her unknowingly communicate “umm, I don’t think you guys know what you’re talking about” as I was glancing around the room.  I called her out and asked her to speak up.  She mentioned something, which was barely audible, and was likely glazed over by the team (I can’t recall specifically), but it piqued my curiosity.

Later that day, I approached Tricia to see what information she had to offer.  Tricia’s insight into demand triggers, country specific seasonality, transit time calculations, and overall ability to predict exactly how many Smartphones we would need to order, and when, was fascinating.

The other thing that was fascinating is that no one bothered to brief Tricia on our well-established distribution strategy that had been in place for over a year.  New to the job, and recognizing Tricia’s potential value to the process, I reviewed our strategy in depth with her.

Tricia immediately began to make recommendations as to how we should approach demand planning, and suggested that we include our sub-distributors in this process.  The system that was put in place, based largely on Tricia’s input, most certainly prevented multiple stock-outs, and overstock situations – A value over time that was likely in the $10s of millions.

Tricia taught me a valuable lesson about talent.  Brilliant ideas and excellent input can come from anywhere, junior or senior, matrix or direct report.  The quiet ones in the room may have input that management isn’t extracting.  When employees are encouraged to offer up their advice and expertise, it is not only rewarding for them, but it can certainly make a difference in company performance.

Tricia almost left BlackBerry for another job only a few months after we began working closely together.  Her manager was not making the most of her skills, and we almost lost her to IBM.  Fortunately I was able to coerce her into revealing this to me before it was too late, and I created a position for her on my team.  Tricia was one of my top performers and I brought her along with me as I progressed through the organization.

How many Tricia’s do you have in your direct or matrixed teams?  Do you have a manual or digital process to ensure you’re getting the most out of your Tricias?  I don’t think a good enough process or tool exists.

I recently founded a company with a few like minded friends. We are building a web tool that helps progressive leaders cut through organizational hierarchy and politics to uncover the best ideas and creativity from their teams. It’s called SpeakUp. Enter your email address at getspeakup.com if you’d like updates on our progress.