How to use Dragons’ Den to keep your staff on board

There are two main shifts that need to happen to really make a difference. 

Firstly, any business has to get its workforce to believe that their opinions and voice really matters, and enable people to see their role in shaping the future. Secondly, you need to get the workforce to a place where they have the confidence to say what they really think. Often, easier said than done!

At the same time, these shifts are only made possible when you bring about a change in the thinking of management/leadership – to see that their main role is not a “control and command” type role but actually one of unblocking talent and creativity in the business, allowing it to flourish.

However, management communication can be a real issue, and effective communication is required to boost engagement. A recent survey found that while 86 per cent of business leaders think of themselves as good communicators, less than a fifth of staff think that is actually the case! So clearly there is quite a lot of work to be done.

Into the Dragons’ Den 

To get staff into a place where they feel truly valued and on board, we have used a kind of reverse Dragons’ Den exercise. 

It’s a lot of fun and also can have amazing results. It’s a novel inversion of the norm and really puts managers on their toes – and puts all the power with the staff. They are right at the heart of addressing the issues and tend to become really energised.

Quite simply, it starts with the business owner or board bringing the company or team together and setting out a compelling vision of the future. Then discussion turns to what issues are getting in the way of achieving that vision. 

Once these are identified, staff come up with ways of solving those issues, and a short list of the best suggestions are chosen. 

Then, the Dragons’ Den starts, with leaders in the company putting themselves forward to bid to become the sponsor for those ideas and explain how they would approach it and why they would be the best choice. The “Dragons” are staff members who listen to these bids and choose or reject the sponsor.

It then develops into a proper project that is tracked over time with milestones and targets – to deliver visible change. It’s a simple concept that can have great results.

It’s also effective because it incorporates the following five most important areas to getting your staff on board:

  • Listen to your staff if you want them to deal with your agenda, you need to listen to their agenda. 
  • Show them evidence that you really will implement their ideas. 
  • Act as an unblocker. A leader’s role is to unblock the creativity and potential of teams. That is what you’re there to do as a manager.
  • Give the whole picture. Communication is vital as noted above. You need to communicate openly and honestly, and in everyday language too. Cut out the management-speak!
  • Give real recognition by recognising and rewarding your staff well. Innovative ideas can really be effective here.

Having high staff morale and real team spirit is one of the Holy Grails of business. But there’s a lot you can do to help make it happen. Maybe, as a leader, you should put yourself into the den?

Mike Straw is CEO of Achieve Breakthrough.

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