• Christa Dhimo, Impono LLC

The Every-Business Series: The Power of Liberated Business Thinking


Since our Impono launch late last Autumn, we have received (and continue to receive!) many questions and article requests from our followers for guidance on "every-day matters" like how to get started with a new business, the best paths for generating or augmenting funds, and what to think about when preparing to sell or up-scale a business.

In answer to that demand, we have created "The Every-Business Series," a new short-read series created specifically for Impono's followers.

Keep your feedback coming so we can be sure to continue addressing your questions!!

At Impono, we are on a mission to instill the right balance of Liberated Business Thinking in all of the cultures we are privileged to be a part of. Our experience indicates that leaders who embrace the right level of a "free-think" culture outperform those that do not, and so it is our first topic for the Every-Business Series.

Below are three points and two real-world examples about this topic.

Point #1: Liberated Business Thinking: Know Where You Fit

You may intrinsically know what Liberated Business Thinking means, but you may not know what it feels like. Or maybe you know what it feels like, but you aren't sure how to cultivate it... or maybe you don't want to.

Perhaps it frightens you, it feels "too loose" or "squishy."

Perhaps you yearn for it, it feels "just right."

For those unfamiliar with the term, it probably doesn't matter what Liberated Business Thinking actually means unless you're interested in personal leadership development. The basic is this: as a business owner, you must pay attention to how you respond to hearing the term.

Your response tells you a lot about who you are, what you stand for, the environment where you and others will thrive and the type of people you need around you to balance you effectively. Once you have that, you have the first step to putting and keeping your business in a healthy zone.

Point #2: Practicing Liberated Business Thinking Doesn't Mean You're Free-Wheeling

Liberated Business Thinking is about unlatching from the binds of what used to work but doesn't work anymore. As a way of thinking, you enable a culture that innovates, naturally evolves, and stays true to its mission in the process... and chances are you don't apply Liberated Thinking nearly as much as you think you do:

Entrepreneurs often self-describe as "innovative." (Yet nearly all of those same entrepreneurs revert to a surprisingly close-minded way of managing their team and business.)

Small business owners (many were entrepreneurs ten years ago, a few lead nonprofits) self-describe as "comfortable with change." (Yet many small business owners orient to past wins and early success product types vs future evolutionary needs.)

All of our nonprofit clients and sister-orgs lean on the need-to-fundraise schtick for why they can't innovate or change. (Yet the need for healthy profit cycles are the most obvious argument for implementing innovation and change.)

Does any of this sound familiar? Open up your own thinking while enabling free-think and free-talk among your management team and their teams.

Point #3: The Best Leaders and Businesses Practice (and struggle with) Liberated Business Thinking; it's not as easy as it sounds.

The idea of "liberating an organization" isn't new. However, most instances of liberated organizations focus on process vs the way people interact, which is why we put the Thinking piece in. It's less about process and more about a way of being.

The best post we have read so far that comes close to the Impono definition of Liberated Business Thinking is Philippe Pinault, Co-founder and CEO talkSpirit & holaSpirit, who wrote a post on Medium (July 2016) about Liberated companies.

True, Mr Pinault describes a Liberated Company vs Liberated Business Thinking, but he postulates that a more liberated and autonomous culture-- within a specific framework, as he is careful to assure the reader that "liberation" isn't a free-for-all-- can promote better connections and improved overall performance. [I'm paraphrasing mightily, and I encourage you to read his 8 min post.]

Real World Application: Two Examples

Rather than describe it, we prefer to share two common examples of what to avoid when you want to promote a higher performing business based on Liberated Business Thinking:

Example 1: The "Keep It Simple" Maneuver

Verb Phrase. Literal sense, Historical setting.

1) a dated coaching term originally intended to help people finalize and then execute the simplest plans for an already-agreed-on project. Rarely used in present day within its original and valid context.

Original Use Example: "Now that we've completed the brainstorming, and we've committed to a specific solution, let's keep it simple so we stay focused, use resources appropriately, and assure scope remains in tact."

Verb Phrase. Figurative sense, Present-day setting.

1) a means to dismiss new ideas or innovations that may seem "too complicated" to those less experienced or avoid an internal tension to learn about something genuinely complicated; may also stem from a basic resistance to change or intolerant style when it comes to open team discussions.

Present-day Use Example: "Look, I hear what you're saying about how we can be more efficient and reduce operating expenses, and that makes a ton of sense, but let's keep it simple, guys, OK? Now's probably not the time to look at increasing our margins through efficiency despite our issues with profit. Let's just get more sales in and we'll get to the same result."

The Debrief

Liberated Business Thinking never qualifies tasks or results as "simple" or "complicated." Rather, it focuses on enabling the team to think as widely as possible while providing necessary constraints based on reality.

Excellent leaders focus on the strategy (longer term), which should initially include all related ideas and then filter the actionable ones based on criteria and priorities. They encourage their capable teams to solve the problem(s) using the smartest approach possible, which are often best birthed from the experts in the room not necessarily the leader. In smaller companies, this style is a bare essential. Mature and confident leaders enable Liberated Business Thinking.

Ineffective leaders constrain a capable team within the bounds of the leader's comfort and capabilities (their "depth"), and it's obvious to everyone but the leader. Often solving the problem behind a closed door alone or with only 1 other person, they emerge with their own plan and then assign the tactics. The two most immediate problem with this style is that 1) they often don't solve the problem, and 2) they often create new problems. If job security is involved, the employees now go-along-to-get-along, and we all know that reduces performance. Inexperienced (occurring at all ages) or insecure leaders disable Liberated Business Thinking.

Your Leadership Action

Keep it simple and avoid using this term completely. What was once a tremendously valuable term to help people reign in their solutions AFTER the innovating and brainstorming phase (think of the IT projects of the 80s and 90s before SCRUM and Agile and other fast-step JIT methods) has become a biting term used by those who are often fearful of complicated work even if there is genuinely no way to "simplify." This creates solution gridlock at best, and a total shutdown of finding the best solution at mid-range bad, and disengaging your team at worst.

In a small business environment, you risk failure in all cases.

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Example 2: The "Click-Fever" Inaction

Noun. Figurative sense, Present-day setting.

1) an Impono term to describe rigid anxiety about making a decision, usually based on personal style, and/or requiring an excessive and irrelevant amount of over-analysis to feel more comfortable before making said decision, usually based on inexperience and the need for a lot of data.

Use Example: "I picked out our vacation spot, I found the right package online. Before I book, I'm going to look at all other possibilities, put the choices in a spreadsheet, weigh them based on criteria, but in the end I know I'll choose this package. I just have to get over my click-fever before I book it."

The Debrief

Liberated Business Thinking looks for feedback in various contexts and from different perspectives before making a decision. However, it also supports effective decision-making when the data points to the same conclusion no matter how many times you might shift the variables.

In small business environments, cutting the data dozens of times, creating spreadsheets that show four different versions of the same data, and requiring twenty reports that generate the same outcomes is an utter waste of your resources and a criminal use of funds.

Excellent leaders focus on creating an information-fluid environment where people make informed, responsible decisions. Whether the decision yields an expected or unexpected outcome, the decision culture remains in tact. Once again, they encourage their capable teams-- in this case to make decisions based on the data available within the timeframe needed, and in smaller companies, this is a bare essential. Mature and confident leaders enable Liberated Business Thinking.

Poor leaders require the capable team to review, slice, dice and go over the same data points, review irrelevant decision criteria "to be thorough", and then conduct multiple data review meetings that all draw the same conclusion. Then, and only then, a decision will be made.

Whether this is from a personality trait, a style preference, fear of making the wrong decision or inexperience (which again happens at all ages), leaders who demonstrate 'click fever' disable Liberated Business Thinking.

Your Action

Know your decision-making style: what drives you, what scares you, what slows you down and what speeds you up. Set expectations and limits with your Board and your team about the decision-making culture you think will enable the highest performance and best success of your company, even if it goes beyond your own decision-making comfort.

If you employ seasoned management, give them the room to articulate their recommendations and trust them and their process accordingly. With less experienced management, give them room to develop with the help of you and your advisors-- start-ups and small businesses often use advisors for this very reason: effective decision-making.

Liberated Business Thinking leverages the experts and provide specifics about what it takes to make a critical decision.

BOTTOM LINE: Liberated Business Thinking is Directly Related to Competitiveness and Performance

The most competitive cultures encourage an environment where an initially silly-sounding solution has room for actual thought and productive debate, especially when no other (or better) solution has been found.

The highest performing teams take the initiative to discard the how-it-used-to-be-dones in favor of the how-we-should-do-it-nows when a new way may bring better value to customers, employees and future form (read: higher profits).

Liberated Business Thinking is perhaps one of the most responsible cultural aspects of any company, especially in early-stage companies where resourcefulness is directly aligned to future value and in small businesses (for profit and nonprofit) where ease of making adjustments enables positive changes in profits and opportunities.

We know that launching a new or transforming an existing organization isn't simple, but it can be easier with the right advisors and doers. If you have additional questions about this topic or how it can impact your business, contact us. Let's see what we can do for you.

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