In his new book, Scaling Conversations: How Leaders Access the Full Potential of People, author Dave MacLeod exposes the tyranny of what was once standard practice, in an enlightening and liberating exercise in digital communication.
The Rossland native and CEO of ThoughtExchange began writing Conversations just prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We started 10 years ago, to scale conversations using technology, and I don’t mean getting feedback through a survey but actually do something where people share thoughts, listen to other people’s thoughts and consider things,” MacLeod told the Rossland News.
“We’ve been working with all sorts of leaders over the course of the last 10 years, and then last year we decided it was time to take the best things we’ve learned and put them into a book.”
The once eclectic online platform has promoted a remote or “distributed” workforce from the start, so when COVID hit, ThoughtExchange was cutting edge in the digital world.
“A few months later, all of a sudden, the whole world was in a very different space than they were and having digital conversations became this very interesting thing for almost every organization in the world.
“It ended up being extremely timely, let’s put it that way.”
The company has grown some 1,300 per cent in the past five years, and employs more than 180 distributed individuals throughout Canada and the U.S.
But the book is not about how to succeed in the time of COVID, it addresses issues that transcend most company or organizational agendas, such as white privilege, systemic racism, mental health, climate change, equity, diversity, inclusivity and…margaritas.
Through simple analogies and incisive examples, Conversations describes the process involved in finding innovative ideas and solutions to big problems, rather than relying on false positives or embracing consensus.
“I open up most conversations with people who go out, and the waiter comes up and asks, ‘What would you like to drink?’”, said McLeod. “One person says ‘beer’, and another one ‘beer’, ‘sure why not?’ says another, ‘beer’.”
But it’s the first beautiful sunny day of the year, and so when the last person is asked, they decide on a margarita. The idea is a revelation, and all the beer orders quickly change to margaritas.
Despite the number of beer takers, it was the idea of the margarita that won out in the end.
Most surveys rely on frequency that do not necessarily offer insight, scaling conversations means the essence of learning from each other, says MacLeod.
The software platform that MacLeod brings to light in the book, motivates leaders to engage everyone in their workplace or organization, whether 10 or 10,000, in a conversation that results in the emergence of priorities based on merit. It removes the loudest and most aggressive voices that tend to dominate and mislead conversations and skew priorities.
The process involves moving through the hierarchy of needs that inspires trust through safety, structure, connection, alignment, culture, vision and transformation.
Scaling Conversations inspires leaders to engage everyone in the conversation, and grant anonymity in a greater effort to remove bias and create equity.
“Since the dawn of the Fortune 500 there’s been fewer than 20 African-American CEOs,” said MacLeod.
“There’s been many studies over the years that say, ‘There are more CEOs in the Fortune 500 named Dave than the total number of women in the Fortune 500.’ And I’m Dave, I’m the CEO as well as the average height, six-foot tall, of all CEOs.
“I think it’s really easy when you’re a white CEO named Dave or any person who is in a leadership role, to say that I don’t think anonymity is important, people should tell me what they think and have the boldness to give me their radical candor.
“When the essence of that is actually radically B.S.”
“You’re standing in a spot of privilege if you think everyone should just tell you what you think, without thinking about the fact that maybe their thought won’t be valued as much because of where they sit in the organization – their gender, the colour of their skin, there’s 400 years of racism that says there’s a lot of reasons people don’t say what they think.”
What started with recipe cards and sticky notes, has expanded to one of the leading global crowdsourcing software ventures that empowers leaders, individuals, and groups to ask the best questions, engage in big conversations, and hopefully, ultimately, find solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
As MacLeod says, “The same mechanism that helps revenue leaders increase sales, helps public leaders save lives. It’s about scaling conversations.”
ThoughtExchange will also be hosting a discussion on mental health this month.
Join the conversation or order Scaling Conversations at my.thoughtexchange.com.