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Shatter Today’s Organizational Myths by Crowdsourcing Culture

Think back to the last company change initiative you spearheaded. If your company is like most, you sent a survey to employees via email. Some employees might have grumbled about it and eventually filled it out; the senior leadership team then sat down and attempted to make sense of the feedback.

Unfortunately, this approach can only take leaders so far. Organizational surveys aren’t always effective because they’re limited to what leaders think is important to ask. They fail to engage the organization’s stakeholders in an active dialogue, and they only address culture at one point in the process, leaving leaders to make decisions throughout the year based on stale information.

Most importantly, this top-down approach to culture creates a cycle in which leaders do all the work — setting unrealistic expectations that doom an organization from the start.

I’m a culture guy, so the lion’s share of organizational assessments I’ve seen and led deal specifically with culture. These lessons can be generalized across most organization-wide data collection efforts, however.

Though most companies approach culture assessment and change as described above, creating a strong culture is the ultimate opportunity to take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd. When employees, leaders, and other stakeholders have a say in a company’s culture, the insights that arise are often the most innovative and effective solutions. After all, your employees are closest to the everyday issues in the workplace.

By tapping into and including the input of people at every level of your organization, you start at the beating heart of your company. And by engaging them on a regular basis (rather than once a year), you can leverage that collective intelligence to drive the business forward.

This is the way we at gothamCulture have long approached our work, but the recent trend in social media circles of calling everything “crowdsourcing” made me reconsider why. After all, inviting the crowd into the process can be messy, and tackling any cultural problem is much more than an item on a checklist — but that’s the point.

Looking back on our nine years of work in this space, there are several long-standing beliefs and assumptions worth challenging regarding how organizations do, and should, develop highly functioning cultures.

These myths include (but are not limited to):

1. The experts have all the answers. The days of a small group of “experts” sitting in a war room and coming up with the ultimate solution for the masses are gone. People expect more from their work experience. They want to exercise some level of control in their environment.

When senior leadership teams make decisions in isolation, they do so based on a limited amount of information. It’s one particular version of reality fed to them by others who may have their own agendas. Leaders may think they have an in-depth understanding of issues’ nuances when, in fact, they may be too far removed from what’s really going on to make the most effective decisions.

2.  The people within the organization don’t know what’s best. This is the misguided assumption that drives leaders to rely on “experts” rather than employees in the trenches. Over time, leaders may conclude that people in the organization’s ranks are unable to comprehend the complexities of their everyday tasks, but that’s seldom the truth.

In our work, we’ve found that those closest to the issues oftentimes have the most profound perspectives on them. In many cases, they’ve already figured out solutions and workarounds for some of the organization’s biggest problems. The only reason they haven’t voiced their opinions is because nobody thought to ask — or asked the wrong questions.

3.  Annual surveys and focus groups give us the right information at the right time. How could we ever assume that an organization’s lifeblood — its people — only have something valuable to contribute once a year? The traditional annual survey limits the amount and type of information you can get from stakeholders and reinforces a skewed perception of reality.

Leaders take that information, sort it, and make sweeping changes that affect the entire organization based on a few data points. The collected stories and feelings of various team members, in conjunction with quantitative assessments, result in better conclusions than those arrived at through paper surveys or digital tallies alone.

Successful businesses of the future will leverage technology to drive constant input and feedback from all stakeholders. These continuous feedback loops will increase inclusivity of people and ideas, freeing leaders from relying on annual surveys to drive their decisions. This collective approach will also reveal opportunities and red flags earlier so they can be addressed in a timely manner.

We’re starting to question organizational norms that have existed for decades, and it’s just the beginning. As more Millennials enter the workforce, companies are realizing that today’s stakeholders expect continual involvement, and they’re being forced to adapt quickly to the changing tide.

To successfully evolve and deliver on your stakeholders’ high expectations, you can’t hold on to antiquated practices and continue making decisions based on outdated beliefs and assumptions. Organizations that adapt to leverage new values and the input of their stakeholders will come out on top. They’ll mine the crowd to form a truly accurate sense of their environment, they’ll be better equipped to make more accurate and timely decisions, and they’ll be much more adept at engaging their stakeholders through a collective and crowdsourced organizational culture.

This article originally appeared on Forbes