blog_it's not fair

Comments on Article about Trust & High-Performing Teams

Recently a peer sent me an article by David Carboni called, “Activating High-Performing Teams: Connection eats control for breakfast“. 

I thought on this after reading the article. The wisdom is there and yet I was troubled by the primary quote in the article. I knew what I did not like but needed the words to articulate it even though it is a small differentiation and not elegant. The difference however is critical to show a more precise direction on how good leaders interact and why it matters. Here is how I would modify the quote:

“The contradiction of leadership is that people say ‘yes’ and feign cooperation because they do not feel safe in their relationship with leadership and/or with their ability to contribute. They do not feel safe to say, ‘That won’t work because…’ or in the more extreme of leadership missteps do not want to risk their job to say ‘No that unwise, because…’.”

The lack of safety comes from a deep form of management insincerity (and not necessarily an ignorant or abusive company) and the lack of a process that makes the contradictions between what we need to do on the market end of things versus with what we need internally to make that work and with individual employee needs. Oh, and let’s not forget the shareholder and the community.

  • These contradictions are multi-headed hydras
  • Many problems never get solved because we stop too soon.
  • Most companies do not have a process to transition from the board room to management and to interact to create a seamless strategy to tactical plan.
  • Many individuals feel fear because of lack of trust in management or in self.
  • We know we must be team and company oriented but companies generally ignore the needs for employees to protect their families and personal interests and many employees won’t go the extra mile at work.
  • Shareholders usually have a singular interest in financial growth.
  • The “because…” is critical to demonstrate trust that I, as an employee or leader, have a legitimate reason for saying “No”. I am collaborating in the highest sense of leaving an open for solving the next problem.

The original quote is pithy and conveys a deep meaning about the role of management and trust; however, feeling “safe” alone does not actually improve cooperation.

Within companies that provide a clear policy on the relationship between employees and management I have seen many abuses by both management and employees leveraging the rules of engagement because they know the margins of safety for their job. They do not cooperate and often sabotage each other. What they lack is: trust in the other’s desire to sincerely represent the interests of the other.

Of course, in the end, this is what I perceive to be the deepest meaning of the original quote.

Thus to make my final modification more elegant I would not modify it this way:

“The curse of leadership is that people say ‘Yes’ until they feel trust enough in management to say ‘No, because…’.”

I found the article useful. I hope these musing are helpful for you as well.

synergistic effort moves everyone forward

EDANA Interview

A recent interview on Textile World’s website had EDANA’s Scientific & Technical Affairs Director, Marines Lagemaat, asking question of keynote speaker Omar Hoek, executive vice president at Ahlstrom-Munksjö.

They were speaking about how difficult it is to manage innovation and many companies used a stage-gate process.  Mr. Hoek commented that the desire to manage using a stage-gate process came from wanting a clear predictable target and trying to organize efforts around current business infrastructure: structural, budgeting and accountability.

Also, he said that today we see many different types of innovation: fast pace and sometimes slow-paced, random behaviors, existing versus new technology, with or without external partners and more. “
It gets very complex,” he stated, “to make a one size fits all model for … innovation.”

It’s true that business loves predictability and structure. Innovations are often “revolutionary” or disruptive and so appears at odds with predictable core systems and structure. But nothing is further from the truth. Innovators love to take things that appear to be at odds and create synergies. That’s one of the things I love most about innovation.

So what do I mean?

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Post Blog Silos

Do “skunkworks” create corporate silos?

I just read an interesting article by John Winsor, a contributor to Forbes.com.  The title of the article is

Don’t Put The Word ‘Innovation’ On Business Cards.

Here’s the link to the article.

SUMMARY:

The idea of the article - as I understand it - is that innovation 
centers, special innovation units, or skunk works creates a silo in a
company's culture. It's unfavorable because it breeds demotivation, 
and could create serious brain-drain if the company hits hard times
and the unit is disbanded or scaled back or if someone leaves the 
company. Instead, embed innovation throughout the entire company; 
don't isolate it.

MY COMMENTS ON MR. WINSORS’ ARTICLE:

While isolation and silo-type of culture could develop as a result of having an innovation special unit, it’s not a direct correlation. If it is happening, more likely it is a red flag that the innovation program is not working correctly.

Let me create an analogy between an innovation special unit and the Navy Seals. Both are agile groups that focus in on missions that are too tough for others to complete. Maybe others have tried and failed or no wants to try. These SEALS carry out their assigned missions and in the process, develop special operational strategy and tactics. Over time, these proven strategies and tactics can be systematized and processes can be developed for use throughout the organization. The SEALS take on the toughest problems and they encounter obstacles that develop and test their stamina, leadership and ability to work as a team.
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Social Innovation and the Theory of Change

I just read an interesting article by Kathleen Kelly Janus on the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The title of the article is

Demystifying the Theory of Change Process: Why the process of creating a theory of change matters, and a five-step guide to success.

Here’s the link to the article.

SUMMARY:

The idea is that nonprofits should develop a theory of change 
articulation because they powerfully and efficiently explain why 
programs will lead to strong, measurable results. Developing a 
theory of change really is a means of assuring that your 
organization is actually doing the right things in the right ways
and actually making a difference. The problem is that many 
organizations don’t do it well and many leaders struggle with the 
process. She gives five steps to help ensure that the process is 
successful.

MY COMMENTS ON MS. JANUS’ ARTICLE:

Your five points will be useful for social innovators because those five points help “grease the skids” of change and because humans resist change for many reasons.

Social innovation is mostly about doing things differently – disrupting the status quo – creating change to make things better. But big change means big resistance to the social innovator’s plan. That’s why a theory of change process is useful. It may help the social innovator grasp the reality of the resistance they will face.

Many social innovators cannot tolerate this backlash and so they compromise their plans to make small changes – incremental changes over time to disrupt the resistance to their goals. The bad news is there will be a corresponding small benefit to be garnered. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about the dangers of gradualism, especially for social change.
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blog+innovators

Don’t Hesitate Wait, or Debate; Instead, Innovate

March through the Steps of Innovation

Global market
Need to compete
Outsource pressures
Slipping balance sheet.
 
Must differentiate
So, go innovate!
Innovate!
Innovate.
(Yeeeah, Innovate!)
 

This is today’s rallying cry. Businesses leaders intone it, government officials cantillate it, employees worry about it, and whole industries are moving to embrace it. We call it ‘innovation cheerleading’ because lots of people know innovation will help us compete, therefore they talk about it; but very few people know how to do it, so… they talk about it.

  • It is not enough to just speak about the importance of innovation.
  • It’s not enough to just generate lots and lots of ideas. Brainstorming is not the same as innovation.
  • And finally, it is not enough to just support innovation – this is critical to understand. Supporting innovation or creating an environment of innovation is nice to have but it is not necessary.

Innovation is produced by taking step-by-step action, by marching through a process that delivers results. Yes; there is a structured methodology for innovation, as counter-intuitive as that seems.

For some gifted few this process is instinctive and happens repeatably (Edison, G. Washington Carver, Eliza Murfey and Marion Donovan). For the vast majority, however, the act of innovation is like a lightning strike. It happens infrequently and below the surface of consciousness; therefore, there is no control and it is nearly impossible to manage.

As executives, we need innovation to become procedural within our organization. We need to schedule, track, and measure it. Once it is manageable it’s as useful as other business processes: cost reduction, Lean, optimization, new product development, inventory turns, and supply chain management. We need innovation to be repeatable, predictable, and positively impact our bottom line and align with our priorities.
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blog_safety1

Why Safety Professionals need to go beyond being the Squeaky Wheel

Sandy Smith wrote an article for ehstoday.com titled, “Former President of Chemical Company Sentenced for Federal Crimes Related to Employee Deaths“. This in turn caused , a safety professional,  to write the following comment:

“As Safety Professionals we have to be the squeaky wheel. We have understand how to communicate the consequences of bad /unsafe actions to the next level leadership. The people that follow us are counting on it.”

And he is absolutely correct. I really do not want to short-sell the importance of the constant drum beat regarding safety, but that is just the first step for safety. It is a countermeasure rather than a solution. So much more is needed.

In our safety book co-authors Brion K. Hanks and Scott Burr join me in saying,

“In regards to the unspoken cold war between production 
and safety, we have noticed that some industry leaders 
are expending enormous amounts of activity with relatively 
minor new achievement. Safety as a discipline needs an 
upgrade and a reboot. The result of this delusion (that 
activity equals achievement) is that people are routinely 
hurt and killed on the job...
...One of the reasons we succumb to trading-off safety for 
schedule or profits is because management and 'designers' 
throw problems over the wall instead of taking full 
accountability for what they create. All of this 'tossing 
off of responsibility' lands squarely on the worker in the 
field in bad weather with pressures and dangers all around. 
This is the worst place to try and solve problems that 
should have been solved upstream....”

Safety needs to be more systematic.

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blogTinkering

Tinkering is good; but it is not necessarily innovation

Bruce Kasanoff (from Opportunity Shaper, Now Possible) just wrote a blog article called, “Why Tinkering Around is the Key to Success” It’s on linkedin.

He starts the article this way,

"Here is a quick way to judge whether your company will continue 
to be successful: can you tell your CEO that you spent the morning 
tinkering around with an idea? If the answer is yes, you are in 
good shape. If no, start looking for another job.

Successful companies know that the path to innovation isn't 
a straight line. Profitable growth is a messy, roller-coaster 
process that involves almost as many setbacks as victories. 
If you succeed in everything you do, you aren't aiming nearly 
high enough.

I get frustrated when companies talk and talk and talk about 
innovation, while simultaneously making it nearly impossible 
for their employees to tinker around. Tinkering is what drives 
innovation, not talking."

There is much that I agree with in Bruce Kasanoff’s article, but there are some big disagreements as well. In the spirit of lively conversation, here are my comments:

Bruce Kasanoff, you are correct. There are a few reasons why tinkering is so valuable: (1). You allow your brain to enter another state of being – it’s not linear, driven, goal-oriented. If you learn to recognize that “creative/tinkering” brain-state then you can enter it more easily and on-demand. The ability to move into and out of states-of-being is very valuable for serial innovators. You need to learn to develop that skill if you want to innovate reliably. (2). Developing your persistence ‘muscle’ is also vital to innovators because innovation generally takes effort and you cannot cave-in at the first obstacle. There are lots of reasons why innovators need to persist. It is a basic characteristic of great serial innovators.
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When does CPI begin

When does continual improvement actually begin?

A Quality Assurance Manager asked, “When does continual improvement actually begin?“. Here was my response:

It begins in the minds of each worker the second they begin to work. It begins in the hearts of a leader (whether they be employee or manager) the instant they accept responsibility to make things better.

You see, every single employee develops work momentum the more they perform their job. They improve their processes so they can do a better job (or the same job) with less effort. This is the nature of our brains. Human brains love resource efficiency. Since every single employee will be “continuously improving” their work, it’s management’s job to make sure that those “improvement” benefit the company and not just the employee.

The first time someone develops or defines a metric for improvement and that metric is accepted, then that may be the start of an OFFICIAL improvement plan. The improvement continues as long as there is someone to work on it. (Although my husband left his employer years ago, he still offers CI suggestions to his old employer much to their profit and chagrin.)

Bottom line: CI begins when any employee accepts responsibility.

blog_fear stops innovation

What Serial Innovators Know about Fear

I read a blog article at the Huffington Post by Judith E. Glaser called, “Innovate or Evaporate“. This is a good article about innovation,  but I have one disagreement her statements about fear limiting innovation. In a nutshell she says,

"When fear 'owns our brains' we cannot think creatively... All we think about is how to protect ourselves."

There are indeed processes that happen consistently within the human brain. We have responses to inputs that travel in ‘ruts’ or along strong synapse paths. In these cases inputs create a cascade of reactions. Fear can cause a cascade of reactions that does indeed ‘close down’ the creative parts of our brain and get us stuck in protection mode. But, and this is a big ‘but’, it doesn’t need to. A person can train their brain to respond differently to fear – interrupt the cascade – deflect the automatic response – and react more usefully and creatively. Serial innovators train themselves to be able to change states.
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Inventors cartoons

2 of my favorite quotes from Genrich Altshuller, the father of TRIZ

Here are two quotes from the father of TRIZ. I think they get to the heart of what TRIZ is.

“I became more and more interested in the mechanics of creativity. How were
inventions made? What happens in the head of the inventor?” – Genrich Altshuller

“Although people who had achieved a great deal in science and technology talked of the inscrutability of creativity, I was not convinced and disbelieved them immediately and without argument. Why should everything but creativity be open to scrutiny? What kind of process can this be which unlike all others is not subject to control?…What can be more alluring than the discovery of the nature of talented thought and converting this thinking from occasional and fleeting flashes into a powerful and controllable fire of knowledge.” – Genrich Altshuller