Want More Innovation? Focus on the Team

In a recent post on Innovation Weekly, Tamara Chandour noted that “team innovation is the secret sauce to a business’s success.” As we discuss in some of our vistage CEo meetings, that means, removing the barriers and getting a team to innovate on a regular basis, not just at creative off-site meetings once a quarter. It means creating a culture of supporting innovators and understanding when you need to nurture them. Companies like 3M, Google and Intuit and start with the individual – giving each 15-20% time to be innovative – and then allowing them to form teams to use the time to experiemnt. Working with clients at LaunchStreet she found 7 ways to encourage innovation that have big pay off. That encouragement becomes the invisible cultural glue that creates real empowerment and motivation to act within your team.

  1. Give Risk A Name:Risk shuts down a lot of innovation efforts. The fear of failure takes over and innovation is shut down. Talking about risk actually minimizes the fear factor as people realize the perceived risk isn’t nearly as bad as their imagination makes it out to be. Talk about it, say it out loud, give it a name.
  2. Reward Behavior:If you want to encourage innovation, reward the behaviors that generate it.
  3. Test to Discover:Nothing satisfies the creative spirit like bringing your ideas to life. All too often innovation gets shut down by the all-or-none mentality. Testing fosters optimized ideas and more investment in innovation overall.
  4. Make Space, Not Meetings:People need space to innovate – not long-draw out meetings.
  5. Empower Them:Part of the reason your team doesn’t innovate is that they simply don’t know how. Perhaps they’ve been told they aren’t innovative or they’ve shoved their innovative side in a drawer for so long they forgot how to use it. If you want to encourage innovation with your teams, help them understand how they innovate.
  6. Challenge Everyone, Not Titles:You’d be amazed where a good idea can come from. And usually, it’s not where you think.  several companies seeking new algorithms (e.g., Netflix) find that the wiiners of their contest are people NOT related to their industry.  Fresh perspectives, like those Vistage members provide each other during their monthly meetings, can make all the difference.
  7. Be Consistent:. Make innovation part of their job responsibilities and daily tasks, not something you do at an occassional innovation event.

What are you going to do in your company is 2019 to encourage more innovation?. If you want better results, you can’t do same-old-same-old. Share with us.

More Evidence that “Less Is More”

Allen Root, a writer for Barron’s (part of Dow Jones) recently made an observation concerning earnings reports. While not a scientific study, he  identified an important pattern concerning the length of earnings PowerPoint presentations. The lengthier the slide deck, the poorer the performance.

“Slogging through stacks of (virtual) presentations while covering the latest third-quarter earnings reports has sparked the following correlational thought: The longer it takes to read the provided information, the worse the stock is doing.” Focused on the large-cap Russell 1000 index, he found that, across most sectors, “the worst performers’ earning presentations are, on average, 12 pages longer than the best performers…What’s more, the worst performers also appeared to have the longest slide decks five years ago, so our signal could be predictive. And some of the best performing stocks actually showed a decrease in presentation size over time. Go figure — less is indeed more.

“From our signal, who are the strong, silent types? Those stocks that have perform well and offer shorter (or no) PowerPoint presentations? Steel Dynamics , Burlington Stores (BURL), Netflix ( NFLX ), Nvidia ( NVDA) Abiomed (ABMD)m and XPO Logistics (XPO) are the six top stocks by sector. That group has returned 48% a year for five years.”

Presentation Excellence provides training for executives who want winning presentations. Our first point is that the presenter has to be clear exactly what action he/she wants the audience to take. Our second point, is that less is more! That’s not easy because it means organizing it for solid impact, and leaving out all the distractive information many other team members may want to include. (That’s the reason, with financial presentations we often recommend two “parts”; the first is the VITO) (Very Important Officer) who decides to act based on the compelling information about the company. The second provides support information for “Seymour” the analyst who needs to SEE MORE details: e.g., his analyst who dives into the related details. This way you don’t dilute the power of the presentation with distractive information.

As you approach 2019…. Make sure your presentation designer creates a concise, well-organized presentation which focus on what the audience really needs to know.   If you’re not closing as many deals as you want… request a corporate training program, a one-on-one coaching program for key people, or attend are quarterly open-to-the-public workshops (Next one is January 11, 2019)

You can contact me here, or register here

Employee Jobs Should Address Strategy and Culture

Tom Peters, in his new book, The Excellence Dividend,  which is a follow-up to the classic,  In Search of Excellence, he shares two quotes which make an important point which leadders should heed: we all need to address culture!

In 1990, Lou Gerstner, took the helm of IBM, which was failing to adapt to the changing computer landscape. Many people thought it could only survive if major changes took place. Mr. Gerstner previously was CEO of RJR Nabisco – a consumer products company – with little expertise in technology. He was a “strategist’s strategist; he believed that if you “get the strategy right and you’re three quarters of the way down the road.” Yet, he took the time to truly understand the company and do what was needed to turn it around.”

In his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: Inside IBM’s Hstoric Turnaround, he shares an important perspective:  “ If I could have chosen not to tackle the IBM culture head-on, I probably wouldn’t have. My bias coming in was toward strategy, analysis and measurement. In comparsion, changing the attitude and behavior of hundreds of thousands of people is very, very hard. Yet, I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it IS the game”

Similarly, Parick Lencioni, in his book, The Advantage: why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, recounts a story consistent with this issue. “As I sat at the conference listening to one presentation after another highlighting the remarkable and unorthodox activities (people-first dogman, leadership stule, communal culture etc.) that have made this organization so healthy, I leaned over and asked the CEO a semi-rhetorical question: Why in the world don’t your competitors do any of this? After a few seconds, he whispered, almost sadly, ‘You know, I honestly believe they think it’s beneath them.”

Leaders heed the advice: address culture and strategy if you truly want a more successful company. As our  Eval2Win system advocates, in a Continuous Improvement Learning Organization (CILO) each person is accountable for specific job responsibilites that fulfill the company’s cultural values and his/her component of its strategic mission. This allows you to hire, develop and promote people to new positions over time while always maintaining an aligned situation in which as employees win, the company also wins.

Pitching Deals with Emotional Intelligence

Over the last year, I’ve witnessed a number of companies pitching private equity, investment banking and related deals that have all been disappointing. The time frame for closing the deal is extended enormously; the number of interested investors is a fraction of what was expected, and the multiple offered is far less than expected. In several cases, the deals just fell through.

In each case, recognized bankers/investment firms were involved. While the senior people gather the date they use junior people to produce the presentation products, using a forumalic presentation template. When the clients express disappointment in the process, I point out the obvious:

  • The people who draft the actual presentation products are detached from the true meaning of the deal (eg., really understanding the competitive advantage, the actual parties involved (buyers and sellers.)
  • They are judged by their ability to fit boat-loads of information into a standard presentation template which has two negative consequences:
    • The delivery doesn’t complement the material (e.g., a suit should highlight the best of a man’s build; off-the-shelf suits don’t)
    • High quality content gets lost in a long-winded, presentation that makes sense to the designer but not necessarily the buyer. (E.g., an investor relations person was once asked to communicate the Competitive Advantange of the deal and then spent minutes looking for the key part, and not being able to find it commented, “I know it’s here somewhere.”)
  • The presenter is encouraged to follow the banker’s format – rather than one that encourages the presenter to focus on the unique needs of the buyer (e.g.,present an Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation).

One example is a pitch-book devleoped for an apparel company . It addressed the traditional issues, quality of the products, distribution, and the company’s rate of return, and how it’s handling changes in the retail market due to Amazon. However, the company’s product is unique and no real mention of that fact was made.  Unlike most apparel (e.g., jeans, suits, coats, etc.) which generally can be used over and over again, this product is likely to be used only once or twice, and only at setting where it’s beauty-value is treasured.

Not unexpectedly, interested buyers saw it only as a commodity, and the selling process did not produce a satisfactory result.

The solution is to use Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Allow the presenter (in this case company leader) to deliver an Audience-Driven, Authentic  Presentation which use the emotional information of both presenter and audience in an effective and meaningful way. Unleash the presenter rather than fit their message into a (bad) template); meet the emotional needs of a buyer for something really special. Make sure the people designing have the EQ skills (which comes from experience) to understand both parties to the actual transaction.

What’s your experience on this issue?  Share it with us.

Afraid of Public Speaking?

One of the most common fears people have is getting in front of people to perform.  A book was published many years ago offering an alternative  –  “I’d Rather Die Than Give a Speech”  – but not a desirable one.

The real issue whether  to confront the fear.  What do you really want from life? Helen Keller noted that “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outight exposure; the fearful are caught as often as the bold.”  Peter Drucker, the father of management theory , once noted that the greatest risk is taking no risk. The safest plane is one that doesn’t fly; the safest ship is oen that nevr leaves port; but playing it safes comes with a cost – lost opportunities. “ When I look at my own life, it is those things that I was once most fearful of, which, when overcme and ultimately mastered, were the greatest conributos to my success and happiness”. You can cushion the risk when you take the leap and confront your fears, by working with supportive people.

Toastmasters offers virtually free opportunities to practice in front of other people (who are also fearful) and stick at it till they feel more confortable.  Most  speaking/presentation trainers use of variety of techniques to help people overcome it. Google has 90,200,000 entries for “how to overcome the fear of public speaking”; There are many strategies and tactics; find one that works for you.  Some focus on your sensitivity to triggers and help you reduce them and re-label them; others focus on shifting focus from themselves to their audience – through eye-contact, immersive engagement, etc. – so you’re not focused on your own triggers.

Indeed, we tailor the solutions to each student , with an understanding that each time a little fear is natural. Barbra Streisand once observed that despite years of successful entertainment in front of large groups, she still feels anxious for the first 15 seconds; but by shifting from the”me-to-them” mindset to one of “we’re all here together”it disappears quickly.

Finally, take advantage of every opportunity to practice. A colleague recently turned down an opportunity to speak to a dozen executives because he’s not self-confident in large groups (where the “enemy” outnumbers me by a lot; I’m fine one-on one”. So we recommended practicing with a large group (e.g., Toastmasters) where there were no high-stakes. As a result, he gained greater confidence, and has learned (through additional practice) how to work through the fear quickly and then relate to his audience with great results.

Share with us your story of how you overcame the fear of public speaking.

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