Culture & Structure

Does Your Culture Foster Innovation?

We hear often about how companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are generating innovations, especially regarding artificial intelligence, through their corporate R&D departments. What lessons can smaller companies like ours learn from them?

Recently, Dr. Ishak, Chief Technologist for Corning Research & Development Corporation reflected on this question in McKinsey Quarterly (Sept, 2017) and identified a number of “less intuitive” ideas based on his 40 year experience. They include:

  • Practice “innovation parenting”. Innovation leaders should ground creative people in accountability for the organization’s objectives, key focus areas, core capabilities and stakeholders. Then give them broad discretion within these parameters. Obsessing too much on budgets and deadlines often kills ideas before they get off the ground. In addition, pay attention to innovator’s social development. Millennials, especially, expect and seek out opportunities to interact with people who interest and excite them; these exchanges build innovation energy.  Encourage relationships with colleagues in the internal innovation chain, from manufacturing to marketing and distribution; this helps them overcome the assumption that they must do everything. The result is that it reduces wasted effort and inspires burst of collaborative creativity.
  • Open up organizational space. Facilitate people to bypass barriers and hierarchies that often sap creativity and identify outside-the-box resources.
  • Encourage the unreasonable. While companies value unconventional thinking, cultures trend to reinforce tradition. Assure brainstorming participants that there are no bad ideas and encourage outside-the-box approaches. Challenge assumptions about products and markets; engage in scenario planning in which competitors challenge your strengths, and force you to rethink what you’re doing and up-your-game.
  • Stay focused. Taking on too many projects, because only one will be “boring” leads to a lack of ownership and commitment. Concentrate on a primary, immersive project, with the possibility of shifting gears to the other if the first hits a temporary roadblock.
  • Cultivate external relationships. Today many companies are feeding their innovation pipelines by partnering with external companies, including star-ups, national labs, universities, business accelerators, etc.. Allowing the internal and external partners to interact leads to greater achievements, as it did for Corning: bend-resistant optical fibers and Gorilla Glass.
  • Hire the best and do it fast. As with other parts of the business, identifying recruiting and retaining innovators and visionaries is a big challenge. Always be looking for great people!

What do you think?   What’s your experience in creating an innovative culture. Share with us.

Teaming: An Onboarding Priority

 

Talk to any hiring manager and you’ll hear that it’s hard to find people with the skills the company needs. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that in addition to the “hard’ skills is the issue of “soft” skills which enable people to become effective members of high performing teams.

Teamwork requires more than simply collaborating within teams in the sense of people taking on specific roles as specified by a division of labor (e.g., assembly line work). It requires teaming: communicating and collaborating with people across boundaries, such as expertise, seniority, experience and/or distance, spontaneously and continuously. Today, authority and power often give way to Influence as a teaming tool. (Robert Cialdini’s book,  Influence,  provides many valuable insights.)

This involves several skills:

  • Understand the big picture. Know the team’s strategy (mission and goals) and each component’s individual strategies. Align your own efforts with those of others, so both individuals and the team “win” simultaneously.
  • Initially, over-communicate, so you and your team members hear and understand each’s perspectives. Have empathy, understand the emotions and logic behind differences. Negotiate areas of conflict to reach a collaborative framework.
  • Manage up, across and down. When people leave school for a full-time job, they may have had prior part-time experience, in which their boss “managed down”. This includes setting responsibilities, enabling you to execute your skills, develop new ones and give you feedback. Today, working effectively with a team means learning how to work more effectively with your boss (managing up) and work with the team members (managing across). Understand expectations being set for you and discuss what you need to effectively do your job. Don’t make assumptions: check and double check that you’re on the same page with everyone else. Feedback and adaptation is essential for effective teaming.

What are your experiences with school graduates joining the workforce when it comes to being effective team members? How do you help them learn “teaming”?   Share with us!

What’s Your Mentoring Commitment?

Summer is prime time for student internships. During my career, our teams has helped design and administer Corporate mentoring programs  (with middle-management staff as the mentors) and extended the model in our own firms to provide mentoring internships to 600+ students. This summer, we hosted over half-a dozen students from the US, China and France. Our goal is to give them hands-on-experience with which to explore career options, learn about their own strengths, preferences and weaknesses, and understand corporate strategy and culture. (To help your company adopt self-sustainable, low-cost, high ROI programs, see www.MentoringInternships.com)

Patty Alper studied corporate mentoring programs – with a focus on those in which large corporations have made investments, and published a book which will also help you. Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America makes an important point: Corporations that want to appeal to the upcoming workforce and future leaders must understand that their image is more than strictly a profit center. She concludes that if a company has a soul, mentoring programs make it clear that the corporation cares. It publicly states “we want to help our community.”

She notes the following benefits from corporate mentoring programs (which also apply to our mentor internship model). They:

  • Build a pipeline of employees and applicants; participants of mentoring programs become good-will ambassadors for your company.
  • Forge a more collaborative and compassionate corporate culture – everyone has an opportunity to participate and share in the process.
  • Create better corporate leaders; mentors become more effective at planning, time management, supervision, communication, teamwork, etc. as they encourage mentees to participate.
  • Build more self-confidence by mentors and mentees
  • Teach character to mentors and mentees
  • Create better collaborators
  • Teach perseverance (aka “grit”)
  • Retain employees and provide an opportunity for retirees to stay engaged.
  • Build community good-will.

There are many different mentoring program models, depending on your budget, staff commitment and goals (corporate staff, internship education, and recruitment focused).  Read the book and learn about some that are used by larger companies; visit MentoringInternships.com to learn how to develop one that is highly effective and self-sustaining. Then, share with us your mentoring commitment; we want to share your experiences.

Is Your Company a CILO?

What is a CILO? A Continuously Improving Learning Organization. It creates a learning culture that enables each person to grow as they contribute strategically to the overall success of the company.

A little background.  Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with a new organization, now called ETW – Execute To Win, where I learned about a new management operating system. It was started by Lee Benson, a CEO who belongs to Vistage Worldwide in the Midwest. (I chair groups in New York City.) It’s based on the principle that if the work each person does is aligned with the corporate strategy and performed well, it’s a win-win for each employee and the company. At the time, he showed it to Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who loved it so much that he became a partner in the project. Over the years, it’s evolved into a system used by large companies focused on launching new strategic efforts and helps everyone on the team focus on doing their part in concert with the whole. I

In the meanwhile, I adapting it (www.eval2win.com) to help CEOs of $5M – $1B companies with whom I work, to focus on achieving personal/corporate strategic goals and forging a culture of continuous improvement. The focus is on the employee-supervisor dyad, not just the employee. Each dyad collaborates to ensure that the employee can achieve the strategic objectives she/he has which lead to the achievement of the company’s strategic goals. (e.g., my actions, lead to sales, which are my contribution to the corporate revenue goal. The system requires that the dyad meet regularly to discuss how the employee is doing and can improve and create a document that:

  • Identifies the major responsibilities of a person with time allocations to each one to account for 100% of the person’s commitment. (E.g., a Controller may have specific financial functions, supervises people, provides Exec Team with advice and data, leads the budgeting section for new business proposals, etc.). Many have 5-8 major areas of responsibility.
  • Defines the key activities within each of these responsibilities. (e.g., collect, publish and analyze monthly financials; identify and guide career paths for each employee).
  • Creates KPI for measuring (e.g., close each month within 3 days and provide a report, highlighting key issues of concern).
  • Identifies areas of improvement for the employee within most of the areas of responsibility (e.g., investigate a few finance courses to take online), schedule the activities themselves and develop KPIs to measure progress (e.g., pick the course, take it, and achieve at least a B).
  • Schedules the next review.

As you can see, in a CILO, continuous improvement is a fundamental job responsibility for the employee and the system to achieve it is collaborative – not imposed on anyone. Moreover, the scheduling of reviews is triggered by the goal of continuous improvement – not just a calendar.

For a new employee with a stable set of job responsibilities, the dyad meets each month for the first three months to help the employee “onboard” and do the job correctly. If all is fine, the next review will be in three months; if there is a problem, monthly meetings continue as long as needed. Once things are fine, the intervals between reviews expand from monthly to quarterly to semi-annually to annually.

However, most people’s jobs change! Imagine you’re a graphic artist or sales person or marketing for retail and been promoted to take on new responsibilities, such as managing the graphic team, providing sales training, supervising social media e-commerce marketing. Since this is new, the cycle of reviews for these new jobs starts over; you get support immediately (e.g., training and direction) to perform the new job correctly. In this way, the Peter Principle is eliminated – people aren’t promoted to a new job where they lack the skills and the problem is only discovered later; problems are identified immediately.

As you can see, this system also encourages people to take on new responsibilities to advance their career by learning what they need to know and getting the support and feedback to do it well.

Is your company a CILO – encouraging continuous improvement through learning, feedback and support (by people and systems)?  If so, share your model. If not, let us know how we can help you become one!

The Complex Role of Leader-Manager

 

As I begin outlining the new Management MBA course I’ll be teaching this summer on Leadership, I realized that the reason there are so many different definitions is that there are many facets to this complex position, and each definition is focusing on a different perspective.

For instance, one approach is to distinguish leaders from managers.  “Leaders have people follow them while managers have people who work for them.” In other words, the leader is focused on vision (how the world changes because of us) and the relationships between people to achieve it. The manager is focused on executing the tasks involved in achieving the mission, the activities we actually achieve.  Each makes appropriate strategic decisions; the leader choosing between visionary options and the manager choosing between different ways of executing the plan. A successful business person needs to be both a strong leader and manager to get their team on board to follow them towards their vision of success and obtain the resources (people, capital, etc.) and engage in the business activities.

A successful leader therefore is someone who  “earns the enthusiastic loyalty and commitment of followers and molds them into a high performance team”. (Tom DeCotiis) He/she inspires people (through words and role-modelled actions) to align their own performance with the organization’s overall strategy (i.e., vision, mission and goals). This involves, painting a compelling vision of the team’s future, pointing the way to successful accomplishment of the vision.  Ultimately, it’s getting someone to do things they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. (Tom Landy)

On the other hand, a successful manager, is focused on optimal execution: recruiting, developing and growing talented team members; obtaining and using resources to most efficiently and effectively achieve the work necessary to give the stakeholders (i.e., employees, customers and investors achievement of its mission.

The leader-manager has to balance the different realms in order to be successful. Where are we going? What’s the best way to get there? What are the implications of each strategic choice? (G. A. Lafley.) As a CEO coach, I know it’s important to address both realms in terms of time allocation, expertise, and training (of self and other team members) to advance their own abilities as leader-managers. My challenge, as a teacher is to enable students to see the differences, and cultivate the perspectives and skills needed to see how they will fulfill these roles as they grow professionally.

What are your biggest challenges?? Share with us.

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