Archives for November 2, 2018

The Importance of Organization in Innovation

Most companies will agree that innovation is key to their business growth. They rely on teams to develop, execute, and create new ideas and solutions to meet the demands of growing the business in the marketplace.

Executives will start by sharing the vision of innovation–the big ideas worth going after. There will be plans in place for how teams should be driving the ideas and what goals the company is trying to reach.

But the vision and even the plan will all fall flat if there is no intention for how to actually organize things. The organization of innovation is the foundation for which the ideas can grow from and thrive.

In order to create and execute on new, novel ideas, it requires taking a leap to get an organization system in place and the discipline of evaluating and iterating organization strategies as you go along.

Step 1: Just Get Started

When you first set out to get organized, the urge is to find the perfect, clean start. Rather than moving forward, teams get paralyzed in trying to find a perfectly-aligned solution for organizing things. But when it comes to organizing the complexities of innovation, it’s more important to just get started.

I worked with one startup team that was creating products in the biotechnology space, creating breakthrough solutions for Alzheimer and dementia patients. They had a slew of innovative ideas and many experiments they were running forward with, across multiple departments. Work spanned across research and development teams to engineering and marketing teams, running in many different directions. The team members were overworked just trying to keep up with the status of the projects.

They needed a strategy for organizing their work and were testing different off-the-shelf products and applications to solve their issues. Each tool they researched would solve for most of their needs, but not all. They were stuck in the moment where they wanted to wait for the perfect solution that would fit every one of their needs.

Rather than holding on to the hope for a magical new tool, the team moved forward by selecting the tool that filled the more important needs. They identified the top requirements to solve for and fully committed to the adopted project management application, training all teams on how they would use it to stay organized. They addressed up front the short-comings, and came up with their own internal hacks for solving them. All communication about their innovation projects moved from email into the tool and they held monthly meetings across all departments to backfill where the tool fell short.

Getting organized sometimes requires making tradeoffs to allow you to get started. It is far more productive to have a system in place that you can tweak and improve with time, than no system at all.

Step 2:  Evaluate and Iterate

The second thing about trying to organize innovation projects is that what you originally set out doing will inevitably change. Whether that is outgrowing the original organization structure or breaking things along the way to learn that a new system is required.

One mid-sized financial company that I worked with wanted to better streamline communication across stakeholders and innovation projects. They originally invested in a tool that helped them to get things in order and worked well for their first three years of development. But by the time their projects were launching into the marketplace, they had outgrown the tool and needed something more robust and able to fit their nuanced needs of creating solutions in the ever-changing financial regulation space.

Reflecting on the tools that worked, and their short-comings, the team realized they needed to invest in their own internal tool that could keep up with their pace of innovation. This new organization strategy was able to use the previous tools as a framework to allow them to build the new homegrown solution they needed.

The thing about organizing big ideas is that the solution will need to shift at some point. It’s important to stay in tune to when things are no longer useful and how you can bring a new organization strategy to the table.

Getting organized is the often overlooked and less exciting step to innovation. It’s important you take a disciplined approach to getting organized, to allow for ideas to flourish and grow, without getting buried or bogged down by disorganized inefficiencies.

6 Unconventional Ways to Make Your Employees Happier and More Successful

When you’re leading a big change to your company, odds are good that you’ll put stress on your people. But if you take steps to make them happy, they’ll make customers happier and your profits will rise.

How so? A former Harvard researcher found that keeping people happy is good for business. As Shawn Achor wrote in a 2012 Harvard Business Review article, Positive Intelligence — keeping people happy instead of threatening them — produces better business outcomes during stressful situations.

Inspired by Achor, here are six unconventional ways to boost your employees’ success and happiness.

1. Single people out for praise.

If you’re leading your company through a big change — like expanding from selling in the U.S. to 18 other countries, your people are likely to feel stress because you feel it as well.

But in 2008, Burt’s Bees’s then-CEO, John Replogle, was taking the company global. And rather than fill their inboxes with question on their progress, every day he sent out an e-mail praising a team member for work related to the global rollout.

2. Encourage your managers to talk about corporate values.

Another surprising way to make people happy is to encourage your managers to talk with their teams about the company’s values.

Replogle took time away from talking about the global launch to encourage his direct-reports to discuss company values with their people. The reason? The values discussion would help people feel more connected to the company’s mission.

Achor wrote that Replogle’s “emphasis on fostering positive leadership kept his managers engaged and cohesive as they successfully made the transition to a global company.”

3. Exercise your peoples’ sense of well-being.

I’ve read that you can train yourself to be happy by smiling a lot.

But that’s not the only way. Achor ran a session on happiness with some soon-to-be stressed out tax managers at KPMG. He trained them to be happy by writing down things for which they were grateful or exercising for 10 minutes.

Four months later, the tax managers who did these happiness activities scored higher on the life satisfaction scale — a metric widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work, according to Achor — than they did before the happiness training.

4. Hire people with high life-satisfaction.

If you can’t train people to a higher life-satisfaction score, hire people who already have one.

Gallup researchers found that retail employees in an individual store who scored high on life satisfaction generated $21 more in earnings per square foot than employees with lower scores in the retailer’s other stores.

That sounds like a compelling business case for hiring happy people.

5. Follow the 10/5 path to social support.

Helping other people makes the social support providers — people who pick up slack for others, invite coworkers to lunch, and organize office activities — more engaged at work and more likely to get promoted.

One company — Ochsner Health System — uses this insight. Ochsner’s so-called “10/5 Way” encourages employees who walk within 10 feet of another person in the hospital, to make eye contact and smile. When they walk within 5 feet, they must say hello.

10/5 has paid off for Ochsner in the form of more unique patient visits, a 5 percent increase in patients’ likelihood to recommend Ochsner, and “a significant improvement in medical-practice provider scores,” according to Achor.

6. View stress as a performance-enhancer.

Since work is almost always stressful, I was surprised to learn that it’s possible to train people to think about stress positively — e.g., as a force that enhances the brain and body — and negatively —  as debilitating to performance.

Researchers showed videos with positive and negative messages on stress to managers at UBS. Six weeks later, the managers who saw the positive video experienced a big health improvement and an increase in their happiness at work, Achor wrote. 

Encourage your people to list their stresses and make small, concrete steps to reduce the stressors they can control. Those small steps can nudge their brains back to a positive–and productive–mind-set.