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What do Innovative Work Cultures and Inclusive Work Cultures Have in Common? –R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I.  Most organizations fail at becoming innovative or diverse, for similar reasons.

Many leaders say they want their companies or agencies to become more innovative.  Most of their initiatives will fail because the leaders themselves won’t be willing to make the changes necessary for creating cultures that are conducive to innovation.  (The term “innovation” means much more than breakthroughs in new products and services.  Most often, it relates to the continuous improvements that streamline processes, lower costs, and improve customer satisfaction.)1

  • If the organization is in the public or nonprofit sector, it may limp along while falling short of fully accomplishing its mission and will continually grapple with morale and productivity issues.

  • With for profit companies, failures to maximize both efficiency and adaptability in a rapidly changing world often results in financial losses that end in closures or takeovers.(40% of companies in the S&P 500 will fail in next ten years; projections are even higher for small businesses and startups.) 2

Similarly, many leaders talk about increasing diversity.  Some are motivated to jump on “the diversity train” in order to improve public relations or because it seems the thing to do.  They may have heard that companies that reflect society’s changing demographics sometimes grow market share.  (Especially through the use of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).)3  For whatever the rationale, most organizations fall short of significantly increasing diversity across their workforce and within senior management.

Here again, the failure is due to the general unwillingness of most leaders to do what it is required of them to embed the inclusion piece of “Diversity & Inclusion” (D&I) into their cultures.  Human resource departments can recruit for candidates from varying identity groups all day long, but if the work environment is not one in which all employees feel included, meaning that they know their perspectives and input matter, the best and the brightest won’t stay longer than they have to, regardless of their cultural or gender identity groups.  In many “top-down” organizations, a substantial percentage of employees “check out” and do only enough to get by, while counting the days until they can go elsewhere or retire.

What is the common thread to these two failures to launch?  — A lack of respect and trust.  The inability to create either innovative or diverse environments both result from deeply entrenched hierarchical approaches to management.  “Hierarchy” is actually the polite or PC (politically correct) term for “elitism.”  Most management in the U.S. is still based on the 19th century industrial elitist model, which maintains that the smartest people should be running things from “the top,” and employees’ roles are merely to carry out the instructions of the smart big bosses.  Management typically believes their superior capabilities entitle them to be paid considerably superior salaries.  (Sometimes, the organizational benefits of their tenures are irrelevant; thus, the “golden parachutes” even for those who bring financial ruin to their companies.)

“Respect” is an organizational value commonly cited in annual reports and on company plaques, but top-down management approaches neither reflect trust nor respect for rank and file employees.  Given that the “important thinking” is left to those up the food chain, employee voices are generally absent from the table, other than when absolutely necessary (i.e. unions) or for show.  “The mindset is that managers have all the answers and their jobs are to dictate them — not to learn from workers.  These beliefs run very deep in most organizations.” 4  As a result, the trust or respect employees might have for senior management is limited, as is their would-be engagement.

II.  What is Missing?  Both Innovation and Inclusion Require Listening, which is tied to Respect and Trust

Although command and control leaders generally assert that departmental “silos” 5 are necessary for efficiency, these structures actually serve to control the flow of communications and ideas in order to maintain the power dynamics.  They inevitably slow everything down due to continual bottlenecks.

Continuous improvement requires the input and creative problem solving from workers throughout the organization.  Innovation is generally the result of a diversity of perspectives from numerous people asking questions and looking at issues with fresh eyes.  “Kaizen” is the Japanese word for “improve.”  Through rigorous application of the Kaizen system, each employee at Toyota is expected to submit no less than nine ideas per year on ways to do everything more efficiently.  And thus, Toyota has become known as the most efficient car manufacturer in the world.  (Yorke & Bodek: All You Gotta Do Is Ask)

There is nothing either mysterious or elusive about employee engagement.  ”Carrots” are not required.  Employees invest a considerable amount of their waking hours and their skills into their jobs.  The future and security of their livelihoods are linked to decisions made by management.  And so, it is only natural that they feel a sense of ownership and organizational pride when they are respected enough to be included in important discussions that tie to the success of their companies or agencies.  As the book title above reflects, if you want to engage employees, “All you gotta do is ask.”

III.  Success in both Diversity and Innovation Management Requires Courageous Captains to Venture Beyond The Known World

There are countless documented examples of companies becoming highly profitable industry leaders as the result of leadership initiatives that flatten organizational structures and apply Servant Leadership6 or other collaborative management models  (i.e. Southwest Air, Toyota, Harley Davidson, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Virgin Air).  So why does resistance continue to persist within the wider managerial field?  Senior managers generally pride themselves on their rationality.  But where is the logic in ignoring all of the data gathered by innovative organizations and in resisting recommended best practices and the opportunities they present?

2,500 year-old lessons from The Buddha:  When people are not behaving in constructive or rational ways, there are generally strong underlying emotions at work.  There is a Buddhist teaching that I find valuable for “root cause analysis.”  It asserts that all human behaviors result from one of two sources: they are either motivated by fear, or love.  The object of our love can be humanity, learning, trying new things, adventure, creating, making a difference in the world, and so on.  At various times, we have all been animated and driven by this kind of love, which has been at the center of human advancement for millennia.  Love is an expansive and outward energy.  

However, when we turn away from options that positively affirm and help others or that would allow us to grow in new ways, our decisions are fear-based.  Fear causes us to shrink away from others or opportunities and go into “self” protective mode.  It is a contracting energy.  Things such as self-centeredness, deception, and betrayal are manifestations of fear, but fear is the underlying driving emotion.

The ongoing entrenchment of command and control management that flies in the face of potential benefits for our workforces, organizations, missions, and society, is due to leaders’ fears.  The fear may be of not having full control of outcomes as processes become more collaborative or experimental, or uncertainty of one’s role as leader when information becomes more transparent and solutions emerge from across the organization.  Or there may be trepidation of working with employees or colleagues whose ethnic, religious, or gender identities differ from one’s own and of saying anything that displays a lack of awareness.  It is sad that there is so much truth to the saying, “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.”  Initiatives to create more inclusion are often sabotaged by managers who find themselves outside of their comfort zones, because one foot never leaves the old, known turf.  Without 100% commitment on their parts, there are too many mixed signals.  Incremental approaches to the necessary management and organizational culture changes generally fail.

It is not that the leaders of innovative and inclusive organizations have never experienced any trepidation in democratizing their organizations.  Most humans go through some amount of self-doubt when venturing onto unfamiliar ground and sensing the loss of full control.  As has been said, courage is not the absence of fear, but rather learning to face one’s fears and insecurities, and forging ahead despite them.  These leaders recognize and value the opportunities that increased diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and agility present to their organizations, and then push beyond their own fears, learning to navigate through increased ambiguity,7 and embracing the collective magic their teams create.

Leaders Eat Last:  Unfortunately, most MBA programs spend far more time teaching students to correctly interpret balance sheets than to substantively explore the role of character, integrity, and courage in leadership.  Regardless of one’s political persuasions, many of us would agree that integrity is in increasingly short supply among our political and corporate leaders.  Our captains of industry and the public sphere would benefit from the training that our captains of the military receive.  In his book, Leaders Eat Last, leadership consultant Simon Sinek shares some of the valuable lessons he gleaned from interviews with admired leaders from both the military and other fields. 

As Sinek explains, standout leaders create "Circles of Safety” that foster trust and cooperation throughout their organizations.  Good leaders earn respect, not through their rank or prestige, but through the respect they demonstrate towards those within their charge.  These leaders know that respect is not an abstract concept, but is known through its actions.  Taking their responsibilities for their teams seriously, they insure they have the tools they need to do their best work, listen to their input for operational improvements, provide them with opportunities to develop and lead, and are open to learning from them.  The respect exhibited from the leadership for those in the ranks increases success throughout the entire organization.

IV.  In closing: Choosing Respect and Trust, and Following Through

In order to help their organizations to gain the benefits of diversity and innovation, organizational leaders need to start by making a basic choice: hierarchy or inclusion. 

They then must commit and follow through with the path they have chosen.

Many managers are not ready to lose the comfort of top-down approaches to running their organizations and to support broader participation and input from their employees.  And that is certainly their choice to make.  Institutions have succeeded for decades and centuries using top-down approaches.  – However, the cost to maintain a higher level of predictability is that other possibilities and agility are lost.  There may come a time that such organizations will lose capacity and/or be forced to close their doors for failure to adapt.  The managers of these organizations should simply recognize that the benefits of diversity and innovation that they say they want will remain out of reach.

There are other leaders whose desire for the benefits that increased diversity, inclusion, and innovation can bring is greater than their fear of change and uncertainty.  They are willing to make the necessary adaptations within themselves, and then to the structures and cultures of their companies or agencies.  Fortunately, they will have at their disposal numerous roadmaps left behind by those who co-led their organizations to new levels of success based on the basic principles of mutual R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  These principles are the DNA, the thread that binds leaders with employees, teams, and potential with a thriving future.  

Sing it – Aretha! 

3.  Employee Resource Groups are voluntary identity or interest-based groups that organize to provide professional development support to members, while providing their organizations with ideas related to recruiting, on-boarding, marketing, and service ideas for current prospective identity-based customer groups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  https://hbr.org/2011/06/how-toyota-pulls-improvement-f

5.  Siloes are distinct hierarchical departments in which all information must travel up and down that department’s chain of command, and communication between departments by lower level employees is frequently discouraged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.  Servant Leadership is built on the concept that a leader’s primary role is to support his/her employees and make sure that they have the resources and systems in place to excel at their jobs in serving the customers.

7.  http://ridingthewave.net/cliff-type-notes-on-ibms-2010-global-ceo-survey-capitalizing-on-complexity/

8. YouTube video of Simon Sinek discussing this book: http://tinyurl.com/n6abhsg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scrared AfAm woman The "stand-out" leaders cited in the 2010 IBM Global CEO survey (those who had successfully capitalized on the increasing complexity of the global markets through creative thinking and innovative practices) encouraged other leaders to similarly increase their comfort with ambiguity and ongoing experimentation. They also advocated letting go of command-and-control management styles in order to foster more mutual trust in organizations.

Sfumato,” which translates to “going up in smoke,” is a “willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty,” and is the fourth of the da Vinci habits recommended by author Michael Gelb. He writes, “As you awaken your powers of Curiosità, probe the depths of Dimostrazione (experience), and sharpen your senses, you come face to face with the unknown. Keeping your mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful secret of unleashing your creative potential.” This ability does not come to those who rely solely on their left-brained, analytical thinking capacities.

Gelb writes that the ceaseless application of these practices led da Vinci to many great insights and discoveries, “but they also led him to confront the vastness of the unknown and ultimately the unknowable. Yet his phenomenal ability to hold the tension of opposites, to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity, and paradox was a critical characteristic of his genius.” The theme of the tension of opposites grew in his work over the course of his lifetime – we can see this in even a cursory look at the maestro’s Mona Lisa.

Gelb writes, “In the past, a high tolerance for uncertainty was a quality to be found only in great geniuses like Leonardo. As change accelerates, we now find that ambiguity multiplies, and illusions of certainly become more difficult to maintain. The ability to thrive with ambiguity must become part of our everyday lives. Poise in the face of paradox is a key not only to effectiveness, but to sanity in a rapidly changing world.”

In his self-assessment on the strength of our own Sfumato, Gelb invites us to rate ourselves on a scale of 1-10 on each point, with one being a "maniacal" need for certainty at all times, and ten approximating that of an enlightened Taoist master.

  • I am comfortable with ambiguity.
  • I am attuned with the rhythms of my intuition. Chicken or egg?
  • I thrive with change.
  • I have a tendency to “jump to conclusions.”
  • I enjoy riddles, puzzles, and puns.
  • I usually know when I am feeling anxious.
  • I spend sufficient time on my own.
  • I trust my gut.
  • I can comfortably hold contradictory ideas in my mind.
  • I delight in paradox and am sensitive to irony.
  • I appreciate the importance of conflict in inspiring creativity.

He then offers a variety of good exercises that help participants to explore the various aspects of their own Sfumato and ways to increase ability in this area.

In closing, the author points to a study conducted by the American Management Association in the 1980’s that concluded thatthe most successful managers were distinguished by ‘high tolerance for ambiguity and intuitive decision-making skill.’” In the The Logic of Intuitive Decision Making, Dr. Weston Agor reported his findings from extensive interviews conducted of senior executives who overwhelmingly concluded that their worst decisions had resulted from not following their own intuitions.

Gelb’s bottom line conclusion: Embrace and enjoy ambiguity and trust your gutCeltic knot

Monkey & camera

Learning through dimonstrazione is the second of Leonardo da Vinci’s lifelong habits advocated by Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. Gelb describes this approach as “a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.” 

The leaders in the 2009 IBM CEO study who successfully managed innovative resurgences in their organizations urge other leaders to increase their comfort with ambiguity, ongoing experimentation, and taking "calculated risks." Fostering organizational cultures that encourage questioning and the challenging of assumptions and that continuously solicit new and original ideas leads directly to experimentation, which involves exploring lesser known paths. Not all of these paths will necessarily lead to success.

Is there such a thing as "a mistake"?
Some say, "No," that “there are no mistakes.” Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “Experience never errs; it is only your judgment that errs in promising itself results as not caused by your experiments.”  The maestro certainly had his share of failures. Yet, while he experienced tremendous adversity which resulted in periods of self-doubt, he never gave up. Gelb cites studies by Dr. Martin Seligman that find career success is directly linked with resilience in the face of adversity, and that this hardiness goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to make and learn from mistakes. Gelb and Seligman assert that awareness, a sense of humor, and deep contemplation help us overcome adversity, just as they did for da Vinci.

Following my own instincts, learning through experience, and sometimes going "by the seat of my pants” is what I’ve done much of my life. However, I would not be honest if I didn’t share that I have mixed feelings about this approach and that I don’t think that it is always the smartest route. Some who know me well as the ardent follower of my own drummer might be surprised to hear me say this. And so, I've struggled more with this post than with others as I've sorted this through to find resolution, as you will read further down.

Is there a generational divide when it comes to learning by doing versus learning from elders?
I'm not so sure there is. 
There has been considerable discussion in the training and development field about experiential learning as the preferred learning style of much of the Millennial Generation. I recommend a particularly well-written blog piece on this topic: Do Millennials Think That They Can't Learn From Boomers? The Surprising Truth. The article asserts that Gen Y'rs do look to their elders to help them to learn some of the more nuanced areas of knowledge which generally come through experience, such as how to read people, how to negotiate, etc.

And while Millennials prefer learning many new skills by doing, they also want mentors who will give them immediate feedback and who solicit their ideas for ways to enhance the learning process. The latter helps them to engage more enthusiastically, draws on their considerable creative thinking abilities, and will likely yield valuable improvements. I believe that most adults of any age would prefer this style of learning, given the option. Unfortunately, there was less choice offered in how previous generations were educated and trained. Hopefully, the learning-style preferences of this sizeable younger generation will serve to create changes in training delivery that will benefit all. 

Both/and: Trial, Error & Mentors Horsehead yin-yang
It seems to me that, as with so many other things in life, the key may be to find the right balance: to seek out opportunities to learn by doing and to find wise mentors. The last words of the Buddha were said to have been, “Be a lamp unto your selves.” In other words, listen to what wise teachers have to share, and read the great books, but don’t accept everything they have to say without question. We need to process their teachings through the illumination of our own reasoning and experience, so that they become part of our own knowledge base, instead of someone else’s.

Unfortunately, those who didn't have good mentors when they were young and necessarily became self-reliant don't always realize that they would benefit from wise champions, and therefore don't seek them out. But I believe we would all do well to find caring mentors who encourage us to imagine, create, and experiment while also sharing enough of their own experience with us so that when we fail, we don’t fall too hard or precipitously. 

Most of the stand-out leaders in the IBM study said that mentoring is the style of leadership toward which they have been shifting, as opposed to that of command-and-control. The "persuade and influence" approach they endorse permits leaders to step back and encourage experiential learning and some risk-taking, while also providing a sounding board and support in thinking through ideas. I believe that it is this style of leadership that will fill organizations with the critical and creative thinkers who will themselves lead.

The next post will contain a few exercises from Gelb’s book that will help us to  explore the role experiential learning has played in our own lives and how we feel about (gulp!) "mistakes" we have made.

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