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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m actually taking great liberties with the classic quote, “Life is a banquet, but most poor suckers are starving to death!" from Patrick Dennis’s book and Broadway hit, “Auntie Mame.”  

My point being that although there are countless ways to engage our creative problem-solving brains to innovate day in and out, I am not optimistic that the majority of Americans in the business, non-profit, or governmental sectors will access this cornucopia before a lot more damage is done to our economy, environment, quality of life, and future potential.

For many, the word “innovation” is just a buzzword.  They fail to understand that innovation is a state of mind and an approach, not a commodity that one can just order up, like a pizza, or flip on with a switch.  Thinking that one can just make a few minor adjustments within one’s organization to become innovative is like having an argument on the cell phone while driving 90 miles an hour to get to a retreat center, and expecting serenity or enlightenment to be waiting at the door upon one’s arrival – It just doesn't happen that way.

And this is why it is projected that by the year 2020, only one out of five S&P 500 companies will still exist (findings of a comprehensive study published in Creative Destruction by R. Foster and S. Kaplan).  The majority of companies simply will not have adapted to the changing world, and will therefore make themselves vulnerable to being taken over, sold off, broken up, or bankrupted.

I’m currently listening to the audiobook, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, co-authored by international journalist Thomas Friedman (author of the blockbuster The World is Flat) and American foreign policy professor Michael Mandelbaum.  Like the authors, I consider myself to be a “realistic optimist.”  By which we mean that it is only by clearly taking in the “bad news” — the looming threats facing our companies, institutions, and economy — that we have any chance to do what is necessary to adapt our mindsets and correct our course.

Like Friedman and Mandelbaum, I too, still believe in “Yankee Ingenuity” and that we have the collective capacity to rise to the occasion and deal with great challenges, just as Americans did in The Great Depression, World War II, and the race to the moon.  But we can’t even begin until we pull our heads out of the sand.

When it comes to business, I am enough of a capitalist to believe in the survival of the fittest.  On one hand, I believe that companies led by short-sighted, arrogant leaders and managers should fail.  It’s best for them to get out of the way to make room for other ventures led by those who are wiser, more humble, and better attuned to both the world around them and to the intelligence and talents within their ranks.

The tragedy won't be the auctioning off of the brick and mortar and mastheads of these companies themselves over the next decade.  Rather, it will be the human costs resulting from the bad choices made by those leaders: the millions of talented people who will lose their jobs and livelihoods, as well as the loss of tax revenues that will further cripple our society.

And then “four out of five” of these US companies will fail?! – Even if it were half that (e.g. 51% of CEO's in the 2010 IBM CEO study expressed concerns regarding their companies' futures for lack of creative thinking abilities) — what part of economic catastrophe do we still not understand?!  Neither manufacturing jobs or increasingly outsourced pink and white collar services will be returning from our lower-cost overseas competitors in any significant numbers.  That leaves American creativity and inventiveness to carry our economy forward.  Yet we allow Brazil, India, and China to far outspend us in innovation (Boston Consulting Group Report, 2010) as the previously unchallenged lead we held in patent application filings now steadily shrinks. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/06/china-poised-to-lead-world-in-patent-filings/ & http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2012/article_0001.html

Even among those in management who are talking about innovation, many don’t seem to grasp the irrefutable causal relationship between management style and innovative culture.  I don’t believe that most American managers or the consulting professionals upon whom many of them rely, understand this fundamental reality: sustained innovation cannot exist in hierarchical, siloed, watch-your-back organizations.

“Management innovations” are necessary in order for other forms of innovation to see the light of day.  It has been stated in numerous ways throughout these blog-posts that an organizational culture that fosters an innovative mindset and which produces winning results requires authentic mutual trust and respect throughout the organization.  As the stand-out CEOs in the IBM 2010 Global CEO survey (“Capitalizing on Complexity”) indicated, trust and innovation are the means and ends and involve:

  • Cross-departmental and external stakeholder collaboration
  • Efficient and open communication in which mistakes are valued as educational opportunities rather than something to be covered up or blamed on someone else
  • Comfort with ambiguity, experimentation, and trial by error
  • Encouragement to question the status quo for the sake of continuous improvement
  • Processes and reward systems for fully engaging employees in contributing ideas for continuous improvements and increasing problem-solving autonomy throughout the ranks.

All of these necessitate a collaborative, versus a command-and-control style of management.  Evidence abounds that the most successful U.S. companies (like Southwest Airlines, Google, and Apple) flatten their organizations and, far more than average companies, value and foster both the creativity and critical analysis of “whole brain” thinking at all levels.

Yet evidence and logic do not persuade many in leadership whose perceptions continue to be clouded by barriers of their own making.  I am not optimistic that most organizational leaders in the U.S. are willing to trust and develop their employees’ abilities enough to relinquish control, because, as is said in Twelve-Step programs, their pain isn’t deep enough yet.  –If only their poor choices wouldn’t inflict so much pain on the rest of us.

 

However… despite my concerns expressed above, as a dedicated realistic optimist, I will continue to focus my attention not on those who stubbornly fail to grasp the paradigm shifts that are necessary, but rather on the great innovators in all walks of life working with their creative muses and collaborating all over the world.  I will feed my spirit and mind by exploring and learning along with those equally excited by the possibilities and the array at the banquet table!

Bon appetite!

 Mangia!

The next post will further explore management innovation with a review of Gary Hammel’s great Harvard Business School article, “The Why, What, and How of Management Innovation.”

 

 

Happy Leap Day, all!  May we all make great use of this "extra day" we get every four years on the 29th of February!  EnJoy!

The new combined Kowabunga! & Riding the Wave Training & Development website is still in the final stages of getting its bugs worked out, but will be returning soon with new musings and resources.  In the meantime, inspired by a recent conversation and having missed being in touch, I wanted to say "Aloha!" and share a few thoughts from my Sabbatical perch (Oh, that it were from the beach…).

Creative Thinking as Solution Finding

In August 2011, I wrote a post on the different forms of innovation, “What Does Innovation Mean? Many Things.” http://ridingthewave.net/2011/08/.

In brief, creative, divergent, or “out of the box” thinking, as it is so often called, has been relegated in the minds of many as "what marketing/ advertising, or maybe some R&D folks do," versus what it actually is, which is: 

 

  1. The partPhoto of gold compass-like instrument with red needle pointing toward the word "Quality" and black needle toward work "Productivity."ner of critical thinking.
  2. The gears for creative problem-solving.
  3. The foundation of continuous improvement.
  4. It also is a key component forthe scenario planning that all organizations should be practicing as precursors to their strategic planning processes.
  5. And yes, of course, creative thinking also results in more obvious innovations in product, service, and market development.
  6. Creative thinking is also inextricably linked with cultivating an engaged workforceIn a September 2011 post, “A Creative Look at Employee Engagement by Explania,” http://ridingthewave.net/2011/09/ *

This last point is one that remains especially difficult for many in leadership and management roles to see.  It is highly improbable that one will find employees willing to give 110% unless they feel they have a voice and input into the creative problem solving, solutions, and continuous improvement processes. 

Why would this be?  Simply put, when management doesn’t demonstrate genuine interest in the input and ideas of employees by creating mechanisms to capture, vet, and implement the viable ones, staff:

a) do not feel respected, and

Whiteboard drawing of happy employees climbing success mountain toward shared vision. b) feel frustrated when they see ways that processes and services could be improved and feel unable to make a difference.

Having no ownership in the process, they do not feel inspired to proactively go above and beyond in their duties and may simply be biding their time until they can work elsewhere.  Most of us have either witnessed the dynamics of an apathetic workforce or know this from personal experience having worked in companies where we were told, either directly, or indirectly, that we were “not being paid to think beyond our pay grades.” 

And everyone loses out, from customers to shareholders, from benefiting from their frontline problem-solving and continuous process improvement ideas, even before they make their exits from their respective organizations.  

So, the next time someone says, “We don’t have time for creative and innovative thinking" — try to help him or her to think beyond the box s/he may have placed around those forms of cognition.   Insert terms like: “creative problem solving,” “continuous process improvement,” “comprehensive, lasting solutions,” and “engaged workforce,”… And then ask them whether there is time for that.  ???

 

I look forward to further exploration with you on the links between creative thinking, innovation, best management practices, and organizational success when Kowabunga! returns soon on a regular basis.  And in the meantime, "Aloha!" 

 

*Check out the great short educational video on that post:  http://www.explania.com/en/animations/detail/how-to-use-employee-engagement-to-boost-your-business.

You can also catch the delightful one-minute video depicted in these photos on "Thinking Outside the Box" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ_7gUP42Bk&feature=related.  

Other short, brilliant videos on creative and innovative thinking can be viewed on Kowabunga's post from February 24, 2011: http://ridingthewave.net/2011/02/

Asterik figure dring race car it made out of the box.

 

 

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