3 Lessons for Leaders – Innovation Revolution Fast Start – 30 in 30 Challenge Recap – Part 2
Upon reflection of my (almost- 29) 30 presentations in 30 business days, I can’t help but share some incredible insights I gathered that every leader should consider in business today.
Lesson 1 – Pent-up Demand for Impact
No matter if I was speaking to high-tech leaders, biotechnology researchers or a team of sales professionals, I noticed over and over again the same refrain. “I want to make an impact. However, it’s difficult to understand how my work affects the team, organization and customers or clients I serve.”
That’s the rub in big business too many layers and too many siloed function where no individual can see a direct path to impact. It makes sense – how can a/an (insert employee title) make a difference in the business when there are so many processes, people, and systems that hide the impact of their day-to-day work.
Leader Takeaway– It is up to you to explain how one team or employee affects the overall business. For example, if finance and accounting could directly see how their efforts in accuracy, compliance and releasing of funds impact marketing and sales, then all teams would understand the value of their work and vice versa. I mean what if your favorite controller went on medical leave and there wasn’t a backup in place right at the beginning of the quarter? The controller’s absence leads to a delay in budget allocation which will delay marketing efforts to deliver pipeline, which in turn could jeopardies sales ability to close deals and meet quota. That is a HUGE domino effect. Does your controller know that? The same logic can apply to each function and role. Help your team members understand how their day-to-day work affects the business, the customer and ultimately your success in the marketplace. Encourage your team to interact with other parts of the business to understand how they can impact the business regardless of their role.
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Lesson 2: No One Knows the Rules
There seems to be a constant bait and switch for employees. On the one hand, managers and executives ask for new ideas and emphasize the need for innovation to stay relevant and competitively positioned, but when employees offer ideas, it isn’t the right time or (insert a list of excuses why not).
Or I heard this a few times… “it isn’t in our purview,” i.e. our team isn’t responsible for that outcome. These answers aren’t necessarily based on cynicism or fear, but based on the siloed set up of organizational structure and goals. It’s a huge risk to take on an outcome you aren’t directly responsible for…it may very well jeopardize your focused goals.
Organizational structures and industrial age silos are crushing creative and impactful ideas because there isn’t any flex in the system. Sure…some of the ideas may not be viable, but then managers haven’t defined the problem or the constraints. How is an employee supposed to help solve problems if they don’t know what’s in and out of bounds? The customer doesn’t care where the idea comes from if it improves their experience or brings more value, but the managers do. Goals are siloed. Talent is siloed. And worst of all when organizations try to pull innovative ideas from teams, they get tons of ideas, but then no action is taken. No follow-up to validate. They get lost in some cloud-based server collecting digital dust. At least that is what many participants shared with me.
Leader Takeaway – It is critical for you to communicate to your employees what kinds of challenges or opportunities the business faces, and how they can help via ideas and actions. Communicate what is inbounds and out and when you will take ideas and the process they will go through for vetting, validation, and follow-up. There must be a circular feedback loop so everyone knows the rules for innovative ideas and who and how the ideas will be judged or activated. Clear communication is a powerful tool. And to one-up that, organizations need to consider more shared goals across functions, so collaboration is a natural part of business vs. the “blame” game or the “not my job” game. It’s the power of the collective that will win in this hyper-competitive market of today. Unleash all that innovation. It is truly hiding in plain sight and waiting for harvest.
Lesson 3 – Over Rotation on Cost Reduction
I get it. The Great Recession forced every organization to cut, cut, cut. And, of course, the popularity of methods like Six Sigma has been around for decades now, cost-cutting isn’t new. However, across the board in my Innovation Revolution speaking tour, there was a consistent theme around fear of costs. It was debilitating. Individuals would say, “I never want to speak up because my idea will more than likely cost too much,” or “because new ideas aren’t tested already, my manager doesn’t consider them because of budget and uncertainty.” This was not one or two people saying these types of things…it was a predominant theme.
Leader Takeaway – Only focusing on costs and the predictable will not make your organization successful for the long run. You are making your product or service a cheap commodity by merely focusing on cost. AND you will always compete on price in that scenario – a place no business wants. In this VERY crowded marketplace, brave and bold wins. You can’t be either if you aren’t willing to take risks and innovate. That will cost money and resources to discover. It’s messy. It’s scary. It’s necessary. This is when you must step up and lead. You must allow your people to create and innovate. And, yes, there will be failure along the way. One way to do this is to have small pilots where you reduce risk and cost in service of validation and understanding of viability. Look at as an investment, not as an expense. A mind shift and a sound process are keys to success on this one. You’ve got this.
More to come as I glean more insights from my 30 in 30 Fast Start. I am continuing my Innovation Revolution, and welcome the opportunity to inspire and empower your teams. Book me for lunch ‘n learn, conference or staff meeting. I’m game. I will even send you a summary of insights like these after, so you can discover the genius hiding in plain sight.
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