Five Steps to Drive Innovation through Community Inside the Corporate Matrix
COMMUNITY CREATION AND MANAGEMENT WITHIN THE MATRIX. Facilitate connections among direct reports, adjacent departments, up and down the hierarchy, and external stakeholders too, all of whom are globally dispersed and loaded with varied motivations and goals.
The matrix isn’t some reference of the cult-followed movie trilogy starring Keanu Reeves. No, it’s the interconnected people that support the very existence of your business. It’s the employees that faithfully serve your customers day in and day out. It’s the suppliers and vendors that you work with to enable your business to deliver. It’s the customers that are the lifeblood of your business.
In the past, leaders tried to create distance among all these ecosystem players in order to control, with good intentions, I am sure. Distance among these powerful, aligned forces only causes more confusion, delays, and less progress. Only by breaking down the business-as-usual barriers can organizations transform and leapfrog the competition. These connections within the matrix create the entire experience map of your business. As complex as that is to imagine, it is the simple truth. At each intersection, touch point or engagement is an opportunity to innovate, differentiate, and add value. These powerful communities are the force multiplier, the proprietary parts to your innovation engine.
How to enable these connections to deliver without introducing more noise and complexity into the “system?”
Step 1: Face it. You can no longer control the flow of information. With the introduction of the Internet and social media, information is more visible and available than ever before. The best way to begin your community-building journey is to accept that truth.
Step 2: Embrace it. After you have taken a few deep breaths and accepted the fact that you can’t keep these people from connecting, it’s time to embrace it and use it to your advantage. Understanding the experiences and interactions of your company with your matrix of stakeholders delivers on your empathy intelligence. This offers a reality check and validation points to help improve everything from your billing system to your service offering. Every interaction with your company is an opportunity to build loyalty and value. And in the era of niche markets, micro engagement and interaction, this can be the difference between market share and market fail.
Step 3: Encourage your employees to connect with cross‐functional team members, partners, and customers on projects. Build in your project plan a validation and user reality check test before anything moves forward. Often teams use tools like empathy maps or customer journey maps to find insights and advantages. Examples of these tools, techniques, and instructions can be found with a simple Internet search. Incorporate these exercises into your next project to capture your competitive advantage through empathy and connection.
Remember, many people use systems in unique and unintended ways that can save you money or build competitive advantage. Co-creating solutions will not only improve quality, but fast track the traditional waterfall project cycle. This very idea of user validation is fundamental to the Eric Ries Build-Measure-Learn lean startup model. Yes, it’s scary showing your cards before your hand is complete, but it’s far worse that you lose when the winning card you need is in the hands of your ecosystem and available for play.
Step 4: Always be giving. The open source movement taught us the power of giving without any expectation of anything in return. The spirit of giving is one from which we all benefit. In order to cultivate an authentic, reciprocal community, it must be built on a foundation of generosity. It is that very selflessness that allows for progress to be made. Generosity breaks barriers, diffuses egos, and diminishes ulterior motives. It builds relationships, not walls. It allows creativity and collaboration to thrive. The number one rule when developing communities is always be giving.
Step 5: Demonstrate how to connect and build social capital within the matrix. If you want to calm that fear that someone might jeopardize a relationship unintentionally, then you must show your team and colleagues how. Take a small project and co-lead the interaction with a small loyal customer set.
Don’t bring in expectations and demands. Pose challenges that need to be solved and facilitate the community to solve them through low fi visual tools like giant flip charts, whiteboards, colorful Post‐its, and markers. Don’t jump to solutions, just figure out what is happening. Always delay judgment and criticism until later in the process. Show them how to respectfully debate and then how to decide and act. It is through your example that all the people within the matrix learn how to work together for everyone’s benefit.
Next you need to teach your team how to build some street ‘cred’ or social capital. I always encourage people to build relationships with their celebrity stakeholders or endorsers. You know the big influencer in the community. Going big is far easier when you know what’s around the corner and you have what I call an Office LeBron James in your corner. That’s right: a celebrity endorser. Office Lebron is the champion who will support an idea or initiative, someone with organizational fame, like a key customer or influential leader. You must teach your employees how to identify and endear Office LeBron through connection and collaboration.
Those leaders and organizations that optimize their relationships among all the stakeholders and teach their employees to do the same will rapidly deliver innovation consistently and confidently.
Enjoyed these innovative leadership tips? Find more in my bestselling book The Innovation Revolution: Discover the Genius Hiding in Plain Sight – a practical guide to leading in the 21st century and creating a successful innovative culture in the enterprise.
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