The Uncomfortable Catalyst of Innovation: Getting comfortable with failure in a world focused on removing failure.


In a world of Lean Six Sigma, TQM, and other error and failure removal and reduction systems we need to understand a new perspective: Failure is okay. Understanding that failure is a part of innovation is critical. Many of the systems we use every day around the globe in some of the most important organizations require removing failure, but the key is understanding at what point this should take place. When we review performance in any organization, there are stages of the life of business products, services, and processes we need to be aware of. The first stage is Creation & Innovation. The second stage is Growth and Maturation. The third stage is Retirement and Reincarnation. While these are individual stages as I see them, they are not mutually exclusive. They work together, and often work in cycle. Very few systems today work in a purely linear fashion. Therefore we see the Retirement and Reincarnation stage being driven by the Creation & Innovation stage, or we see the cycling back through the stages. You notice that at no time is there a stagnant period of simple maintenance; there is constant motion. Maintenance in today’s market is equal to death for most products and services. So what do each of these look like?

Creation & Innovation

In this stage, we see the birth of ideas and hopefully the beginning of an innovation, or something that is not only creative but useful. The important component of this particular phase that is only recently being picked up by even some of the largest and ostensibly most important organizations out there, is the concept of failure. During this phase we need to be comfortable with failure, and actually encourage it. Of course, this does not mean just any failure, this means successful failure. Failure that provides lessons and helps us achieve the next big success. If we make mistakes and learn nothing, this is truly failure. Which means we need to create an environment that encourages failure, measures for it, rewards it, and provides room for improvement from it.

Growth and Maturation

During this phase, the focus is on taking the product, process, or service from the beginning idea to a thriving money maker. It means also continuing to grow and evolve, while being able to provide it at an even more efficient and effective pace and quality. During this phase is where the focus on removing errors and mistakes comes in. However, part of the key is that we have an established thing that we are focusing on improving through error and mistake reduction.

Retirement and Reincarnation

At some point we need to be aware of the need to revitalize and reincarnate what we are doing. Is the product or service still necessary? Is it still viable? Is it still competitive? Does the process still work, or do we need something new? These are questions that keep us moving forward and help determine whether it is time to retire a particular product or service, or if we can revitalize and reincarnate it as something new. Again, during this time we see a need for the creativity and innovation from the first phase, which is where we actually begin to cycle back to the beginning and start over.

While this process seems simplistic, it really seems to me that this is the way business today can best be summed up. Most important throughout the phases is understanding that sometimes we need failure and sometimes we need to reduce failure. Take a look at your own organization, and please leave your comments and thoughts below!

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Leading Through Mistakes | Lead Change Group


Leading Through Mistakes | Lead Change Group.

I love articles like this.  I love that they speak to what we all inherently know and feel and understand to be true and right in the world.  And I love that in this case it provides insights from those in places that do this well, as it gives hope that we can all achieve the same.

I also struggle with them, as not only someone who studies and practices in this field but also as a worker who experiences the alternative.  We read articles and research and the myriad other pieces of information that confirm our core beliefs in the way we should treat others and be treated, but often when that bubble bursts we are standing or sitting in an environment that is exactly the opposite.  So what do we do?

I am a firm believer in demonstrating what we want to see in others.  Admit when you make mistakes, and mean it.  It definitely isn’t always easy and it certainly can make you more vulnerable,  but if all of can continually present our mistakes to others and own them, others may feel more willing to do the same.  This helps remove the stigma and hopefully help to influence the culture around you, no matter whether you are have positional authority or not.

We can also attempt to provide feedback and suggestions to those around us on using the many methods of using mistakes for good, not evil.  We can suggest articles, books, papers, and more that have information and would be “some interesting reading” in a friendly and caring attempt to help others to see some new ways they could do things.  But we cannot always get through, and need to know when to back off.

It can be easy to be positive when we talk about what we should do, or what we know is true, but the reality is that many workplaces out there do not have cultures that support this mentality.  Even worse, there are many organizations that do, but some of the managers do not support the same.  In these cases, if you have exhausted every avenue, there may be no other choice but to leave the team, group, department, or even the company.  Being in an environment that burns you down for mistakes, or having a manager that refuses to admit their own while ensuring that any of your own are glaring, pointed, and clearly spotlighted will suck the very life from you and all work you do.  I firmly believe that change can happen, and that the things we know about the interactions between engagement and motivation, leadership, communication, and behaviors is true and important.  The catch is that we have to know when the environment and/or people are open to that change.

For leaders,  think for a moment on not what your perspective is, but what is the perspective of those that you are in charge of?  Do they feel like you are supportive?  Do they feel like they can make a mistake?  How do you help them?  How would you view or treat your employees differently if they were your friends instead of employees?

What do you think?  Have you been in a situation like this, as an employee and/or as a leader, and what was it?  How did you handle it?  What would your recommend to others?

Human Performance Systems Thinking: This is NOT just a Buzz Word!


For anyone that knows me, I am a nut about understanding the way that organizations and people work, especially as it relates to increasing and maintaining performance.  Unfortunately many organizations of all sizes fail to see the many systemic components of this and how they work together, or they only have a cursory awareness without the clear connections and methods of helping them work together.

Whether you are a Fortune 100 company, or just started a month ago there are certain areas that need clear focus from the onset.  It is really easy to let certain things fall to the wayside, especially when you are focusing on trying to get your business off the ground and become self-sufficient.  I would like to share a few things that I believe that all businesses, work groups, teams, and divisions should think about as systemic components of your Human Performance program.

  1. Leadership needs to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and ensure they get the development and guidance they need to support the business and their people.  This may seem a bit of a no-brainer,  but it is a critical component of your Human Performance system.  The leaders and senior leaders are the drivers and examples (or should be) and need to focus on developing and growing as much as or more than many others.  This serves the purpose of not only increasing capability and knowledge, but I believe also helps foster humbleness by reinforcing the fact that senior leaders do not know all the answers.  How many conversations and relationships would be, or are, different because of someone showing a bit of humility?
  2. Training is not always the answer…only for new skills or refreshes on old skills.  When someone is not performing, often the first go-to is to train them again, because the assumption is that they must not know how to do whatever it is.  Ask some questions first, such as: “Did they know how to do it before?” “What has changed for them personally and/or professionally?” “Are they engaged by the task/work/project/etc.?”  Answers to these questions can assist in directing toward either a training event or other solution, which leads to some of the other points.
  3. Determine what you can and should hire for, and what you really need to and want to train for when someone joins your team.  This changes the entire system drastically in many cases.  If I hire with expectations for certain knowledge, skills, and abilities then that reduces the amount and depth of training necessary to provide.  This also changes the potential of getting production faster and with potentially more varied perspectives.
  4. Re-evaluate roles and positions regularly to determine if what they were still fits for today and tomorrow.  Some of us get bored being stuck in the same thing all the time, and want the opportunity to grow and move in to other areas.  Re-evaluation of roles and responsibilities regularly, while including those currently in the role, can go a long way to engaging employees.  Additionally, it is important to ensuring your organization is best prepared not just for where you are, but where you want to go.
  5. Ensure performance management is built in to the day-to-day, nor reserved for mid-year and end-of-year.  It has been said a million times, but it deserves reiterating.  Performance management as a practice is one of the most hated things for most managers, but the reality is if the culture of the organization and team includes coaching people for success as they take on new jobs, tasks, responsibilities, etc. and then continues providing direction and feedback after, the process goes much more smoothly.  This changes the discussions and can increase engagement and feelings of trust and rapport with leaders.
  6. Create the culture that you would be excited to be a part of, lead it, and reinforce it.  Again, this is not new, but you are the one others look at.  The way you act, or the way you don’t influences others.  The way you communicate, or don’t, influences others.  The trust and transparency you have, or don’t, influences others.  Never lose sight of the impact you really have.
  7. Management and Leadership are a job, not an afterthought.  I really can’t stress this enough.  Managers need to lead, and the activities that a manager should be doing are very different than what individual contributors should be.  This should be evaluated regularly and people who are really stronger as individual contributors should be given the opportunity to do those types of jobs at no penalty.  Additionally, managers need to be able to put the overwhelming majority of their focus on building a strong and stable team, growing them, removing barriers, and getting things done.  If you are not doing these activities at least 85% of the time, you are NOT a manager.  You simply have a title.

Your Human Performance System is critical, and very real.  It is also very complex, and understanding and working with it can be difficult.  But that does not lessen the importance or necessity of working on it constantly. It is dynamic and needs constant focus, and many times adjustments and change.  Are you focusing in these areas?  How?  What else would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear your comments!

When you have time, lead your team.


In the not-so-distant past, I had the opportunity to experience a situation unfolding where a manager has taken on the role of “working manager” to a detrimental point, exacerbated by a number of facts.  First, they are in a first-time management position with direct reports, which started as one and grew to 6 in a very short period of about two-and-a-half to three years.  To make matters worse, their role has increasingly taken on more individual contributor responsibilities, while the responsibilities of the team members reporting to them have Man facing problems and stressbecome increasingly varied and complex.  This is a recipe for disaster.

Organizations today are increasingly attempting to “do more with less” which is not a new concept, but we see organizations taking it to frightening extremes at times.  While to some degree this is a fact of business, we need to ensure that we are also being mindful of the conflicting measurements and expectations we place on leaders in the organization.  How much time do you and/or your managers spend focusing on your own projects and tasks?  How much time do you or they dedicate to actually managing and leading?  Are your tasks and managing and leading your people considered different, and what is more critical?  These are important questions.

Too often we forget that the functions of leading and managing are complex, and require focus and time.  This is even more salient when leaders work with diverse workgroups across national and international boundaries, and across multiple areas of expertise.  The basics of learning to delegate are important, but there is certainly more.  Leaders in complex leadership situations need to the opportunity to say no, they cannot take on another task, another project, another product, another whatever without fear of reprisal.  It is senior leadership’s responsibility to create and encourage this environment, and everyone’s responsibility to help support it.  Further, it is the responsibility of leadership throughout the organization to make sure that the right people are not only in the right place, but also that they receive the right support at the right time.  This means for themselves and other leaders.

We need the time, the training, and the support to be the best that we can, and that means each and every one of us, consistently.  There is no silver bullet, but an important component is awareness.  The awareness of senior leaders and mid-level leaders to recognize when they or others are taking on too much, or trying to be the hero, or trying to continue getting the accolades of being the “doer” versus being the leader.  While there are many other areas for potential focus, this one thing makes a huge difference in engagement, creating a trusting environment, building relationships, and increasing potential and performance for everyone.

 

Creating Engagement Within The Work Family


There is a tremendous amount of literature available today that addresses employee or worker engagement, and organizations such as Gallup have spent large amounts of money, time, and other resources to identify components and impacts of engagement.  It’s so important that organizations such as retail giant Best Buy and bottling and drink company MolsonCoors, Inc. have reported impacts to their respective businesses due to an increased focus on and measured increase in employee engagement.  It can be quite confusing to read through all the available information without some guidance about what it all means, or what theory is correct.  Unfortunately, the answer is slightly more difficult than a simple “this or that”.  In a recent edition of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (2011), there is an excellent article that discusses these myriad theories of employee engagement.  The title of the article is “Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce” and it covers some really important topics.  Most importantly the authors, Shawn Serrano and Rebecca Reichard, add some definition to the definition of employee engagement.  So let’s start with that here.

The two components that seem to overlap no matter which theory is used are energy and involvement.  As Serrano and Reichard (2011) so eloquently put it, “energy is displayed as individuals fully deploy their physical, cognitive and emotional resources into a work role or task,” and “involvement occurs as individuals display competence and a positive attached response to the job, thus resulting in remarkable dedication and intense absorption in the task at hand.”  So now we have a relatively clear idea of what represents employee engagement, but how do we achieve this?

Again, Serrano and Reichard (2011) have some excellent suggestions; ultimately, leaders are tasked with:

  • Designing Meaningful and Motivating Work
  • Supporting and Coaching Employees
  • Enhancing Employee’s Personal Resources
  • Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations

Most of us would agree that if  these things were in our workplace, we would feel more engaged.  I think there is a really good reason for this, going back to when we were very young.  The role of parents, our leaders through childhood, provided many of these things for us to get us where we are today.  Most parents provide activities and tasks for children to do and accomplish that will help them feel good about what they have accomplished, and will support and coach them along the way.  Even if the task is challenging parents are there to help them, but not necessarily complete the task for them.  Organizational leaders serve the same role.  Ensuring that children have the necessary components to succeed in their daily tasks, school projects, sports endeavors, or other activities is truly crucial as most children can not achieve these things on their own.  Again, organizational leaders must provide that same type of support to their workforce.  In many cases, workers do not have the ability to get the necessary resources on their own.  It doesn’t mean giving someone everything that they ask for, but rather providing them with what they need to accomplish what they are working on and striving for.

The last component, Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations, is very similar to the act of parents facilitating “play dates” or other social activities for their children to become more socialized.  Ultimately, parents are responsible for assisting their children in achieving this development, and organizational leaders have much of the same responsibility.  This teaches people to communicate and interact successfully, which can help across many facets of business.

This isn’t to say that business leaders need to treat employees like children, but we need to have the same type of compassion for one another as we would for children and leaders especially need to understand the great responsibility that they have for their employees.  When thinking about what the workforce needs, ask if they have the components above and if you are helping them to grow and develop, or if perhaps you are viewing them as simply a part in a process.  How are you engaging your workforce family, and how are you being engaged?

References

Serrano, S.A., & Reichard, R.J. (2011). Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(3), 176-189. doi: 10.1037/a0025621

Time on the front-end will save time and money later


I was trolling around looking for new blogs to read, as I often do, and found an excellent one called “Cutting-Edge Leadership” by Dr. Ronald E. Riggio.  The article that caught my attention is titled “Learn the Right Way to Interview Job Candidates.”  Immediately I wanted to read further and see what thoughts and opinions were contained within, and compare to my own.  I was thrilled to find that Dr. Riggio hit the nail on the head with his synopsis.  As he explains, “Interviews only work if they are done right, and even then, they tell us little about a candidate’s employability.”

As most of us have probably been through at least one interview, the observations presented in the article are not that surprising.  What is refreshing is that this article isn’t simply bashing the practice of interviewing but rather giving the pitfalls and challenges of interviewing while suggesting alterations to make the process more effective.  As usual, I had some of my own thoughts that I left as a comment on the article itself, but I wanted to share them here as well.

Hiring is not a singular process, and needs to be viewed as one systemic component of a greater system.  In fact, hiring should be referred to as “talent acquisition”, which in turn should be viewed as only the very beginning of a much bigger picture.  How many times have you gone through the hiring process, brought someone on-board, trained them, and within a relatively short period of time had to let them go, had them walk away, or become a performance problem?  How much does that cost your organization in terms of time, money, productivity, and man-power?  Do the math on it, if you haven’t already, and it’s enough to make you queasy and potentially throw-up in your mouth just a bit.  So what is the alternative?  Start correctly from the beginning.  After all, the beginning is the best place to start.

Simple changes can make a huge difference for you, the organization, and the other people in the organization.  The first such change is take a strong look at how you are attracting talent.  Where are you searching for your next employee?  Where do most of your hires come from?  Are they looking for you, or are you searching for them?  How many referrals do you get from other employees?  These are the first types of questions to be asking because before you can even assess and acquire good talent, you need to have good talent available.  Once you have a good pool of talent available to select from, the process of sifting through them is just as important.  It must be standardized, objective, rigorous, and effective.

As Dr. Riggio suggests, using assessment centers is costly up-front but can be tremendously effective.  To be effective you should be testing for knowledge, skills, and abilities that have been identified (generally through competency mapping) as necessary to be successful in the position.  How can you do this?  Simulations and role-plays can work well in some cases.  For other positions it may be a written test, or a demonstration of ability.  In yet other cases it may be a combination of multiple methods of assessment.  And let’s not forget about actually talking with the candidate.  When conducting the verbal interview, whether by phone or in person, it is important to follow a standardized and repeatable process.  This means asking the same questions of each candidate which will create results which can be compared equally, as well as having a regular process to how interviews will be conducted.  This refers to utilizing multiple different stakeholders, and having set stages or phases to the talent acquisition process.  Multiple stakeholders involved in the interview process, both individually and in a group or pair scenario, can also help to get multiple different perspectives on a potential candidate and mitigate the silo effect of one interviewer.  If the person you want in the position needs to be good with multiple generations, have multiple generations of people interview the potential candidates, and see what types of reactions you get.  The same goes for male versus female; mix genders, races, ethnicities, departments…whatever you can to create a relevant cross-section and get a good feel for how the potential candidate will respond and react within the organization and even potentially outside of the organization.

While this is a rather high-level overview of an in-depth process, hopefully you can get a good sense for the time, effort, and value that should be placed on it.  Once you have put a candidate through a process such as this, you should have a strong picture of their knowledge, skills, and abilities and can make a well-educated decision on whether or not to bring them in to the organization.  And believe it or not, the person being put through the process will appreciate it once they make it as well because they should feel better about their fit with the organization and the position, just as you will.  Performance management doesn’t start after someone is hired, it starts before they are hired.  If you haven’t heard it before, please let me be the first to tell you: “Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance”.