You want your people to innovate, donāt you? Of course you do; yet is it easy for them?
# I bet your corporate values include something like āOur people are our greatest assetā.
# Ever paid a consultant for new ideas? -and do you invest to capitalise on insidersā suggestions? (yet Iāll wager you have spent more $ on the external, than on those staff ideasā¦)
# Think back to the last appraisal round: how many ideas were held up as successful? -and what proportion of your staff were offering up ideas?
# And maybe you ask them to āDo it Right First Timeā? āOK.
# Ever put up a Staff Suggestion Box? -and did you get the response you dreamed of? Noā¦
I want you to see, that there is a strong link between employeesā concerns over have over āgetting things wrongā -especially when those things are the ones counted in their performance, pay and bonuses; and the level of real freedom staff have to come up with radical ideas, to develop & trial them.
Even if we count the adoption separately, its common to find that the part of working life where we place most value on ideas is as a slogan, but much less as real support for doing things differently.
OK, how many of us learnt to ride a bicycle on the first attempt? Come on now, you canāt really expect staff to take risks with an important part of their futures unless you actively support them, by making it OK to admit āfailuresā, and to share mistakes; and youāll need to cover some loss in pay.
But consider the rewards! āonce the folk who live every day with problems see that you really do want suggestions, they will flow freely. When workers own and promote their own ideas, (not via the cheesy Suggestion Box) adoption of the early offers will encourage others.
Then the organization begins internal learning (which is cheaper!) -and managers will learn much more of where to study and improve the annoying problems that are holding you all back.
Sustainable innovation begins -
In talking this week with Debra, one of my new American friends, about leaders creating ‘Followship’ the subject of ‘Employee Engagement’ (EE) came up. Although EE is widely practiced in projects to bridge a void in the contract between staff and leaders, I had not thought much about what it represents.
Referring to a military example of strong employee buy-in, Debra suggested that it is often better to build employee support for a vision without all the funding in place; than to merely accept a funding stream and then change the direction of teams to follow it. I readily agreed with this emphasis on followship, saying āRight -you can’t buy buy-in.ā
What I came away with was a thought that whilst Employee Engagement may be just another fad, it fails to answer an underlying problem; no, not the nuts and bolts of creating buy-in, but asking ‘Why don’t our organisations naturally allow staff pride in work, and grow joy and ownership that render EE unnecessary?’
I’m pretty sure that the problem is the way we run organisations, split along functional lines that do not relate to the real work, as top-down hierarchies with multiple purposes that divide staff, and involving staff downstream of decision-making instead of pulling in their expertise up front.
This week I asked a hotel Receptionist āCan you help me, please?; I can’t get into my room.ā She apologised, saying that they had major problems with the room access system, one of the 30 or so computerised systems that the chain replaces under a global ICT programme. In this case 29 of the 30 had been installed and wrestled into shape; but this one was taking a little longer to patch up.
With little prompting she also explained that corporate policy was to change all these systems on a 4-year cycle. And the more experienced staff who have seen scheduled disaster before can reasonably predict the ensuing chaos. It became clear that local staff were powerless to affect this policy, and dug in each time to minimise the effects on customers and operations.
I can see that a corporation working a highly competitive market needs to attract and retain highly mobile customers, and so will wish to acquire the best customer activity information ā so replacing tired software makes sense. However I struggle with three aspects:
firstly how can a global HQ knowingly inflict such damage, albeit temporary, on its revenue-producing operations?;
second that it does not allow its operations staff -who would have more current knowledge? no influence over how the changes are implemented; and
third that in a dynamic market it fixes a 4-yearly schedule -whatever happened to ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?’
Of these three points, the first two appear to reflect assumptions at HQ that do not favour front-line staff, and they certainly offer room for improvement to be gained and to better use the knowledge of staff; however the third has a different character, as this 4-year cycle feels to be arbitrary. This third may present a different scope for better work and as a consequence, reduced costs.
I think I shall write to the chain, and see how many bounces the letter takes before reaching someone who will properly answer. Watch this space, but don’t hold your breath!
I’ve been reading an example in today’s ‘USA Today’ newspaper of how difficult it is to go against a damaging culture, in this case alleged serious fraud in US government property arm, the General Services Agency.
Many of us know at an intuitive level when things are very wrong. Elaine Johnson says: “Moral behaviour is hard-wired into the human brain.” -however the rub for the would-be whistle blower is that acting on what we know to be right is tougher when the consequences for one’s employment are severe.
Reports to federal committee hearings say that an executive had fostered a culture of ‘putting people down’ who objected to his spending decisions. Apparently the official’s spending habits extended to taking a nine-day visit to Hawaii to attend a one-hour ribbon cutting. One employee told the Inspector General ‘he squashed someone like a bug’ for speaking out.
However oversight since the inspector’s report of May 2011 suggests the matter is a deeper problem than one person’s bad behaviour, with evidence to federal committees suggesting that lavish spending after the release of the inspector general’s report points to a ‘-culture we are going to get to the bottom of…a culture of fraud’
And once the behaviour has spread widely, being a whistle blower is a whole lot harder again. Dr Deming wrote: ‘Fear invites wrong figures. Bearers of bad news fare badly. To keep his job, anyone may present to his boss only good news.’
Beyond the alleged fraud, such a climate of fear damages the lives of all people it touches. There lie hidden and possibly greater costs than those exorbitant purchases, because they are largely external to the organisation, and not costed to the accounts.
Website is now operational, thanks to hugely professional work by Mike Roberts, of www.MJR Productions.co.ukĀ Ā Ā Ā -so now I can fly solo safe in the knowledge that when I meet a strange situation or hit an ‘oops’ button, experience is on tap to restore my horizon.