Monday, September 28, 2009

Innovation and Exercising

This weekend, when I was on the treadmill exercising away, I realised how much of similarities there is between exercising and innovation as pursued by different companies as part of their corporate strategy. Here are some quick similarities that I could think of:

  • Both needs discipline and patience to implement.

  • Both don’t produce any quick results and it is very simple to find excuses why we can’t do it.

  • The biggest challenge is sustaining a routine and doing it regularly. It is very simple to start and stop and do it irregularly but that does not produce the desired results.

  • We all know the truth about the importance of this but still somehow manage to avoid it or find excuses not to do it.

  • There is no point in overdoing it and trying to do it at the last minute. Miracles cannot be achieved overnight and the only thing that counts towards good results is regular sustained effort.

I can go on but I think you get the drift.

So the question is – What can be done about this and how can companies make innovation as part of their regular agenda.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Invest in an innovation platform – This will help you in setting up the infrastructure to do this on a regular basis. This will also make it simpler for you to run innovation programs and popularise this throughout your organisation.

  2. Celebrate Milestones – This is true whether it is for an innovation program or exercise regime. Learn to celebrate small achievements which will encourage, motivate and keep you focussed on your targets.

  3. Find company – Identify partners who will help you with your innovation efforts. This will serve 2 purposes. First it will allow you to bounce ideas and get an outsider view which is very helpful for innovation programs. Secondly it will help your discipline since you will find that your partner is sometimes pushing you when you lag in your innovation effots.

  4. Constant feedback – Continuously monitor what is working for you and what is not and make any corrections accordingly. The constant feedback mechanism ensures that lethargy and boredom is avoided. It also helps you to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and fine-tune your future programs accordingly.

  5. Keep the end goal in mind always – It is very easy to forget the end goals in such programs since they are typically long term by their nature. Hence these programs need to be monitored and reinforced by somebody from the executive team who will ensure that the program is kept on track.

So, is it worth the effort? Experience and history will tell you time and again that innovation is not only important but in fact a survival technique for organisations and their best chance to be ahead of their competitors.

Unfortunately as all good things in life, it does not come easy and there is no short cut to success. It requires sustained effort and patience to make an impact.

In Summary – as regular exercising helps your body in the long run from falling to illness, innovation helps organisations remain nimble, focussed and well ahead of their competitors. All it requires is dedicated effort, patience and constant reinforcement.

So clearly the choice is yours – would you invest in the long term success of your organisation or look for reasons or excuses why you can’t invest in innovation this quarter?

Think about it.

The future of your company depends on this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How do I discover my true potential?

Human beings have always been innovative. But they need a trigger or cue to get the best out of them - Think of Sir Isaac Newton whose thinking was triggered by the apple falling on his head or the Wright brothers who were inspired by watching birds fly. My point is that all of us have some talent but unfortunately, it needs some effort to find out what our true strength or talent is. The ones who truly discover this use it to their advantage and achieve greatness. However this article is about the majority of us who are still to discover our true potential.

So the question is - what stops employees from finding their true strength and more importantly - what can organisations do to facilitate this process?

Well, the reasons could be plenty but I can think of at least 3 strong reasons:

  1. Stereotyping - Organisations are quick to stereotype employees and make them fit to their defined job definition or requirement. This only results in increasing the frustration levels of both employer and employees and in the worst case - lead the employee to quit. I know employers have reasons for this but still the fact is - each individual is different and the quicker they try to work out the strengths of the employee and map it to the job requirements, the better. Many a time the unique view of the employee gives a different perspective to the job requirement which can still be leveraged. But that requires maturity and an ability to deal with ambiguity from an employer perspective. Both these are rare skills especially in today's fast world.

  2. Bad Performance Rating - Performance Planning at work was initially intended as an exercise to identify strengths and work out ways on how it can be improved further to develop win-win relationships. Unfortunately in most organisations, this meaning no longer holds. It is used as a weapon to force employees to fall in "line" - so getting a bad rating is seen as a failure and no genuine effort is made to analyse and take preventive action. In most cases, getting a bad rating means that maybe that person is not cut out for that role. That is not such a bad thing - it just means that his actual strength could be elsewhere and some effort is required before the organisation discovers his potential. But this honest evaluation is possible, only if employers have time and interest. In today's world where results are everything, both of these are a luxury and so ignored.

  3. Ability to move within the organisation - Ideally all employees should be thought of as champions and potential CEO material. So the question becomes - how can they be leveraged and how can their unique innovative skills be tapped? If this means that they may have to try out 10 different roles to discover this - so be it. End of the day, once the employee discovers his true strength, there is no holding him back and he/she needs minimal attention after that and the results will be truly amazing. So it is an investment, yes - but I would argue - a worthwhile one at that. But this cannot be achieved without active encouragement and also guidance especially during the initial stages. Question is - do you care and are you willing to do it for the long run?

In absence of these, employees just drift in and out and never discover their true potential. Organisations also ride on the success of few employees and accept that the majority of their employees are not innovative. But is that really true?

How can organisations solve this problem?

I would suggest these initiatives:

  1. Expose the majority of the employees to the organisations problems (regardless of the area) and encourage participation - A simple step but a good beginning. You may be surprised by the results!! This may be a quick and painless way to discover hidden potential but important to make sure that there is an incentive, encourage and be persistent. Remember that this could be a new territory for some of your employees and they may hesitate. Employers need to reinforce and encourage to get the best results.

  2. Encourage diversity within your teams - Diversity teaches employees to be more tolerant of people who have different thoughts or ideas and also brings unique perspectives. Use this to define job requirements and keep it flexible rather than defining everything in clear terms and using that as a measure. This also helps to groom your future generation of leaders who will have to deal with ambiguity in tomorrow's world.

  3. Celebrate Successes - Nothing breeds like success. So celebrate your successes and use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment. Over a period of time, employee will realise the benefits of being their true self, let go of their inhibitions and work out win-win relationships. This will also increase your employee engagement levels.

In summary, this blog looks at how organisations can help their employees to be their innovative self and also identify a few reasons why employees don't innovate as much. Once these road blocks to innovation are removed, ideas should definitely flow through and then the sky is the limit!!

Are you ready to discover the next Einstein amongst your employees?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Innovation - What does it mean to you?

I decided to catch up on a movie this weekend. So went to the local theatre web site, selected my seat, went ahead and entered my credit card details for payment. Under normal circumstances, this should have completed fairly quickly but, this time, it seemed to take a long time. After a nervous 5 minutes wait, got a message saying that the tickets have not been booked due to a technical failure. Within another 5 mins, I got an SMS informing me that the tickets had NOT been booked. Reasonable experience, you think?

Somehow I felt that they could have done more. They knew my mobile number (since I had registered previously) and they had the good sense to send me an SMS informing me that the ticket had NOT been booked. But according to me, they missed an opportunity to impress me even further!!! All they had to do was to get somebody from their ticketing team to give me a call and ask if I needed help to complete the transaction which was still incomplete, due to no fault of mine. This should have been such a small step for them (given that they had all the relevant information) but of huge value and importance to me. Also in this situation, they would have ensured that they have got my business.

So why am I highlighting this story? Since, I believe, this company had a huge opportunity of using technology in an innovative way to make a difference and stand out from its competitor but missed out.

Sounds familiar? Think of it. I am sure you had many such experiences where you were left unsatisfied or with a reasonable experience but nothing that makes you remember this or stand out. Why do companies continue doing this? It is not that they don’t care but just that they are not able to think from their customer’s perspective. They are more inwardly focussed – more worried about how they are internally organised and it is up to the customer to figure out how it works. Unfortunately that is not a good enough stand especially in today’s world when you have so many choices and differentiation is the key to survival!!

Another reason is that most of these processes are thought up by one group working in a silo manner and these have not been discussed or brain stormed by a diverse group. Now I could be sticking my neck out, but I will be surprised if a diverse group of people, who know the customer pretty well, have not picked this.

So you must be thinking – interesting but how do I get started? Here are my tips:

  • Focus on the rough edges within your site – A lot of attention should have been paid already on the successful use cases but not enough time should have been spent on the abnormal path. However these are opportunities as well and I would argue – need more attention. So they are a good place to start.

  • Get inputs from the technical or account support staff – Support staff are the first people your customer contacts when they face any issue. Spend enough time with them to understand the kind of issues your customers face or report and then proactively start looking at whether that can be improved.

  • Think everything from your customer perspective - It is important to keep your customer at the centre of everything that you are doing. It is only when you live and breathe like your customer that you can get the experience right. So focus on it and don’t compromise.

In summary, innovation need not mean disruptive or ground-breaking changes only. While that is a form of innovation, we can use innovation in other simple day to day situations to make a difference and keep our customers happy and satisfied. If done correctly, it has huge potential and can even become a differentiator for you from your other competitors.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Do you know the real "you"?

Googling around – This has become a regular and accepted part of our work life where we use google to search for information in the World Wide Web. But I still believe there is one huge gap still despite the advances google has made. Google can never search the knowledge present in the human mind unless it is expressed in words and posted on the web. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can somehow access the human brain as well and tap into the unwritten idea?

At the minimum, the expectation of any employer is that the knowledge present in the mind of its employees is completely accessed. But is this really true? I would argue that for any medium to large sized firm, this is hardly true. With the exception of very small organisations, where they operate out of a single room or building and the flow of information or knowledge sharing is continuous – in all other firms, the flow of information is restricted and obstructed by many barriers (internal groups, politics, structure, silos – I think you get the drift). So within a short period of time, people stick to their boundaries, reply when asked specifically and just learn to do their day jobs and “fit” into the system (which typically means find the power centres and keep them happy!!!).

So you may be thinking – how can we break the shackles and get to uncovering the real “brain” of the employee? Well, as always – there is good news and bad news.

  • Bad news – Unfortunately there is no magic wand to wave and these problems will go away. Also any solutions put in place will require constant reinforcement and time before they can reap results – not something any decision maker wants to hear but there you go!

  • Good news – It is pretty simple to start, costs very little, the potential for extracting value from your employees is unlimited and more importantly when this is done correctly, it has the additional benefit of leaving your workforce fully energised and engaged.

Ready to get started? - These are the simple steps you can take to start leveraging the true power of your employees’ brain.

  1. Establish a platform for this purpose – This can be a mix of both technology and change processes. Essentially an area where the “true” ideas of an employee can be explored without any boundaries.

  2. Encourage and reward – The encouragement could be simple items to start off with – for eg: peer recognition, recognition by a well known leader within the organisation etc. Also ensure that all attempts are encouraged not just the popular ones.

  3. Select broad themes – Remember – this is not a problem solving network – refrain from posting simple challenges which targets only a particular group. The challenges posted should be broad-based to appeal to the entire employee base and the goals should be clearly defined.

  4. Monitor and adapt – The evaluation process should be fair and transparent. Periodically review and take any corrections as per the usage and the feedback received. Communicate as much as possible about the goals and ensure that individual feedback is given as much as possible and the top contributors felicitated.

  5. Sustain – Finally remember this is a journey and the important thing is to sustain this for a long period of time. Start and Stop approach only tends to create confusion in the employee’s mind. If you feel, interest is dying down, rejuvenate by introducing new challenges or new rewards or publish success stories which will keep the interest alive.

In simple terms, every employee also wants to contribute his best to the organisation – nobody comes to work thinking that they want to do a lousy job. I also don’t believe that employees lack the motivation to “go the extra mile”. So what happens then? The problem is the environment at the workplace. Every employee has ideas and views – especially if they are coming from other organisations. Ultimately only a receptive environment within an organisation will help uncover all the ideas of your employees and help unleash the true potential of your employees.

Establishing a platform for your employees to contribute their best ideas will go a long way in freeing up your employees to think without boundaries and encourage open and free flow of ideas. So start today and you will be surprised by the true “brain” of your employees.
Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

Innovate Together at Blogged

Innovation Blog Directory

Visit to discover Indian blogs