Are your own people your biggest barrier to higher innovation and agility? That’s what recent research from Great Place to Work found in a study of 792 companies totaling about 500,000 employees.
In this new study, Innovation by All, Great Place to Work concluded organizations with high-trust cultures involve and engage many more employees than most organizations in the innovation process. These companies are much more agile and become masters rather than victims of change.
The study notes that discussions of innovation today focus on technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain tools, and automation. But “many leaders today are failing to fully tap their human potential, which paradoxically has increased even as machines have become more central to business.”
“Innovation by All (IA) maximizes a company’s human potential by tapping into the intelligence, skills, and passion of everyone in the organization. IA cultures “generate more high-quality ideas, realize greater speed in implementation, and achieve greater agility– resulting in 5.5 times the revenue growth of peers with a less inclusive approach to innovation.”
Here are a few study highlights:
Innovation is now as much about agility as invention.
Leaders need more speed with changing internal systems, launching new products, and responding to rapidly changing markets.
Human judgement is vital to quickly capitalizing on new technologies. Front-line employees are central to that acceleration.
The fastest, most nimble organizations have a ratio of 11:2 — eleven employees pulling the organization forward for every two dragging on growth and agility. Functional organizations’ ratios are 5:2 while the slowest and worst performing organizations are 3:2.
IA organizations rapidly adapt to disruptive change, quickly create new approaches, and generate high-quality ideas.
These highly accelerated organizations have “21% higher levels of discretionary effort, 14% less risk of turnover, 32% improved productivity, and 33% more adaptability.”
Employees at IA organizations consider their leaders highly genuine and caring. Trust and autonomy are also much higher than in peer organizations. These leaders set inspiring visions and live by shared core values.
People in the best IA organizations report significantly higher levels of looking forward to coming to work, adapting quickly to changes needed for the organization’s success, and recommending their organization as a great place to work.
An employee at one of the highly innovative organizations in the study said, “If another company were to come in, offer me three times more than what I’m making today, I couldn’t leave because I know if I went there, I wouldn’t have this,” he says. “I’d be throwing away this foundation that I built here, and the whole company has this.”
How innovative is your organization? Is your leadership boosting or blocking agility? How do you know?
In the fall of 2017, I began a book development project by reviewing over ten years of blogs, research, and our workshop/retreat topics to identify core themes and topics most relevant in these turbulent times. Eight major topic areas emerged.
Over 100 panel members provided rich, deep, and thoughtful comments and suggestions on the four topics. Reading through this trove of insights and experiences yielded lots of ideas and paths for further research and chapter topics.
It took me longer than I’d planned to scope out the four topic areas with the following outlines. I’d like to think that’s because quality takes time. But maybe I am just slow. Our delightful grandkids (it’s not fair that we have the cutest and smartest grandkids the world has ever seen) also provide many wonderful distractions.
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Paul, “a first level manager,” e-mailed to tell me about a “fourth option I’ve used at a large, bureaucratic organization with some positive results.” He explains, “I started a grassroots effort to change the culture. A team of high powered technical folks I pulled together decided to start teaching others about positive psychology (click here for more on this new field). We do this on our own time and developed the materials ourselves, so the message fits the organization. The idea is to improve morale by improving the mood of many individuals, as opposed to waiting for a great leader to change the organization. It’s starting to work, at least a little. We’ve run ten classes and taught over 200 people, and there’s a waiting list for the next class. Unfortunately, 200 people are only a couple percent of the company’s total population, and sometimes it feels like we’re tilting at windmills. That said, we’ve been at it for about three years, lots of people tell others to take the class, and we’re starting to engage the company leadership to leverage what we’ve done. It’s got real momentum.”
Paul provides a great example of leadership as an action, not a position. Leadership is what we do, not who we are. All too many people in leadership roles don’t act like leaders. And there are many people who haven’t been given formal leadership authority but are very strong leaders. We all need to be leaders — in our personal lives or taking a leading role in our family, communities, profession, relationships, or workplace.
It’s all too easy to be like the thirty-eight-year-old man who was at his parent’s home for Sunday dinner. He mournfully turned the discussion to his many problems, “I’ve just left my third failed marriage, I can’t hold onto a job, I’m in debt up to my ears and will have to declare personal bankruptcy,” he complained bitterly. “Where did you go wrong?”
Leaders don’t wait, they initiate. Leading ourselves and others up the leadership stairs is the route to better health, happiness, and success. We need “leaderful” teams and organizations to move everyone upward to ever higher performance and results. “I/we are going to do something” is the language of success. “Something must be done” is the language of failure.
The action of leading — seeing possibilities, encouraging and supporting, reframing, and overcoming helplessness with hopefulness — needs to be broadly shared by everyone everywhere regardless of formal roles or positions.
Tomorrow we publish my February blog posts in the March issue of The Leader Letter. This issue looks at a few angles of leadership. Passion and love are key elements of leadership. Strong leaders are highly passionate about their work and inspire others around him or her with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
Strong leaders bring life to the hackneyed phrases of “walk the talk” and “lead by example.” Their actions do all the talking. And strong leaders balance efficiency and effectiveness. Processes and systems are vital. But unless the whole organization is fully automated and has no people in it, leadership is a critical catalyst that boosts or blocks process, systems, and technology.
An ancient Chinese proverb teaches that “The person who waits for a roast duck to fly into their mouth must wait a very long time.” Don’t wait; initiate.
Recently I worked with the senior leadership team of a large warehouse and logistics company. They’re growing so rapidly they’re having big problems finding people to staff their distribution centers.
A major part of that problem is turnover. They’re losing warehouse workers almost as quickly as they’re hired. Costs are soaring and projected to get worse.
As I listened to their leaders focus on hard processes, metrics, and systems it became crystal clear that the “soft skills” of leadership and culture weren’t even on their radar. Their plans to reduce their horrendous engagement and retention problem focused on better hiring/orientation practices and HR systems.
In the strategy session, the CEO declared that technical and analytical skills were the key to career advancement at their company. He went so far as to state, “you can be a complete a–hole as long as you’re the smartest person in the room.”
Listening to the team’s strategies and plans, reminded me of the efficiency expert’s report on hearing a symphony at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I first read this years ago in Paul Dickson’s book, The Official Rules. He says there are a number of versions of this report dating back to 1955. Today experts in lean, ERP systems, or process improvement might give a similar report.
For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number should be reduced, and the work spread more evenly over the whole of the concert, thus eliminating peaks of activity.
All the twelve violins were playing identical notes; this seems unnecessary duplication. The staff of this section should be drastically cut. If a larger volume of sound is required, it could be obtained by electronic apparatus.
Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demi-semi-quavers; this seems an unnecessary refinement. It is recommended that all notes should rounded up to the nearest semi-quaver. If this was done it would be possible to use trainees and lower grade operatives more extensively.
There seems to be too much repetition of some musical passages. Scores should be drastically pruned. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns a passage that has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.
The conductor agrees generally with these recommendations, but expressed the opinion that there might be some falling off in box-office receipts. In that unlikely event it should be possible to close sections of the auditorium entirely, with a consequential saving of overhead expenses, lighting, attendance, etc. If the worst came to the worst, the whole thing could be abandoned and the public could go to Albert Hall instead.
Many organizations have a set of core values along with vision and mission statements. And many leaders are frustrated that people in their organizations aren’t getting the message. Teamwork, customer service, quality, trust, communication, or whatever’s declared as culture ideals aren’t lived.
But people are getting the culture message from their leaders. They see it loud and clear. Culture ripples out from the leadership team.
As parents raising our young family, Heather and I were inspired by Dorothy Law Nolte’s poem, Children Learn What They Live. Here’s a leadership version I rewrote for leaders trying to shift their culture:
If a team member lives with fear,
He learns to avoid risk-taking.
If a team member lives with criticism,
She learns to focus on what’s wrong.
If a team member lives with micromanagement,
She learns to not trust her own judgement.
If a team member lives with ridicule,
He learns to avoid trying new things.
If a team member lives with mistrust,
He learns to be suspicious.
If a team member lives with hostility,
She learns how to be defensive.
If a team member lives with indifference,
He learns not to care.
If a team member lives with appreciation,
She learns to make an extra effort.
If a team member lives with openness,
He learns how to be honest.
If a team member lives with experimentation,
She learns how to be innovative.
If a team member lives with great coaching,
He learns how to leverage strengths.
If a team member lives with encouragement,
She learns how to be confident.
If a team member lives with positive visions,
He learns how to be inspired.
If a team member lives with flexibility,
She learns how to master change.
A young boy came home and told his Dad that the other kids kept stealing his pencils at school. The father stomped off to the school to complain. “It’s not a matter of the pencils,” he bellowed to his son’s teacher, “I get plenty of those from work. It’s the principle of the thing that bothers me most.”
What leaders do often shouts so loud people can’t hear what they’re saying.
I once asked a manager how many people work for his company. He said, “About half.” After we assessed their organizational culture, we found he was overly optimistic. They had a very large number of disengaged people. It wasn’t hard to see why the organization’s results were poor and getting worse. As someone in a focus group quipped, “The most dangerous place in this organization is at the exit door around quitting time. You’ll get trampled.”
In another organization, I was facilitating a development workshop with a few “prisoners” as participants. Actually, calling them “participants” was generous. They’d been forced to attend and weren’t participating in our discussions. One finally said, “Jim, I think you’re confusing us with people who give a (bleeeeppp).”
More than 90 percent of people surveyed in a Psychology Today study aspired to produce the highest quality work possible. But less than 50 percent said they only work hard enough to keep their jobs. The main reason they gave for this big difference was frustration with management practices.
The day of passion and love — Valentine’s Day — is tomorrow. It’s a good time to reflect on the vital connections of leadership and love. Management is “head work,” and leadership is “heart work.” Leadership is emotional. Leadership deals with feelings. Leadership is about dreams, inspiration, excitement, desire, pride, care, passion, and love.
Passion and love are affairs of the heart, not the head. We aren’t rational creatures. Humans use thinking and reason to solve problems and make plans. But it’s our hearts more than our heads that move us. Most “rational thinking” is justifying actions that start with our feelings. We often make decisions that “feel right,” then start looking for the “facts” to support them.
Clarence Francis, former chairman of General Foods, once observed, “You can buy a person’s time; you can buy his physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of his skilled muscular motions per hour. But you cannot buy enthusiasm… you cannot buy loyalty… you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds, or souls. You must earn these.”
A stronger indicator of management’s ability to energize or enervate team members is absenteeism. When I was a kid, I didn’t enjoy school very much. So, I was sick a lot. Once I found my life work and pursued career choices I loved, my health improved miraculously.
The culture of too many organizations is like the bumper sticker “I am neither for nor against apathy.” There’s a big price for managers’ failure to engage the hearts of people. When we’re excited about our work — when we feel like valued partners and have a commitment to our team and to reaching our goals together — we’re much less likely to call in sick.
When I feel like my boss doesn’t care much about me, if my work is boring and routine, if I am just a pair of hired hands, the group I am part of is not really a team, I don’t know and don’t really care what our organization does or what customers think about our products and services, then I will call in sick at the first sniffle. Not to mention that feeling down lowers my immune system and makes me much more susceptible to whatever bugs are going around.
The author and poet, Samuel Ullman, wrote, “Age may wrinkle the face, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul” (now there’s a scary thought — just imagine the leathery, shriveled souls of apathetic people).
Is your leadership sparking and smothering the flames of passion and commitment in your team? Or maybe you just don’t care…
Daniel Boone once said, “I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” Of course, being a real ‘he-man,’ he would never ask for directions!
Many leaders are bewildered about communication problems in their organizations. A well-known line uttered by a desperate sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Many people in today’s organizations feel like there’s “info, info everywhere, but not a drop of communication to drink.”
When we discuss this growing problem, I’ll often ask workshop participants to raise their hand if they feel their organizations need much better communications. Almost every hand goes up. I’ll then ask how many people would like to increase the number of e-mails they get. Few hands go up. Yet, what happens when managers hear people ask for more communications? That’s right, they send more e-mails.
Like confusing activity with accomplishment, most managers confuse information with communications.
Tomorrow we publish my January blogs in the February issue of The Leader Letter (click here to subscribe and receive by email). The first post in this month’s issue focuses on the communications confusion confounding so many leaders. We live in the information age with more communication tools and channels than ever before. Yet, true communication is getting worse. Water, water everywhere…
Timeless Leadership Principles
As you’ve been reading in my blogs and the February issue, I’ve been gathering input and researching my latest book. That brings me back to reflect on a few timeless leadership principles. Communication breakdowns are complicated. They have many causes. Losing touch with these underlying leadership principles creates or adds to communication failures:
No quick fixes. Lasting effectiveness comes from moving beyond bolt-on programs to built-in processes. Many people are looking for what’s new in quick-fix communication tools, technologies, programs, or workshops. Communication problems are often symptoms of deeper, interconnected culture or leadership issues.
Constant improvement. Like housework or staying in shape, communication is a continuous effort. You need to keep working in your job, team, or organization while you also work onyour job, team, or organization. High performers develop the discipline to continually look at whether they’re doing the right things in the best way.
True to You. You can’t get “them” to communicate better while you keep doing the same thing. There must be alignment between your own development and where you’re trying to take your organization or team. A leader with stunted personal growth rarely grows a team or organization to higher effectiveness.
Leadership as action, not a position. Outstanding leadership action often comes from people who aren’t in key leadership (management) roles. Too many managers are bosses, bureaucrats, or “snoopervisors.” They’re often not leading. Highly effective organizations are brimming with leaders at all levels and in all positions.
Laughter and fun. You may have missed that study showing suppressed laughter goes back down to spread the hips and produce gas! Communication and openness often thrive in an environment of humor, fun, and playfulness.
Tomorrow’s issue also deals with another big challenge of our time; overload. When disconnected and undisciplined senior leaders demand way too much of middle managers and their teams, it’s a communication problem. Successful middle managers face their fear and have courageous conversations. That can be a CLM (career limiting moose). But strong leaders refuse to be infected with the Victimitis Virus.
This issue also deals with meeting madness. Meetings can dramatically enhance communication and time management. Or not. Too many meetings suck the energy and effectiveness from many participants. How are yours? How do you know?
Today’s technology can compound misunderstandings at higher speeds to more people. Effective leaders build community and communion with conversations for deeper understanding and connection. And their actions ensure people see them loud and clear.
Is “we really need to improve communications around here” a common refrain in your workplace? It’s a very common frustration and complaint. ‘Increasing Communications’ was the highest voted topic by nearly 500 readers who completed our “reader sourcing” survey on key topic areas for the new book I am working on.
Given the importance readers placed on communications, I’ve invested quite a bit of time in the past months reading the many thoughtful comments, suggestions, and ideas on improving communications in a follow-up reader survey. Click here if you’d like still like to provide me with your feedback. You can also join my Book Advisory Panel with or without completing the survey.
I’ve been reviewing reader perspectives on increasing communications while looking much deeper at the growing reservoir of research on this broad topic. Like a doctor hearing a complaint of a headache, communication problems are often signs of deeper issues. There’s rarely a quick and easy solution.
Reader feedback and my research have led me to diagnose eight common causes of communication breakdowns. These intertwine with entangled cause and effect relationships unique to each situation:
Trust Matters: It Will Make or Break Your Leadership — What’s the trust account balance of your personal, team, or organizational relationships? If you’re overdrawn, you’ll have a tough time communicating with each other.
Reduce the Moose: Cultivate Courageous Conversations to Put Key Issues on the Table — Moose-on-the-table (or elephants-in-the-room) are topics that people avoid discussing. They’re often politically or emotionally charged.
Truth to Empower: Be Open and Direct to Connect and Respect — Bosses are often told what everyone thinks they want to hear. Silence kills. Lack of honesty and candor cultivates a culture of cowardly communications.
LOL (Leading Out Loud): You Gotta Walk and Role — Everyone sees the message loud and clear. The clearest communication is behavior. Leaders must model what they mean.
True to You: Keep It Real with Authentic Leadership — Who you are overpowers what you say. Your values are showing. Do people think you’re me-deep in hypocrisy and egotism? How do you know?
Out of the Loop: Faulty Feedback Impairs Everyone’s Learning and Development — Their perceptions of what you’re saying — and doing — are your reality. Feedback and genuine two–way communications are collaborative conversations.
Listen Up: What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate — They won’t listen to you if you’re not hearing them. Conflict, turf wars, and destructive gossip are symptoms of people talking at and not with each other.
Skilling It: Tools and Techniques to Boost Communication Effectiveness — Making emotional connections, influencing strategies, persuasion through logic on fire, emotional intelligence, taming The E-Mail Beast, stopping the meeting madness, harnessing feedback, and tapping into the yield of dreams. Building these skills significantly elevates communications.
These eight points can be both symptoms and causes of communication breakdowns in various combinations. How are you, your team, or your organization doing?
You might rank order these from the biggest to smallest problems. Which is the most critical area that might unlock your door to stronger communications?
As a middle manager who is on the receiving end of this, you are hitting the nail squarely on the head. Unfortunately, there is no way in the world I would dare share this on my LinkedIn feed as any critique of senior management is a huge risk to my job. Maybe when I give notice after finding another job!
Too many senior leadership teams are like me in a buffet line: loading up their plates with more than they can eat. The overload problem often stems from a combination of urgency about all the change needed today, being out of touch with what their organization can deliver, too many moose on the loose, and failure to make tough choices. Both Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet have said that saying no to all the demands on a leader’s time was critical to their success. Jim Collins finds that a laser focus and disciplined priority setting is a critical factor separating great organizations from good ones.
George may be victimized by undisciplined senior leaders, but he refuses to be a victim. He’s developed upward leadership strategies. He says,
Sometimes I get senior managers to think that our ideas are really their ideas (which has worked quite well but comes with its own costs). Other times, I build such strong support with other key leaders, that they present my ideas for me.
George also observed that the roots of many poor behaviors are fear.
…fear of being accountable for others’ work, of having to clean up messes, or of things not going well. Senior leaders can still get results with many poor leadership approaches, but it’s hard on people. Fear is something we all deal with. I am no exception. It is one of the biggest obstacles leaders have to overcome.
I agree. Fear is at the root of many poor management practices. A culture of fear is a major reason senior leaders can get so stupidly off track with their plans and projects. When teams aren’t having authentic communication or courageous conversations, leaders don’t know what they don’t know.
An online survey by Crucial Conversations found respondents compared their failing projects to “slow-motion train wrecks.” Tellingly, over 80 percent said, “approaching a key decision maker about the project is nearly impossible.”
Ironically, leaders who create fearful workplaces don’t know they’ve done so because people are afraid to tell them. Mid-level leaders like George refuse to let fear infect them with the “victimitus virus.” Strong leaders know there are three choices:
Live with the status quo (too many people who do, then jump on the Bitter Bus with lots of criticizing, condemning, and complaining).
Provide strong leadership within your own team or area while practicing upward leadership.
Raise your hand if you’re an above average driver. According to the American Automobile Association, 73% of drivers feel they’re better than average — a statistical impossibility.
How’s your meeting leadership? You likely feel that many meetings you attend suck. That’s because…many do. Too often meetings suck time and energy out of everyone. And most meeting leaders are blissfully ignorant about how wasteful attendees feel their meetings are. How do you know what attendees think of your meetings?
This month’s Harvard Business Review features an article by Steven Rogelberg, professor and author of a new book on the science of meetings. In “Why Your Meetings Stink — And What to Do About It,” he reports that 8 out of the average 23 hours a week executives spend in meetings are unproductive. That’s a day a week wasted! That truly sucks.
Are you contributing to meeting madness? Rogelberg reports a survey of managers showed they feel that 79% of the meetings they drive are extremely or very productive. But, they report, that just over half the meetings they attended as passengers are as effective as their own. So many managers are driving their meeting attendees crazy with mediocre meetings while believing “I am not the problem, they are.”
Here’s a big clue about what’s going on: Rogelberg cites research showing that “the attendees who are the most active are the ones who feel that meetings are the most effective and satisfying. And who typically talks the most? The leader.”
Rogelberg’s solution for boosting meeting effectiveness:
Assessment — reflecting on meeting effectiveness right after the meeting, regularly checking in with participants, and getting candid feedback.
Preparation — what are your meeting goals, process, and agenda?
Facilitation — set and follow meeting ground rules (such as distracting screen time), asking more questions, fostering true debates, agenda time management, polling the group live or with technology, and “brainwriting” rather than brainstorming conversations. Click on “moose hunting” for an example of those last two suggestions.
I continue to be astounded and mystified why so many leaders accept poorly run, time-sucking meetings as if it’s an unavoidable price of doing business. The only explanation seems to be ignorance — of their own meeting leadership effectiveness and that meetings can be soooo MUCH better. Rogelberg points out that 75% of managers responding to a survey said they had no training in how to run a meeting. So, they don’t know what they don’t know about meeting effectiveness.