Innovation, Benchmarking & the 5 Stages of Grieving

92% of executives surveyed as part of the “GE Global Innovation Barometer 2012” agreed that innovation is the main lever to create a more competitive economy.

Steven Johnson identifies 7 key principles that are a catalyst for innovation in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From“, 2 of which I’ve noted below:

  • seizing existing components or ideas and repurposing them for a completely different use
  • adapting many layers of existing knowledge, components, delivery mechanisms that in themselves may not be unique; but which can be recombined or leveraged into something new that is unique or novel.

So clearly, open-minded companies  have a need and can benefit from great practices developed by organizations of any size . . . in any industry. So why don’t they?

First of all, most people believe their organization is so unique that it can’t be compared to any other. Also, with the inevitable benchmark comparisons, “the successes and failures of an organization are there for all to see” as noted by Peter Drucker. And who wants to embrace something that could cast your organization in a bad light?

At the same time, I’ve seen how people do learn to use benchmarking to find “Good Ideas”, make big improvements, and set new standards for performance after they go through a five-stage process of adjustment that’s virtually identical to the steps in the grieving process. (My wife, who’s a social worker, pointed out that intriguing comparison to me.)

How doubters become “do-ers”

  1. The first stage is Denial. You just found out that another company does something better than you do. So the natural inclination is to deny the basis for the comparison. “The findings don’t apply to us, because we’re a very different organization.”
  2. Stage two is Anger. “This ridiculous and completely unwarranted comparison doesn’t make any sense because the other guys are” (choose one): Bigger, Younger, Serving very different customers, Smaller, older, fill in the blank _______”
  3. After the anger wears off, it’s time for the Bargaining Stage. This is when people point out all the reasons why it’s impossible for their organization to live up to the benchmark. “Sure they do it in two days. But because we’re bigger it’s only reasonable to expect us to handle the same task in five days.” In other words, inflation hits the benchmark during this lowering-the-bar stage.
  4. What happens next? Depression. This is the time for hand-wringing, head shaking and highly visible chair-slumping. “Boy, they really are that good. And we’re not! We might as well run up the white flag and surrender, because we’ll never measure up.”
  5. Now for the good news: There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. After all of these understandable human reactions have run their course, people are finally ready to move to the Final Stage: Acceptance. “OK. There’s a Grand Canyon-sized gap between our organization and the benchmark. So let’s start building a bridge!”

This is the time when people get fired up to tackle the problem and beat the benchmark. And that’s when innovations occur that, in retrospect, are brilliant in their obviousness and simplicity.

I’ve seen people go through these five stages time after time. But I’ve also learned something else: If you understand the stages and recognize where you stand in the process, you can move through the whole thing much faster. And that will accelerate the innovation cycle and improve the performance of the entire organization.

When you create a culture that is open to new ideas, from anywhere, and shares them freely, you can add a really important stage after Stage Five – let’s call it “Stage 6: Getting Results.”

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Top 10 “Must-Do’s” for a Front Line Leader

This is a checklist that has served me well as the front line leader of many organizational turnarounds .

  1. Must be the Leader and set the example for the organization
  2. Must re-shape the work environment and the organizational culture
  3. Must formulate concrete strategy and long-term objectives
  4. Must develop and execute annual operating plans
  5. Must establish and enforce standards of performance
  6. Must make tough decisions and address the real issues faced by the organization
  7. Must allocate resources to achieve your strategy
  8. Must teach and develop direct reports
  9. Must build an organizational identity
  10. Must take responsibility to execute the agenda

Whether or not your turnaround succeeds ultimately depends on employees embracing new strategies and tactics. And that won’t happen without a non-stop employee engagement campaign that requires your complete commitment and involvement. So, starting on Day 1 you have to communicate how you are going to operate and what it will be like to work in this new organization. Constant communication is really inseparable from the act of leadership itself.

You must also remember that while you are establishing a strong foundation for the future,  you have to deliver some early wins to ensure that you are able to stick around for the long-term. Once you show a commitment to the organization and start breaking them from a habit of losing, your turnaround is well on its way to success.

How to keep clients from heading for the exits.

Developing a high performance culture that motivates all employees and sets a new standard for client satisfaction, operational excellence and profitable account management should be an objective for every organization. Even if you are currently experiencing double digit revenue growth, this focus could help you identify and solve issues lurking in the background that threaten to undermine the future of the business.

The attached case study features a dynamic employee engagement campaign that kicked a $2B services organization into overdrive.

Even though the global recession has shifted the focus of most organizations to cost reduction, I believe that effective approaches to employee engagement will separate the winners from the losers when the economy recovers.

To read more about how to keep clients from heading for the exit, click on the following link to read the full case study “The Power of Employee Engagement”: http://wp.me/P28Mqi-1m

Top 8 Distinctions between Manager and Leader

Warren Bennis once created a whole list of distinctions between manager and leader, some of the following may be helpful.

  1. The manager administers, the leader innovates
  2. The manager is a copy, the leader is an original
  3. The manager maintains, the leader develops
  4. The manager focuses on systems and structure, the leader focuses on people
  5. The manager relies on control, the leader inspires trust
  6. The manager has a short term view, the leader has a long term view
  7. The manager asks why and how, the leader asks what and why
  8. The manager has her eye on the bottom line, the leader has her eye on the horizon

Leaders focus on employee engagement – inspiring trust, developing people, and creating an organization that is innovative and looking at the horizon. Another way to summarize the list is that managers “do things right” and leaders do the “right thing”.

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