University of Phoenix Research: Your Employees Aren’t Innovative Enough [Podcast]

Note: If you’re looking for a good app to access We’re Only Human and other podcasts, I personally use Stitcher on my Android device. 

Did you know that your employees aren’t innovative or creative enough?

That’s the latest from a research study performed by University of Phoenix on workplace innovation. In an interesting mix of data, the organization asked employees to identify whether their employers were innovative or not, and hiring managers were asked to identify the level of innovation exhibited by employees. The results were intriguing, and I covered some of the key topics of the research in a recent podcast interview with Ruth Veloria, Executive Dean of the School of Business at University of Phoenix.  Continue reading

8 Powerful Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation [Podcast]

Innovation is often discussed as an activity available only to a select few people or companies. but it is an incredibly powerful tool for companies, especially when we seek ways to use our HR influence to drive a culture of innovation.

[Click here to listen to “8 Ways HR Can Drive Enterprise Innovation“]

In this episode of the We’re Only Human podcast, we point out 8 key ways that HR leaders can create, reinforce, and drive innovative behaviors in the business. In addition, we cover two common ways that companies kill motivation and innovation with their human resources practices. Continue reading

7 Strategies for Hiring and Managing Creative Employees

hiring and managing creatives

Today we’re going to explore the intersection of creativity, innovation, and intrapreneurship (entrepreneurial activities occurring within an organization) and how these activities bring value to the business world. I hope you enjoy!

Innovation is a curious thing. In a research report published by the International Board of Innovation Science, Dennis Stauffer explored what separates wildly successful companies from the rest. Here’s a quote from the article that sheds light on the extent to which innovation drives value:

The research with entrepreneurs is especially noteworthy because it revealed the dramatic impact that this measure of innovativeness has on value creation. When those founders who scored highest on the Innovativeness Index were compared to those who scored lowest, the ventures of the high scorers averaged 34 times as much profit, 70 times as much revenue and employed 10 times as many people. They were also dramatically more likely to be one of the exceptionally high performers that investors call a “home run” (defined in this study as having achieved at least a million dollars in annual profits).

Companies everywhere are trying to create more innovative atmospheres for employees. But what if the answer isn’t open office space or an office beer cooler, but a higher engagement score?

Research by Gallup found that 61% of engaged employees feed off the creativity of their colleagues, compared to a mere 9% of disengaged employees. In addition, it found that 59% of engaged employees believe their job brings out their most creative ideas, compared to only 3% of disengaged employees.

Finally, are you familiar with the intrapreneur? This conversation will also touch on this type of person/personality and I want to make sure we’re on the same page.

Intrapreneurs are usually employees within a company who are assigned to work on a special idea or project, and they are instructed to develop the project like an entrepreneur would. Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal.

You can imagine the value of someone that takes ownership, manages a project like it was their own business, and seeks acceptable risks. But it requires a foundation of trust to make it work, and we can easily measure the value of that aspect: a recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!

All of these data points just go to show that creativity and innovation are incredibly valuable. The problem is that many companies are not at all prepared to manage people that fit the creative profile. Even those that say they want a workforce full of ideas and innovation usually back away once they realize the effort it takes. At the same time, you saw some of the research that shows the value of innovation in the workplace. While it might take some work, hiring these kinds of people can also provide amazing benefits for companies that are willing to commit.

Throughout this article we’re going to explore seven opportunities to help with hiring and managing creative people.

  1. Prepare for creative tension
  2. Seek wanderers
  3. Test their big picture thinking
  4. Encourage some nonconformity
  5. Let people share and vote on ideas
  6. Don’t hire “idea” people if you don’t plan to use their ideas
  7. Don’t treat creatives just like everyone else

Creative Tension is a Reality

People that are creative have a different way of seeing the world, and companies are often not set up to accept and embrace that kind of thinking. On the flip side, some companies seek out these types of people because they understand the value they can bring. A Boulder, Colorado-based marketing firm, Kapost, does just that. Here’s a snippet about their approach:

Recruiting, engaging, and retaining entrepreneurial employees depends in large part on a manager’s ability to discuss and facilitate career development. However, recruiters, managers, and executives are often poorly-equipped to lead these conversations. Toby Murdock, the founder and CEO of Boulder-based content marketing company Kapost, set out to fix that. His goal: to make his company the best place in Colorado to launch and accelerate a career in high tech.  Thanks to a compelling employee value proposition around career transformation, Toby has successfully recruited entrepreneurial employees into the company who might have otherwise been out of reach.

Consider that. Instead of being afraid of the turnover of losing those entrepreneurial employees a few years down the road, the CEO of Kapost decided to embrace it and reap the benefits of having those people working under his direction.

Research shows that 70% of entrepreneurs left the corporate world because they were too confined. I know that’s the case for me. Creative tension can either be painful and stressful on both parties, or it can be harnessed to develop innovative solutions to problems both small and large. Innovation matters.

An Accenture study of 500 US, UK, and French companies showed that 70% of executives considered innovation to be among the top five strategic priorities, and 67% said they are highly dependent on innovation for long-term success. However, less than one in five said they had realized a competitive advantage from their innovation strategies because they were too risk averse to take advantage of the potential opportunities. Hint: this is a problem, and it doesn’t exist solely in enterprise organizations. 

Seek Wanderers

I’m currently reading IGNITE: Setting Your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation by Moss and Neff. It’s really good and full of stats and stories about how the authors have used and seen innovation in practice. One of the sections talks about how to hire intrapreneurial employees, and the authors encourage seeking “wanderers,” or people that are more likely to be curious, in the hiring process. The example the authors give is asking about a recent conference a candidate attended. Was it an assignment, or did the person request to attend? What session was their favorite? What takeaways or pieces of information did they collect? How have they implemented it at work?

In another book (yes, you know I’m a book nerd) about the history of Chick-Fil-A, the founder Truett Cathy talks about the company’s approach to hiring store Operators. He says that the company would rather restrain mustangs than kick mules, or he’d rather have to pull back on the reins of someone that is going too fast than try to push someone that is going too slow.

Back in 2009 when I helped to start the HRevolution movement, this “wandering” mentality is what drove us to do so. The event appeals to people that want something more than a “sit in the back of the room and play on your phone” type of conference. People come expecting to contribute, share, and explore ideas collaboratively. And for those that take advantage of it, the value is immense.

 

Test Big Picture Thinking

One of the other hallmarks of an entrepreneurial employee is being able to see the big picture. Instead of being aware only of the minute fraction of the business that the person touches day to day, the mindset of one of these individuals can see how the job affects people both up and down the line.

In the interview, the authors of IGNITE recommended offering someone a whiteboard to explain an idea or explore a complex process. They posit that the more creative individuals will be able to accomplish the task.

What I would also encourage focusing on is a bit of QBQ-like interactivity. If you’re unfamiliar, QBQ stands for the Question Behind the Question. QBQ is one of the required books new employees working at my favorite radio host’s company must read. The QBQ process is used to help get beyond the normal questions we see in the workplace:

  • Whose fault is this?
  • Why wasn’t this done correctly?
  • How long until things get better?

We want to get beyond those poisonous questions to some that are more engaging and solution-focused, like these:

  • What can I do to help?
  • How can I make sure this is done correctly?
  • What can I do to make things better?

In the interview, ask the person some questions around the QBQ mindset. Present them with a problem and then ask for some QBQ-like questions that show that they are able to see the big picture and can understand how to impact results positively.

Encourage Nonconforming Behaviors

I’ve been reading a lot about conformity and finding the right ways to encourage some creative rebellion among employees. One recent piece from Harvard Business Review lays out an interesting picture of the state of conformity at work:

Of course, not all conformity is bad. But to be successful and evolve, organizations need to strike a balance between adherence to the formal and informal rules that provide necessary structure and the freedom that helps employees do their best work. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of conformity.

In another recent survey I conducted, involving more than 1,000 employees in a variety of industries, less than 10% said they worked in companies that regularly encourage nonconformity. That’s not surprising: For decades the principles of scientific management have prevailed. Leaders have been overly focused on designing efficient processes and getting employees to follow them.

Now they need to think about when conformity hurts their business and allow — even promote — what I call constructive nonconformity: behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization.

To illustrate a behavior or choice that falls outside common expectations, let’s examine a story from Southwest Airlines. A few years ago a very junior employee was working as a gate agent when a flight was rerouted due to weather, stranding the passengers who were almost to their final destination. The common response was to apologize and hold out until the next day, hoping for better weather. Instead, she chartered three buses to take the people home, getting them to their destination in just a few hours.

Herb Kelleher, then-CEO of Southwest, brought her to the headquarters to meet with him. Instead of chastising her for not following protocol, Kelleher praised her quick thinking and dedication to doing the right thing by the customers. That kind of praise not only rewards the employee, but demonstrates to others what kinds of behaviors are expected as well.

Offer Idea Sharing/Voting

One of the simple ways to take advantage of what these employees have to offer is to let them contribute, share, and vote on ideas. I’ve talked in the past about the “Big Ideas Database” that we used at a former employer to allow employee-generated contributions to challenge the status quo and offer opportunities for innovation. We used a simple Sharepoint site to facilitate the process, approvals, and workflow, but there are also tools in the HR technology marketplace that can help to make this sort of process a reality. If you want to check one out, why not start with Tembostatus or Waggl. Anyone can contribute ideas, share, vote, comment, etc.

Whatever the method, the value is in leveraging employee ideas for innovation. Check out this video for an example of how this kind of employee-driven innovation can benefit an organization’s revenue, customer satisfaction, and more.

Plan to Use the Ideas You Get

While not every idea that comes in will be valuable, you need to truly make an effort to accept some of them. I’ve been faced with this at several of my previous employers. I was born with an eye for problem solving–I can’t turn that off. And I can think specifically of instances at two previous employers where I had heard a “no” one too many times and that facilitated my change of employment. The crazy part is that during the recruiting process, those companies recognized and appreciated those kinds of thoughts. They told me that they wanted suggestions, ideas, and contributions.

However, once I was “inside the fence” and employed with them, it was a different story. When I speak I often tell about the employer that failed just a few months after I left. One of the last conversations with my manager was a list of ideas about how we could fix the 40+% turnover problem that was draining our budget faster than we could survive, and the response was “get back to work processing those new hires and terminations.” Ouch.

As far as how many ideas you need to implement, that’s where it can be a bit fuzzy. I saw an article recently about a large telecommunications company that received more than 10,000 employee ideas and had implemented less than 100. I don’t have a benchmark to know if that’s good or bad, but for those other 9,900 ideas, you need to be sure that those people feel like their contribution mattered.

Treat Creatives Differently

We use a few terms to describe different types of employees under our charge:

  • High performers
  • High potentials
  • What about high innovators or high creatives? 

Whatever label we stick on them, we need to treat them differently from the rest of the employees. Yes, this scares the pants off most HR pros, because we’ve been taught to treat everyone the same. But it’s madness when you think about it. Equal treatment for unequal performance/productivity/contributions is a surefire path to mediocrity.

Consider this analogy of tire pressure equalization. A tire works because it captures air and builds pressure, allowing it to hold its shape and move a vehicle around (a high value activity).

Those creative people in your organization are the high pressure air inside that make the value possible. Treating all employees the same is like putting a hole in the tire. Eventually all the high pressure air leaks out (employee turnover), and low pressure leaks in (hiring for conformity, not creativity), until you have something that doesn’t offer value.

That’s how companies achieve mediocrity every day. If you’re interested in being a mediocre HR leader at a mediocre company with a mediocre track record, make sure you treat all employees the same, regardless of their contributions. Back to those companies that I worked for previously, that was why both of them will never be truly exceptional. All employees were treated the same by the company’s owners, which led the creative, valuable people to leave. Those that didn’t do extra work, look for ways to contribute beyond their job titles, and seek opportunities to grow the business? They stuck around. Ouch.

Take Baby Steps

As you begin this journey, take small steps and always stay just a bit uncomfortable. Knowing how to hire creative people is one thing. Knowing how to manage creative people is something else entirely. Look for ways to encourage creative, nonconforming ideas from your people at regular intervals. And don’t forget the seven strategies that can make it work for you:

  1. Prepare for creative tension
  2. Seek wanderers
  3. Test their big picture thinking
  4. Encourage some nonconformity
  5. Let people share and vote on ideas
  6. Don’t hire “idea” people if you don’t plan to use their ideas
  7. Don’t treat creatives just like everyone else

How does your organization encourage and support creative employees? What value do you see this population bringing to your business? 

How to Scale Culture: Notes from #GDSummit

One of the scariest parts of having a great culture is the fear that it will shift and change in negative ways as the company grows. I can remember talking with Atlassian earlier this year, an organization that has an enviable culture and has leveraged it for incredible success. Every team at Atlassian has a person dedicated to defending the culture from poor fit hires, and these culture stewards can veto any hiring decision at any level. That’s an excellent way to help protect the culture as the organization scales up, but it’s not the only method for making it work. Today at the 2016 Glassdoor Summit, one presenter offered some amazing advice that is worth exploring.

Note: you can catch the livestream of the entire conference for free online

So far at the event we’ve heard from several speakers, including CEO of Glassdoor, Robert Hohman, about the value of transparency into culture. One quote this morning was particularly hard-hitting for me, and it came from Katie Burke, VP of Culture and Experience at Hubspot.

After talking about culture and the role of transparency, Katie threw out the quote above. I also believe the idea that acting on employee-generated ideas is one of the greatest ways to scale culture.

When we look at how culture is misrepresented in the media on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that HR leaders are craving a more concrete option for creating and scaling a culture that truly embodies the values and beliefs of the organization. Pick up any magazine or read any news article and you’ll quickly see that culture is purely about ping pong tables, free beer in the office fridge, and dog-friendly work spaces.

But as HR and talent leaders chase that elusive goal, they quickly become disillusioned and believe that this “culture” thing is just for the Googles and Ubers of the world.

As I pointed out in a recent Lighthouse blog around killing the traditional performance management approach, it’s critical for companies to point out culture in behavioral terms so that people have a concrete idea of what culture really means. But what about this concept of innovation, especially the type that is employee-driven?

Innovation, Engagement, and Culture

Innovation is not a new topic, but it’s one that is not often discussed in relation to the way we engage employees. The people throughout the organization are closest to the work, and they often have the best ideas for how to innovate and create new value. Therefore, innovation can be used as a valuable metric of engagement.

How many employee-generated ideas do you implement in a given year? One? One hundred? One thousand? Because it matters to your employees, and it’s an opportunity to improve business performance.

Last year I read The Idea-Driven Organization and thoroughly enjoyed the book. The main concept was the power of listening to employee suggestions, giving them serious consideration, and implementing them when feasible.

It’s fundamental, really. We all know that we should be listening to our employees. That goes without saying. However, the next step is actively soliciting input and then acting upon it. Instead of ignoring or fearing employee input, go the extra mile to encourage them to provide suggestions. The authors share a story that I think is a powerful reminder of this.

Employees at a bar had the opportunity to provide input on their jobs by submitting ideas. There were few, if any restrictions on the type of ideas, so one might expect them to pick some that made their work easier. But it turns out that was often associated with an improvement in the customer experience as well.

For instance, instead of having to carry a massive carton of empty bottles down to the cellar when it filled up, they installed a chute at the back of the bar for empty bottles to slide down to the cellar unassisted. This decreased the risk of workplace injuries from walking down stairs with heavy objects, improved customer service by not pulling away a service employee during a busy shift, and allowed bartenders to monitor and discard the empty bottles unassisted.

Even if nothing else came from these ideas other than the improved customer service results, it would be worthwhile. Yet it also improved the engagement levels of the employees by eliminating a non-value- added task from their daily work.

Another great example is from a former employer of mine. We used a “The Big Ideas Database,” which is a grandiose title for a spreadsheet. Any employee could share an idea through the web form and it would be considered by leadership for implementation.

Many of the ideas were actually acted upon. Some were quite minor (larger garbage bags in the break room), but others were considerably more important (repurposing/licensing a piece of software led to an additional $2 million in sales annually). Employees were actually excited about sharing ideas via the platform as a way to drive innovation and continuously serve customers better.

And, as with the previous story, it drove their engagement as well.

Want to create a culture of innovation and high performance? Focus on seeking out employee feedback and acting upon it. It’s powerful fuel for organizational performance and can be a significant competitive advantage if implemented properly.

Does your organization encourage employees to share ideas? Have you ever considered the effect on engagement or culture when an employee’s idea is implemented? 

Innovation Judo (Book Review)

innovation judo book reviewI’ve been reading like crazy lately and have had trouble keeping up with my reviews. Usually it’s even worse: I have no time to read all the books and they just pile up around me. This time around I picked up Innovation Judo: Disarming Roadblocks and Blockheads on the Path to Creativity by Neal Thornberry, PhD (Amazon). I’m a sucker for innovation-focused stuff, and this was definitely a great read on that front. A few good pieces I pulled from the book:

  • Incentives: Want to encourage innovation? Make sure your incentive pay aligns with what you’re trying to promote. Rewarding someone with a movie ticket when they saved the company $10,000 isn’t going to promote additional innovations (or it better be the most awesome movie ever).
  • NIH is poisonous: The “not invented here” mentality that many organizations espouse is a dangerous one. It ultimately leads to more silos and less innovation. Procter & Gamble used to be very closed off, and the book talks about how the business was losing millions of dollars annually due to that sentiment. Now it requires 50% of new ideas to come from outside the company, and it wants to increase it to 80%. That’s a powerful shift and a reason why the company still stands strong year after year.
  • Wackiness: We run into this all the time. People make decisions that make no rational sense and ultimately end up breaking something or causing more work. That can even be the CEO in some cases. Thornberry talks about how nobody wants to tell CEO they are making bad decisions. The good thing is that in the end it usually falls to HR, which can be an opportunity to improve the value of the CEO-HR relationship.

Bottom line

Innovation is about more than sitting in a room “brainstorming” ideas like “we should use less paper in our new hire applications” or “maybe we could print front and back to save money on costs.” It can be a serious differentiator between you and the competition. If you are looking to improve the quality and quantity of innovation your organization is producing, I’d encourage you to check out Innovation Judo by Neal Thornberry, PhD. Get your copy here.

See other book reviews about HR, leadership, and more.

Innovation: Turn Your Idea Inside Out

Last week I wrote a post about innovation and employee engagement over at the Brandon Hall Group blog. The basic idea is that listening to, and implementing, employee ideas is a great way to get them engaged within the business.

In the post I talked about a recent Indiegogo campaign I contributed to. I’m really excited about the campaign, so I wanted to share more details here.

I have three kids. One is still in a car carrier, but the other two are in booster seats. Those boosters are massive, and they are tough to get in and out of the car. Then I heard about this new thing called a mifold.

mifold graphic

This is pretty amazing for a variety of reasons:

  • it’s small enough to fit in a backpack, yet safe enough to protect my kids
  • it doesn’t try to seat a child like an adult (pushing up); instead, it pulls the lap belt down to their level.
  • if my older kids are still in boosters when my youngest is ready for one, all three will fit
  • we hate planning for booster seats on travel–we either have to fly with seats or pay to rent them when we arrive

Innovation happens at the point of need

What this most reminds me of is just how innovation happens. It’s typically not when people are sitting in a room and trying to “brainstorm” ideas. It comes when someone has a frustration that isn’t being met by the current system. The times I was able to truly push something innovative through the pipeline were when they affected several people, caused stress or other problems, and had a solution that wasn’t one of the “normal” ways of resolving problems.

Think about your organization as you look at the mifold. How could you bring a solution to a common problem (or multiple problems) today?

Speeding Up Selection, Rewards, Training (and HR in General)

ricky bobby go fastThe other day I received an email from UPitch. It’s basically like Tinder for PR pitches. Still not sure? Here’s the gist:

You open the app and see a pitch. Then you have two options:

  • You don’t like it, don’t care, or generally are disinterested, then you swipe it left off the screen and see the next one (anonymously).
  • You like it and want to know more, you swipe it right and connect with the PR professional behind the pitch to begin the conversation.

What’s the point? Speed. Within a minute you can swipe through a dozen that are irrelevant to you personally and find the one or two that you want to pursue.

Taking the Leap

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