Monthly Archives: October 2013

Training Innovation Out of People: Or, Go Get that Halloween Costume

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I was talking with a friend this week about the good old days at their company. You know the days: the ones with rosy-goldy edges about the memories. Where everyone is smiling, laughing, and rushing from meeting, to project, to customer with energy aplomb. The days when you loved your team, you loved the company and what it stood for, and you loved the work. LOVED the creativity and innovation that you could bring to the work! The stories you could tell about the fun you had, the crazy Halloween you dressed up as bikers (complete with mushroom tattoo), the friends that you made – for life.

Yes, you had stress. Yes, there were a few people you wanted to avoid in the halls because they “didn’t get it.” But overall, these were the golden years. Looking back on these years, if  lucky enough to experience them, one might feel a bit deflated about the here and now.

Today, it seems that many companies are trying to train the innovation right out of people. Adding more workload without the efficiencies needed to make it happen. Wanting more of our time (our life) and giving us less to care about in our work. Pushing the newest corporate initiative with a “don’t-ask-questions-just-do-it” mentality (questions are only for negative people).  How does this relate to our mission, our vision, our values? “It just does” is an answer one might expect to hear from some leaders who, themselves, are being pushed to their limits.

I hear a lot of stories from people who are looking to contribute, but are a part of a company that has lost it’s shimmer. It could make you feel deflated, but I prefer to think about the possibilities.

It’s energizing to meet with like-minded, engaging people. Last week, that was at Centric: Indy’s Innovation Network, where people talk about innovation and hear from some of Indianapolis’ most innovative leaders. They hosted The Supremacy of Mission: An Elephant in the Room. Indianapolis Zoological Society president and CEO, Michael Crowther, shared how to avoid business as usual by genuinely focusing on the mission of the organization. By seeking ways to advance the Zoo’s mission, Michael and his team constantly develop new and innovative ways of contributing.

The Indianapolis Zoo has a mission that stands out from the rest. It’s not simply a place for recreation, an addition to a downtown scene, or for people who “love animals.” The Indianapolis Zoo empowers people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation. Michael repeatedly spoke about how the Zoo “engages, enlightens, and empowers” individuals to make their mission a reality.

Hearing my friend talk about the golden years, and then hearing Mr. Crowther talking about the elephant (and “orangutan“)  in the room inspired me to reflect on the dichotomies we see in our organizations. That once purpose driven organizations can falter, but also that there are institutions that have been around a while, who can still reach deep and find a way to energize and engage those around them to try innovative ideas. Organizations whose mission is at the forefront of their work.

Jeb Banner (@jebbanner), CEO of SmallBox marketing also spoke last week about mission. In his TEDx Indianapolis talk, Jeb proposed that organizations might be more successful if they worked more like bands. Jeb is the founder of Musical Family Tree, a website dedicated to keeping Indiana music thriving. He reflected on how companies often put profits above purpose, while in a band, purpose is always first – it’s always about the music!

As Jeb and Mr. Crowther shared, purpose, mission and the sense that your work has meaning – beyond the dollars – are essential to individuals wanting to contribute to an organization.

So, how are you leading innovation?

Are you asking people to “just do it” without tying your work to purpose. While few of us would take this “just get it done!” approach, we may still be training the innovation right out of our people – and organizations

It starts with each individual leader. Maybe your organization isn’t perfect, but you can strive to engage and innovate with the folks closest to you.

Think about it. Reflection is a part of every great leader’s practice. Reflect on who you are being as a leader with regard to inspiring innovation:

1. How is the work of my team tied to the mission of the organization (including budget, day-to-day work, and strategy)?

2. How am I (or can I begin) creating a energized work environment, with time to enjoy the work, have fun and innovate?

And, if you want to start with the “fun” part, go talk with folks about the team Halloween costume for a start. Enjoy and engage!

Leadership Story and Philosophy: Making a Contribution

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I facilitate a lot of leadership workshops and experiences. At some point in most workshops, I tell my leadership story. It’s about credibility (“hey, I’ve struggled too, am imperfect, and I choose to lead”), but it’s also about vulnerability. Even if you tell an incredible story, when it’s about yourself, there is almost always a “gulp” moment.

Because “values” have been so important to me in my career, the story I tell is about values. It’s about how a Midwestern girl who could barely speak in class in high school or college speech class, transforms into someone who is willing to lose the job of her life in order to speak up to a boss who bullies others.

It’s about a candidate (yes, me), who interviewed the interviewers about the “Values of the Company” and learned a valuable lesson in listening to intuition.

It’s about all of the people I’ve worked with in the mail room, the customer service line, the supervisors and even senior leaders who felt they did not have a voice.

It is about values for me. Because one of my values is “freedom,” I often contemplate “what I want to do when I grow up.” I love what I do, but I’m one of those people who wants ever-more freedom in something more, different, better, more fun.

So, I think:

Maybe I could be a Gallery Owner! I LOVE art, talking with artists, art openings and being around creativity. But then, do I want to have to explain why a brilliant piece of art is priced at $2,500 to someone who thinks $40 is expensive for a print from Target?

Maybe I could teach fitness classes! I would get fit myself. I would show folks that you don’t have to have a BMI of 20 to be a success. But then, do I really want to be sweaty that much and take all of those showers?

Maybe I could become a real estate agent! I LOVE real-estate, and at any given time, can likely quote the price of cool houses for sale in a 5 mile radius of my house. But then, do I really want to compete for buyers, do all of that icky closing stuff, and work on weekends or any time someone calls to see a house?

(With a friend) Maybe we could open a restaurant/bar/food truck! We have a ton of ideas about good food. But then, do we want to work nights, weekends, on our feet, managing a business that is going to barely break even?

The truth is that I don’t want to sell to people who have to be “convinced,” to be sweaty all the time, or to work nights and weekends on frequent basis even if I get to be in cool houses or a cool restaurant. I want to make a difference in corporate America. Or should I say, CORPORATE America.

My leadership philosophy may explain it all:

I believe that every individual, no matter how young or old, how engaged or jaded, or how high up (or low down) in the hierarchy, want to make a contribution to their work or to their world. They may not know it. They may not show it.

But EVERYONE has a contribution to make and it’s a leader’s role – and responsibility even – to help individuals make that contribution a reality.

I work with all levels of leadership, but most often find myself working with the senior leaders of an organization. I don’t do leadership work with senior leaders because I want to deal with the powerful movers and shakers of the world. I do that work in the hope that if I can help one senior leader be a leader that inspires hope in those hundreds or thousands who work “for them” I can make a difference in Corporate America.

How do you make a difference and what values are driving you?