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When to Upgrade Your Innovation

Innovation is commonly talked about when discussing products. The market is very keen on product innovation and is always willing to pay for the next best “mouse-trap”. Innovation, however, can be applied to a broader criteria to include any problem solving initiative. You can innovate a process, an organizational structure, or even a technology.

Innovation actually means:

  • A new idea, device or method
  • The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods.

Based on my experience, the simpler the innovation, the bigger the improvement (the KIS concept – keep it simple). In the true spirit of innovating, we look for something better. However, innovation is killed by the mind-set of, “if it is not broke, don’t fix it.” How then do you drive innovation and not just change for change’s sake?

May I offer the following suggestions:

  • Determine the real issues/problems and PRIORITIZE. Too many times we fix the small things only to drive bigger problems resulting in less innovation. The Law of Unintended Consequences can take some of the fun out of innovation.
  • Do a pilot. A friend of mine who worked in the Oil Industry liked saying, “It’s better to pump 50 gallons of water through the pipeline looking for leaks rather than 500 gallons of oil.” In other words, test yourself.  When innovating products, use rapid prototyping. When innovating processes, pilots are used. Using a defined small sub-section ensures you can work out the kinks to ensure it really is BETTER.
  • Identify the metric that you can show a before/after look. Did the innovation really make something better? Use real numbers in order to forecast future numbers. Don’t sugar coat it. If the innovation didn’t work – tell someone.

Driving a mind-set of innovation into a culture starts with showing the team that innovation works – find a problem and fix it. If the pilot doesn’t work, change your assumptions and/or your variables and try again. You know you can.

Be intentional,

Risky business can be a risk.

Every day we have risks. Just the other day I was sitting in the passenger seat while my husband was driving through the windy twisty backroads in the outskirts of Nashville. Around the corner comes a car and it’s on our side of the road, the driver oblivious to the fact they were on our side (thanks to a cell phone in their hand held to the ear.) Fortunately we avoided meeting that person.

Risks are all around us. Risks could be a “low probability” such as getting hit by lightning. Yes, it could happen but your actual odds are low. It could be a risk that is easily planned for such as wearing your seat belt to prevent injury in a car accident. Or maybe the risk could be eliminated all together with a few process changes, like looking both ways before you cross the street. Or as I found out while in the UK, to look the opposite direction I was used to.

In business, risk assessments help teams ensure that the right focus is being applied and sufficient actions taken to protect the business operations. First, the potential risks have to be identified. The simplest approach is to think of potential risks by functional area, like supply chain, IT, or facilities. Once the team has identified all the potential risks to that functional area, the next step is ranking them.

  • Probability of the risk happening
  • Severity if the risk happens (from potential loss of life to loss of business)
  • How easy is it to detect if the risk is actually happening

Using these ratings, a risk value can be calculated. Each business is different in how much risk can be tolerated. Low risk values require no further action. High risk values require actions to lower the risk. Medium risk values could go either way and should be assessed individually on whether any action is required.

Lowering risk in business ensures the health of the company. Customers are protected, Shareholders are protected, Employees are protected. Being pro-active in the management of risk ensures initiatives can be prioritized and adequately resourced.

Take the time to think through your risks. It will save you, your team, and the company future grief.

Be intentional

Three building blocks of sustaining culture change

Shifting a culture is time consuming. Coming up with new ideas or new ways to behave –  is the easy part. Too many times, shiny new ideas become the “flavor of the month” or worse, over time turn into “pencil whipping” exercises.

So how do you ensure that behaviors are changing? How do you instill new habits? How do you ensure the change is sustainable and part of the team DNA? I propose there are at least three fundamental building blocks to setting the right tone and tenor for culture change:

Building Block 1

  • Maintain consistency in words and actions.

I had a boss in a meeting who said to a co-worker, “Your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” It made an impression on me that there needs to be a consistency between our words and our actions. They are inextricably linked.

Kinetic energy is a good example of how consistency works. In physics, the kinetic energy of an object is the energy that it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes.¹ 

In your workplace – what’s your kinetic consistency energy (KCE)  between your words and your actions? Have you moved the body from a rest state into a stated velocity? Think about your approach.

Building Block 2

  • Create actions that are sustainable.

Thinking of actions is the easy part. I would be willing to bet we’ve all been in blue sky brainstorming sessions where the team white boards a really creative approach to solving a problem. But when that very idea is put to work it causes an unintended consequence which no one saw coming.

The next time you and your team are investigating a new way to do something – take the time to also think through what they could look like in a year’s time. Vet the sustainability of the action being used to drive cultural shifts.

Building Block 3

  • Assess if the actions are driving the culture shift you are wanting.

There are two types of evaluation, summative and formative. Summative evaluation focuses on the outcome of a program whereas Formative evaluation focuses on the in-process at a particular moment in time. Both are needed if you are really looking to change culture.

One caveat to evaluation is the willingness to change based on new data. Your initial plans may need adjusting or maybe, heaven forbid, even scrapped. Are you willing to go where the data tells you to go? Sometimes this is harder than you’ll ever imagine. Don’t start culture change unless you are willing to have some level of flexibility in the plan/vision.

Cultural changes are made up of attitude changes. If it was just a list of “go dos”, cultural changes would be easy. Driving change into a team’s DNA takes time and consistency. Start the journey – just realize it is a journey.

Be intentional


Integrity as a state of being…

Integrity, according to Webster, is the quality of being honest and fair. While not many words, they are words of great depth. Integrity is a state of being, driving motivation of behaviors. Being honest and fair is made up of lots of small actions, many perceptions, and consistency.

If you ask people (not the dictionary), integrity is made up of many characteristics.

Respect is one characteristic people apply to integrity. Respect is part of the quality of being fair. You do not have integrity if you are not respected. You do not believe someone has integrity if you do not respect them.

  • Treat others respectfully, even if you don’t feel like it. Listening to others, speaking without being condescending, body language — these and many more are actions you control that make people feel you are treating them respectfully. People with integrity treat everyone respectfully.
  • Earn respect by earning trust. Ask yourself why you trust people, and then act that way to others. Being dependable and part of the team ensures trust is built and thus respect is built. Trust does not mean people like you or always agree with you. Trust means you are consistent. People do not respect those they do not trust.
  • Look in the mirror. Hold yourself accountable to a high standard of honesty and fairness. People who are respectful of others respect themselves.

Be intentional

Working “diagonally” in your organization

There are many business articles on building networks in business. Mostly regarding networking with “like” professionals who aren’t necessarily folks within your organization. Would it be heresy for me to encourage you to also build a network within your company? And while you’re at it, may I also propose that your internal network may be more important?

What would it look like if you worked on multi-divisional programs where you’d meet folks “diagonally” on cross-platform teams? Would that increase your range and reach? Would it make you more efficient? Would it allow you to cut through some of the natural silos that occur in business?

Whether it is knowing the right person to help with an IT issue, getting something on the agenda for a meeting outside your team, or just having someone to act as a sounding board – building a network within a company has many benefits such as:

  • Realizing your company is made up of people, not just functional names
  • Having the ability to reach out for help and support
  • Your ability to help your network (Reciprocal)
  • Finding Subject Matter Experts and being able to tap into that resource
  • Reducing time and energy if you know who to call and when

Networking inside a company is much easier than outside or across an industry. Like reaching out and getting to know your neighbors, all you have to do is take a moment get to know the person down the hall or at another location.

Be intentional

The gray middle ground of a business slogan

Slogans can do much to rally a team or help you remember a concept. They can also be code words for a greater initiative or objective such as, Safety First, Quality is Number One or On time, Every time.

Dr. Deming, often called the “Father of the third wave of the industrial revolution”, hated slogans. He felt that actions always spoke louder than words. (Your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying…) Therefore, hanging a banner with a few trite words could destroy a culture shift of embracing the changes needed in the processes to achieve the vision.

Not to disagree with Dr. D, I’d like to think that there is probably some middle ground between having slogans and not having any. Words can rally the team but only as far as the leader’s actions support the words. Once the team senses hollowness of the words due to a lack of authenticity, the words lose their luster. And as BB King says, the thrill is gone and the team can lose its motivation to be better.

What actions, as leaders, are we taking day-to-day to support the words we say and the slogans we use? Before creating the next great slogan, ask yourself, what “Safety First” looks like in your culture. From correct posture at the computer to wearing your hearing protection on the floor. Walk your office. Walk your floor. What is your goal? How does the slogan support the actual work?

In our complex world and in our complex businesses, it is difficult to ensure all words are understood. It is difficult to ensure all actions hit the mark. However, it all starts with ensuring that our motives are aligned: That we care about our actions more than our words. And that is the middle ground.

Be intentional