Me? An Innovation Expert? Who’d have thought!

9 04 2010

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. Andy Warhol

It can be fascinating to look back at where you have come from. To sit and reflect upon what you are doing now, and the experiences that have brought you to where you are. Whilst we are busy focussing on the trivial, and sometimes not so trivial matters of the day to day, we tend to lose sight on how where we are going is because of where we have been.

A little profound in the thinking, perhaps, but it is 2 o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting outside, in the cold, with a beanie and a big jumper typing away because of where my thoughts have been over the last couple of weeks.

I was recently introduced by as “an innovation expert”. I’ve been recently suggested as a guy to speak to about innovation. I wonder is this because of where I am, or because of where I have been?

I completed a Graduate Diploma in “Innovation and Service Management”, and throughout the program I often wondered “where is the innovation?” It was there all along. One of the strengths I found throughout this study of “Innovation” was that it comes from doing things differently. From looking at business as a system, and not as a group of individuals. I can look back also at my career and see the moments when I was more interested in doing something differently, rather than doing the same old ‘tried and tested’ things – and at times I was less concerned about what others thought of my approach, as I could clearly ‘see’ what needed to be done (and thankfully those who disagreed were begrudgingly happy with the outcomes).

When I was asked to brief a group of soon-to-be business owners on my business ‘vision’, I started with “Involve, Inspire, Innovate”. I thought it was a pretty catchy tag line, as did the group. Nice bit of validation. And so thus began a journey perhaps not what I intended, but where I seem to be heading at this point in time. When attending a networking event, when asked ‘What does People Motion Do?” I happily sprout that “I collaborate with business owners to inspire their people to become involved in innovation in their workplace”, rather than “I’m a HR consultant”.

I posted recently about the need for development in the area of innovation (Do Your People Trust You To Innovate), and whilst continuing to read and comment on the fantastic responses, I posed a question of my own “So how do we, as leaders in innovation, build a culture that not only encourages creativity, outside the box thinking, and gain buy-in from the front line? Is trust enough?”

I was rewarded with a response by Robin Cook, a seasoned change agent with an extensive background in organizational development/innovation, change management/culture change, strategic planning, and training. To me, he’s an Innovation Expert. But back to his response. Robin pointed me to his research on innovative organisations. I can speak from my own experience  to say that the characteristics he discovered are truly what makes for a supportive culture of innovation.

Excerpt: Lessons Learned From Innovative Organizations: 9 Shared Characteristics

Robin Cook Innovation University Fellow

9 common cultural characteristics shared by some of the most innovative organizations in the world, as identified through site visits during the 1998-1999 Innovation University Fellowship Program.

Perhaps the most striking lesson we learned was just how much these disparate organizations had in common. Virtually every one of the organizations we visited displayed nine shared characteristics:

• Strong, clearly expressed SHARED VALUES

• An appreciation of/for the WHOLE INDIVIDUAL and everything s/he can bring to the organization

• Cultures that encourage OPENNESS and PLAYFULNESS


• A strong, clearly communicated sense of HISTORY


• Clear focus on TRENDS, even those that do not seem to directly effect current businesses


I’d like to share with you the whole article, and I’ll post a bit more over the next week about the above, but for now I’d encourage you to look differently at your business, with the above characteristics in mind, and think about how different you can be.


How-to Not Inspire Trust

5 04 2010

TRUST: A firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something :

relations have to be built on trust”

“they have been able to win the trust of the others”.

That’s the dictionary explanation for Trust.

Confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, credence. All words that engender Trust.

photo by Chris Sharp /

So what about HOW to gain someone’s trust? If you’re like me you will take most people at their word, you’ll trust them, until you have some experience to contradict that trust. You’ll also know how difficult it can be to trust someone again if they have misled you, been dishonest, or in the case of leadership – they don’t do what they said they would.

There is great insight from Todd Smith (Facebook) of Little Things Matter about how the little things we say and do impact the relationships we have (see Todd’s FB page or website for some ‘little’ insights into these things).  So after writing about the need for Trust in order to foster innovation, it got me thinking of  how a leader can undermine the trust they have from their people.

Don’t do what you said you would do – When you commit to something for one of your people and you don’t deliver, you are saying that they are not important. Something as simple as not sending promised information via e-mail can erode a little bit of that trust bank. In most situations, simply recognising you’re at fault (ie you forgot to send the email) can go a long way to keep trust.

You refuse to accept that you are wrong – Admit you stuffed up. This is actually something you can have fun with, and really ease the tension. I can recall a few times in my career when after giving my team instructions, having someone point out that I’m wrong. There is that moment where the rest of the team hold their breath waiting for a quick dressing down of such an insubordinate response to MY instruction. Doesn’t happen. I’m happy that my team feel that I am open enough to accept my own stupidity. To quote (I think) Monty Python “it’s better to be happy than right!” How true! Your team will be happy, and you’ll do things right.

You keep your people out of the loop – I can’t stress how important it is to keep the lines of communication open. The stuff that comes up for your team may seem trivial or unimportant to you at times, however if one of your people is talking to you, chances are it’s important to them. Sometimes they need you to provide direction. Sometimes they need you to confirm they are on the right track. Sometimes they just need to have someone LISTEN to what they are saying. Taking time out to listen to your people will not only provide opportunities to learn more about their needs, it will also allow YOU the opportunity to build their trust in you. If you take the time out of your busy schedule (ie give them your full attention – no checking e-Mail, no answering the phone) when they bring you the small stuff, then when it comes to the bigger issues, they will trust you to listen.

You remind your team when they have made a mistake – Sometimes you just know, because of your own experience, that an idea or suggestion is not going to work. You are happy to quote “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”. Guess what? If it’s someone else’s idea, and they know they have your support to try something, then just maybe they will look at the ‘same’ thing in a different way (isn’t that innovation?). You learnt all you know from making mistakes (and from being successful), so how can your people learn if they don’t get the chance to make a few mistakes on their own. You should encourage them if they make a mistake – it shows you trust them. Ask them a few questions about what they could have done differently. Resist the urge to tell them what they did wrong (ie show them the benefit of your experience). Let them learn from their own mistakes. Every successful person has failed their way to success. What if Edison or Einstein gave up after the first failure?

I know theses four points seem like really simple things that we all “know” we should do. Being consistent (do what you say you’ll do), Taking responsibility for your actions (admit you could be wrong), being present in the moment (really listening to your people all the time), and letting your people learn from their mistakes, will add interest to your trust bank.

If you do these four things, then you’ll find the next focus group, workshop, or brainstorming session will see your team feeling they can trust you to let them put forward all their idea’s, no matter how outlandish they may seem at the time.

Who will you encourage to fail, and how will you help them succeed (and innovate!!)

Do your people trust you to innovate?

2 04 2010

When I think innovation I usually think about technology advances. For instance, while travelling back from Canberra I’m working on my laptop connected to the web via a mobile phone (no I’m not also driving, I’m the passenger). Now a few years back mobile technology was unreliable in more remote locations and whilst I still have a few drop outs on the journey, I’m pretty impressed that I can work whilst on the road (more time to spend with Little Miss when I get home!).

photo by Simon Howden/

I wonder why some businesses are seen as innovative, and others are not. How do we define innovative – is it only when there is a leap of technological advancement that we cry “innovative!”, or can it be more subtle than that.

If innovation is to improve something, to make something better, to do something different, then what other areas are we able to innovate?

Innovation and Personal Development

Laura Wolfram, of Sandstorm inc, recently posed the question (via LinkedIn) “What is the most important area of personal development you feel is needed in the innovation field? Training on identifying insights? Effective concept writing? Creative thinking techniques? Others?

There are some fascinating responses to this question. From change of mindset, to buy-in, motivation, to creative problem solving, know-thyself, and even listening.

One of the area’s I’m currently researching right now in prep for a seminar on innovation is innovation and employee engagement. I think all the personal development in the world is moot if you cannot develop and inspire TRUST from your people.

Trust and Innovation….and your people.

Let’s face it, if your people do not trust you, they will not be creative, will not put idea’s forward, and will not see any benefit to putting their idea’s in the open if they do not feel that their manager/leaders will support them.

In terms of support, I believe that you need to develop an environment where your people will trust that you will listen to their ideas (regardless of how outside the box the thinking may be). This means sometimes you need to trust, or believe in your people enough to let them make some mistakes, and perhaps you’ll be surprised that you’ll actually get some innovative idea’s.

You can find dozen’s of techniques to encourage ‘creativity’ (eg brainstorming, mind-mapping, six thinking hats etc), but you’ll not get any quality of response if there is no trust. Perhaps for the first brainstorming session you’ll get heaps of ideas, but unfortunately most innovations don’t fail due to lack of credibility, but lack of effective implementation (ie not enough follow through and ongoing focus on the ‘innovation’). The result of this lack of follow through will be that your people wont trust you to deliver on the promised actions agreed upon during the ‘brainstorming’ or action planning sessions.

So to summarise, if you are looking for personal development to become more innovative, look to how trustworthy you are as a leader.

InQ (Innovation Quotient)….is there such a thing?

29 03 2010


Yep, its Monday morning and with about 12 hours sleep I am kicking to continue developing my innovation quotient, which is like emotional intelligence, but innovative. So the theme for this week will continue with Innovation with Employee’s, and I am working through some interviews with businesses who see themselves as innovative with their employees. Should be some exciting conversations!

What’s Your InQ? (Innovation Quotient)

What's your Organisations InQ

Is there such a thing as InQ? Can we measure it?

There are IQ (Intelligence) and EQ (Emotional) tests out there to determine where you sit above or below the rest of the class, however is there a test for your business Innovation Quotient – InQ? I found an interesting study from the Gallup Management Journal (Engaged Employees Inspire Company Innovation). For me, the key take out from this article is the link between engaged employees, and how likely they are to feel supported to express creative ideas – even bad ones (if there is such a thing).

I’ve aways been an advocate for the engagement of your people, from the simple issues to the most complex problems.

Engaged employees feel more secure that their idea’s and suggestions will be heard. Think about the last time you put forward an idea that seemed far-fetched. How was the response? Were you laughed at, or were you supported, encouraged?

Even more importantly, when was the last time you had the chance to develop a ‘crazy’ idea to its fruition, and receive kudos for its success?

Now look at it from the point of view of your team – how do YOU respond when they throw an idea out for all to hear?

I’m not sure how you can assess an organisation InQ, or even if you should. Could we stifle innovation by putting a measure on it? Do we measure based on how extreme, unique, different, unlikely to be copied, etc, an “innovation” is?

One of the key factors to innovative success is in its acceptance, and like any change, no matter how great an idea, no matter how well the concept is received, its failure, or it’s success is determined more by the implementation than the innovation.

Are you engaging your employees to support or to stifle Innovation?

How Can You Inspire Without Trust?

25 03 2010

I’ve been wondering about innovation over the last few days, and about inspiration. Where do they come from? Where do you find inspiration, and when does it become innovation? I’m working on a series of items about these topics in preparation for a seminar on innovation and employees.

Photo by Francesco Marino

Yes, my business tag line is “Involve, Inspire, Innovate” so I guess these three area’s are always top of mind for me. I have seen some fantastic improvements in workgroups when managers shed the tie, roll up their sleeves, and sit down as one of the team to work through the things that are bugging their people. I am a firm advocate of collaboration across workgroups, teams and levels, and I’ve written about this previously

So that’s the “Involve”, What about the “Inspire”

The more difficulties one has to encounter, within and without, the more significant and the higher in inspiration his life will be. Horace Bushnell

I find I am inspired by some of the people I associate with. People who have had some challenges in their life, and refused to be a victim. However I still need to get up every day and inspire MYSELF….it’s personal. How do you inspire your people? It can be such a difficult thing to do, as we are all so unique and what inspires one, can bore another.

Is it “Lead by example”? Is it “Walk the Talk”?

One of the worst forms of inspiration I see in business, is when the company “mission/vision” statement  or the ‘company values’ is forced upon the organisation. A great example (or perhaps a poor example) was when an organisation I worked for spent ridiculous amounts of money printing little cards sprouting the mission, vision, and values.

Screen savers were uploaded across the network, posters put up in the call centres.

Letters were sent to EVERY employee’s home address.

And by far the worst…..KPIs were amended to reflect how staff performed in relation to the company “values”. All of a sudden, individuals were being expected to reflect imposed values. Now in most cases the values were of the stuff we would see as part of day to day….around providing great customer service, being nice to each other (and I am specifically being vague so as NOT to identify the org).

One of the specific values however was around “Trust”. Now I think that is a great value to have – to be trustworthy, and to give trust, but the issue for staff was in the lack of trust being shown by the same managers who were scoring others on trust issues. There were in inconsistencies in the behaviour being displayed, and the behaviour being talked about. Trust is extremely difficult to gain back once you have lost it, in personal or professional situations.

As a manager, or a business owner, EVERYTHING you do is on display, and all your people are looking to see how you respond (or react), and this sets the example for how your people are allowed to behave. If you do not act in a trustworthy manner, then why would you expect your people to trust you at your word? If you cannot gain trust from your people, then how will you ever hope to inspire them to achieve more?

Got any Innovative ways to Inspire your people? Comment below.

Getting Unsocial (Media)

5 03 2010

I’ve been thinking about the use of social media over the last few weeks, been learning how to use these tools, and being overwhelmed at the amount of help, tips, tricks, techniques, blogs and opinions that can be found ‘online’. For every “tip” there are a dozen links to ‘show’ you how to do!

I even found myself giving ‘advice’ on how to set up a welcome page for Facebook to a colleague, with links, although I still don’t really understand how I created what I did.(you can see some of these efforts on my Facebook page – why not become a fan!)

It got me thinking about how something that is designed to improve your ‘social’ connections, can actually be a little unsocial! You can now run a business, from home, from a computer, without the need to physically interact with your customers. Now, I know there are many products and services out there that suit this, however what about your business?

In the new social environment, how social are you with your people?

Do you e-mail a quick question, only to wait a few hours before the response comes back? Or do you get up out of the office, and talk with your people? (and I’m not referring to the concept of “management by wandering around”). I’m talking about real, one-to-one communication.

It strikes me that we are seeing a new language being developed, with things like emoticons 🙂 that are a substitute for expressions. How much is lost in the non-emotional context of an e-mail? How many ‘conversations’ have you had in the last few days via SMS? e-Mail?

Are your substituting conversations (face to face) with chatting (online). In a world where everything is moving at the speed of light, there is a perception that someone else’s urgency is your priority. How many times have you had the buck passed to you? You know what I mean, when another’s need for urgency becomes your ‘drop-everything-and-do-this-now-regardless-of-what-you-are-doing’…because they “sent you an e-mail”

I value the ability to be able to e-mail a question to someone, and allow them time to reflect or digest before responding, however there is also a huge benefit from the dialogue that comes from back and forth communication with a colleague.

It’s this form of collaboration that can lead to innovation in the workplace. You have an idea, you talk to  few people about it, you get some agreement, some differences of opinion, and may even come to a different, possibly better, idea through the efforts that come from collaborating in real-time. If you’re the owner, you can also build trust from your people because you are open to hearing their idea’s.

There are now so many forms of social media to interact with your customers (too many to even begin to mention), have you taken time to think about your internal ’social media’? Is it any wonder that your people don’t tell you about the big issues, when the only contact they have is through the void of e-mail?

Add your comments below on how you “socially” or  “unsocially” communicate and collaborate with your people.

I’d also be really interested to know how many of you small/medium businesses are using facebook, twitter, and any other SM (social media) sites, and how it’s working for you.

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Break the Rules or Bring Out Their Best?

23 02 2010

I’ve been in a conundrum. I’ve spent considerable time and energy in developing my knowledge around behavioural management, trained with it, coached with it, read about it, and now I find myself looking at almost the complete opposite in terms of detail (and I have been known to be a detail person).

I have been reading Marcus Buckingham First, Break All the Rules | TMBC. I’ve been reading Aubrey C Daniels Bringing out the Best In People. They are both a great approach to having your people improve in terms of performance.

I’ve worked with the Daniels approach through a program called “PM Basics”, a 2 day training program focussed on behavioural management techniques. When I first went through the certification program, I was really excited. The program provided me with an insight into the motivators and the behavioural drives of people,and it was a catalyst for my interest into why people do what they do in the workplace. Coupled with a behavioural tool (yes, The Predictive Index again people!!) I found myself being able to help managers build connections with their people in a truly genuine way.

On the opposite end of the detail scale, I find myself looking to the approach of Marcus Buckingham. There are no detailed processes to follow, no formalised documentation, no 2 day workshop to understand your staff motivators. From his research, there was a discovery that great managers do some simple things to get the most from their people, and these things resonate with me as I have been thinking about the application of “Performance Management” (PM) for SMEs with less than 20 people.

I’ll not get into the detail of “First Break All The Rules”, but I would encourage you to find a copy for yourself. It’s an insightful read, and you can skim chapters or read from cover to cover in a few days. The key concept I came away with when thinking PM is in getting your people to keep track of their performance. Marcus provides a framework, questions rather than processes and systems, in which you let your people tell you about how they are performing.

What I like is the concept of making your people partners in their own performance appraisals, and making the meetings focussed on the individual, rather than the business. What are their strengths? What could they do better? What have they learned over the last period? These are some of the questions in the “Performance Appraisal”, and you’ll see it is a great way to get your people involved in their own performance improvement.

So I’m still left thinking about the opposite approaches. Detailed, behaviourally based scientific approaches to improving performance, vs a few questions and a bit of thinking about your people and getting them to makes some notes about their performance.

I’m thinking there is room for both. To have the foundation of a behavioural understanding of why people do what they do is really helpful as a manager. When it comes to ‘problem’ performers, and the concern regarding unfair dismissals then you may need to have a more structured approach – such as formalised goal setting, agreement on consequences, and so forth.

However there is something to be said for making about 30 mins every couple of months with each of your people to have them present back to you their performance. Letting your people provide as much or as little detail as THEY need. Getting your people involved in their own development and progress, and helping them to take ownership for their performance is a great way to build your work community.

I think there is room for both approaches, or at least something that sits somewhere in the middle. with the strong focus on weight loss and exercise, perhaps we need to cut down our Performance Management “systems” and focus instead on our “people”.