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.


STRESS, Change, and the Fair Work Act

17 02 2010

Last post I talked about the impact of change to your people, (Why Change Doesn’t Happen)and one of the common side-effects of Change is….Stress! I was looking through a few resources about stress in the workplace, and commonly the references talk more about the workplace hazards, such as injuries from lifting, chemicals, etc, and yet even though as an employer you have a “duty of care” to provide a safe workplace, not many businesses consider stress to be a workplace Hazard!

Why is this? As I previously mentioned, the emotions people go through when there is significant change in the workplace has been likened to the grief process, and grief can cause stress. On a personal note, I’ve been through two redundancies and lost a loved one. I can say that the emotions, although with a redundancy not to the same extreme as the loss of a spouse, are very closely aligned to the grief process. Upon reflecting on my own journeys, I can look back and see how stress has also impacted even the simplest of things like concentrating on reading a book, right through to dealing with life impacting decisions.

Often I have found managers are not aware of their impact on their people when they are under stress. Some will take control on behalf of their employee’s, and reinforce the opportunities, while others will struggle to deal with the simplest of pressure, and in this instance, their stress is passed onto their team. When I see a workplace where the employees are short tempered, unfocussed, constantly chatting with other staff, I look to the manager to see how they are dealing with the pressure.

I remember once being told “if you have a people problem, you have a management problem”. When you see one of your team under pressure, or commenting about being stressed, what have you done about it? The common response is to put the focus onto the employee, and ‘help’ them manage their stress. How often have you, as an owner or manager, sat back and asked yourself “how have I contributed to the situation?” Have you been clear about what your want? Have you agreed with your stressee about what is expected? Have you provided the right training to your people?

Since January 1, 2010 there has been a building of stress for business owners. It’s a significant change that will affect EVERY business, more so those with 15 employees or more, and it’s the Fair Work Act 2009. I’m not about to talk about the details of the Fair Work Act here, it’s not my area of expertise, you can find numerous other blogs to add confusion to an already grey area. However I would like to comment on the issues that arise when it comes to managing your people when building to a dismissal.

I have found interesting the response of many small business owners and their concerns regarding “unfair dismissal”. I know there are people in your business who you may like to remove. My thinking goes to “why is unfair dismissal a concern?” If you are using an effective performance management system, that measures results, that is specific, that has agreed upon goals/targets/behaviours, then why would you be concerned about unfairly dismissing someone – IF you have all the data, evidence, and documentation to show poor performance?

I’m not advocating compiling documentation for the purpose of dismissal. I’m advocating managers leading, guiding, helping, training, motivating their people – isn’t that their role? Why would it be a surprise to an employee when they are terminated for poor performance, if you have been in ongoing discussion about their performance, and agreeing on the consequences of poor performance? (ie…“it could lead to dismissal…..”)

I’m still thinking about this topic, and will have more to come in the next couple of days. However I encourage you to think about the measures and processes you have in place, and how you reward and recognise performance in your business. Are you setting up your people to succeed? Have you already decided that “Problem Paul” is no good, and needs to be moved out? I believe that every employee has the ability to achieve in your business. “If you have a people problem, you have a management problem”

Why Change Doesn’t Happen

13 02 2010

Lets face it. Change is like breathing. If you stop, you die. So why is it so many small businesses fail to look at some of the basics when it comes to change in the workplace? I remember hearing a senior manager make the statement “I don’t know why they don’t understand, we sent them an e-mail.” Is there something wrong with this statement? (I should hear a resounding YES!!!)

We’ve sent an e-mail! We’ve communicated! We’ve told them what is happening!

Communication is one of the most critical aspects of managing change in the workplace, yet so often I’ve seen it done really, really badly. It’s frustrating to hear a business owner talk about a change in their workplace, to hear them tell me the problems they had with the last change, and then seeing them make the SAME mistakes again.

When it comes to workplace change, I’m talking about anything from redundancies, quality improvements, to implementing ‘new’ employee moral programs. If change happens so often, why do managers do it so poorly? “I don’t know why they don’t understand, we sent them an e-mail…..It’s not communication if you just send an e-mail.

There are a couple of BASIC strategies I’ve used to effectively manage significant (and less significant) workplace change.

Involve your People

Often I find that managers don’t get their people involved because the change is something that is ‘going to happen’ regardless of employee response. It could be that you are struggling to stay in the black, and the only option you feel you have is to cut staff numbers. Redundancies have a huge impact on your people, not just the ones who are made redundant, but also the people who are left behind. I’ve been on both sides of the redundancy line, and it’s hard for all – including most managers. They need to deal with the changes that are not fully realised until after the terminated employees have left.

The process people go through when significant workplace change occurs has been likened to the five stages of grief (See Stages of Grief Cycle). You have to understand that there is a loss, as with grief, to the way things are done. Loss of productivity. Loss of friendships. Loss of community. You cannot change the way people react to staff layoffs, however you can work with them to move through the issues that will arise after the change.

One of the best ways I saw this managed was by a GM who had to terminate 100 staff. In a group of about 2000 people, it’s still a big number. My advice was to be honest about the layoffs. I think his honesty with his people went a long way “if we don’t lose 100 people now, it could be 500 in 12 months”. No sugar coating.  No corporate fluffiness. Just the harsh reality that 100 staff would be gone in a month. The next thing we did was to arrange several small cross functional groups to talk to about how the changes impact THEM. It was a personal approach, and although the GM was not able to resolve every issue that came up for his people, he did get some really valuable information about the impacts to processes these staff cuts would have – things even he and his managers had not thought of. In addition, although the staff didn’t like the loss of 100 colleagues, they were more supportive of the after-changes (still didn’t like them, but supported the GM none the less). He Involved his people.

Constantly Communicate

“Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them. Tell them again!”

You need to plan what your people need to know, keep the information regular, and put in place ways for your people to feedback to you their concerns. Put together a small team of representatives from across your business to act as advocates for the employees, and advocates for the change. Use the team to test how the messages may be received, what problems could arise, does the information makes sense, and KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Plan for the future

You should have a clear vision of what the future will look like once the change has occurred. Your people need to know that you see a better future for the business (ie even without the staff made redundant). Develop a roadmap (draw it up on some cardboard if you have to) so your people can see what will happen, when it will happen, and where you will be when it’s done. Your roadmap should highlight the milestones that impact the employees. It should be part of your overall communications plan. In addition, make time to sit with your people about a month after the change, find out how they are coping. Find out what impacts the loss has had to your systems, processes, people, and customers. Get THEIR idea’s on how to move forward WITH you.

Keep the momentum going

Even with the above strategies in place, there is the potential for things to get harder before they get easier. I suggested to an MD that we speak with a number of staff to see how the changes affected their roles. This was a company that had cut two-thirds of their staff (about 600 people). His response “We’ve dealt with the changes, and I don’t want to revisit old ground”. To me, it sounds like the MD had moved forward and was not willing to hear any bad news. The danger that I see with this response is that on the surface everyone will say how well things are going.

After such a MASSIVE change, people are afraid to raise any issues for fear of being the next one to go. This is the time when small issues are ignored, and can build to become serious problems. Because no-one is prepared to ask the uncomfortable questions, when the small things turn to big issues, there will be no understanding of how they got there!

After the change, keep the communication going. Develop a new roadmap. Keep talking to your people. Now I know that some staff will tell you they are not happy about the way the toilet rolls are placed in the dispenser, but if you are able to develop trust that you will deal with the little things, then your people WILL tell you about the big problems.

Don’t stop breathing.