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.


Monkeys and Motivation

22 02 2010

I was on my friends farm…..and there was a monkey……..

So I’m guessing you wouldn’t have been drawn here if I told you I had a dream about being bitten by a monkey. It was amazing to me to see the huge response I got to the site with the heading Bitten By A Snake. It got me wondering about your motivation to read the article. Were  you were concerned, or just interested in the link between snake bites and management!

Motivation is an interesting place to think about. We know we ‘need’ to be motivated (either through self or someone else). Yet why do we struggle to find ways to motivate our people? Why do we get frustrated when we motivate one of the team with a reward of a movie voucher, yet another will not perform for the same incentive?

Where are the monkeys?

Abraham Maslow’s motivational research was initially formed through his studies on Rhesus monkeys. In terms of motivational theories, I’m referring to Maslow’s “Heirarchy Of Needs”. Maslow determined that there were 5 levels of motivation, and that each one built upon the other – Biological/Physical, Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualisation.


Food, Shelter, Clothing, sex, warmth. These are the initiall drivers that motivate us to get up in the morning. We need to eat, to have a roof over our head, to keep warm (or cool), and sex (in the first level of the heirarchy, sex is the need to pro-create).


To feel safe, secure, and have some stability in our lives. You could say this motivates us to work, or to place our selves in a situation where we can ensure the Biological needs can be met. We need money (ie we have to work) to pay for food, to pay the mortgage.

These first two levels are the basic and most fundamental motivators of the self. Without food, shelter, clothing, without a sense of security, we cannot move up the heirarchy. We won’t be motivated to ‘work as a team’ (ie Belonging), if we don’t have the money for food.


Family, relationships (and sex, but not for procreation), work groups, community involvement. Here we start to delve into the motivators that as a manger/business owner we can use to improve performance. This level finds us motivated to seek being involved with our families, the desire to get married, to have companionship, and to want to work within a team.

This is where some managers get stuck. If you have someone who is worried about their personal circumstances (eg an increase in mortgage rates and how they’ll pay the extra, or having trouble in their marriage), then they are focussed on meeting the needs of safety (eg security that their job will be there tomorrow so they can pay the bills, or stability on the home front). They cannot focus on being part of a team until the Saftey needs have been met.


Achievement, responsibility, status. This is where you can start to build performance. Often we’ll assume that pay is a motivator, eg the size of the annual pay increase or bonus. Remember that your people have this need (ie money) being met (Safety). It’s not always the case, but your people will generally put in more discretionary effort when they get recognition (achievement), or are given greater responsibility for their work output.

Self Actualisation

Personal growth, development, a sense of fulfilment. At the top of the heirarchy it’s personal. Being sent on a training course to learn how to use Excel may be seen by the employee as a Safety need (eg if they learn how to use Excel, they can do their job better and feel greater security). From the employee’s point of view, their need for development may be in having time at work to learn something unrelated to their specific role. For example, a call centre operator who wants to learn about the Learning & Development team as they are studying Workplace Training at a community college.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine someone’s motivating needs. I’ve used The Predictive Index often with managers as it is a great tool to help you understand an individuals work behaviours and motivators. It can also be a great starting point for the conversation about what drives your people, without resorting to an explanation of Maslow!

When trying to understand your people’s behaviour , Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be a useful guide. You need to remember that the motivators are personal, and what to you may be a self actualisation need, for someone else may be a Safety need.