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Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “Collaboration”.

“So you’re saying you want us to do more in less time so we can free up time to work on our own ideas?” Marty always went straight to the point.

“Yes”. I said.  It had taken me weeks to frame the message I was now conveying to my team.

“You realize we can’t keep our head above water with all the projects we’re working on”.  This came from Ted, who was succinctly voicing Yeah-But #3 to innovation: Overworked Staff.

Ted was the realist in our group and his opinion carried a lot of weight with the team.  He continued.

“Yet, you want us to find time to work on those priorities AND leave time for pursuing “ideas”.  What ideas? I’m missing something.”

I knew that if I didn’t win Ted over with my proposal, the chances were slim that the others would accept it. 

“I’m glad you asked, Ted.  For the last 3 months, I’ve kept track of all the ideas, suggestions & sketchy concepts we’ve kicked around in our meetings & casual discussions.  Guess how many ideas I wrote down?

Silence from the team. “I’ve captured 20 ideas & they came from all of you” I said to sea of shocked faces.

Ted was incredulous & asked “20 ideas? We haven’t had 20 ideas”.  I could see the others agreeing with Ted.

“Ted, let me use you as an example”, I responded.   “Did you know that you alone have come up with 3 of the 20 ideas”.  I let that sink in a moment.

Ted came back with “3? I can’t think of one”.

“I know”, I said. “That’s because we’re always focused on the immediate priorities & we don’t pay attention to the ideas that spring up spontaneously”.

Ted appeared confused so I continued.

“The reason you don’t think you’ve had any ideas is because you preceded them with passive statements such as “ Wouldn’t it be great if we could…” or “Somebody should come up with a way to” or “There’s got to be an easier way to…”. 

I could see Ted slowly nodding his head as if he could hear himself say those words.  I look directly at him & said,

“We frame the ideas in hope not action and we don’t pursue them to determine their plausibility. We’re sitting on 20 possible breakthrough solutions that are going undiscovered and untested. They may not lead anywhere but imagine if just one did?  Imagine what we’d learn by acting on just one idea?

“Wow”. Ted said.  “I never really thought of it that way.  You’re right.  One of those ideas could be a big deal. It can have an impact on the bottom line. Think of the learning process!”   

And with that, Ted excitedly jumped on board with my new initiative: the creation of an idea incubator in the team.  His coworkers quickly followed his lead.

Over time, the Idea Incubator produced many effective solutions that had a bottom line impact & increased efficiency in the team & the organization.

But can you relate to Ted?  Do you let your existing priorities keep you from pursuing opportunities to experiment or try new things?  Are your framing potential solutions in hope & not action?

It’s very difficult these days to rise above the hectic noise of our deadlines & workload.

Here are some ways to bring down the volume & listen to the ideas that are being passively pitched & going unnoticed in your team.

  • Listen closely when team members are discussing a problem or issue on a project
  • Keep a log of wishful statements made by the team such as “I wish there was a way to” or “I wish we could find a way to” or “There has to be a better way”.
  • After capturing over 5 ideas, discuss them with your team.  Remember to give them credit for the ideas.
  • Let everyone weigh in one which ideas are worth pursuing
  • Together develop a process to free up time so every team member can dedicate to the idea. At first, this can be as little as one or two hours a week & build from there.
  • Reward team members for their ideas & the action they took to turn the idea into a solution.
  • Voila.  Your idea incubator has been launched.

Like me, you’ll find that when the staff has an opportunity to take time to work on a project or an idea that has potential benefits for the team, they light up and get excited.  All of a sudden, the employees you thought were swamped with work can get their work done PLUS work on the idea incubator. 

People like having the independence and time to work on viable ideas. As leaders, it is up to us to give them the time & trust to do that.

 ”Ideas cost money & I don’t have extra money lying around in the budget”

Jim got that response from his boss when he pitched an idea to automate an internal process that was time intensive & manual.  It highlights Yeah-But #2 – no budget for innovation.  Jim was one of my Gen Y interviewees sharing the good, bad & the ugly of  his corporate experience.

“I didn’t even get a chance to give details about my idea.  I was shut down before I even started”  Jim explained. “I didn’t even know if my idea would cost money or not but the answer was loud & clear. Ideas cost money.  But what if they saved money, too?”

Jim continued “At lunch, I told my friend, Neil, in finance, about my idea to see how much he thought it would cost. Neil liked the idea & could see how the solution could be used across the company.  He texted his friend in IT to ask him to meet us & brainstorm possible solutions.  John from IT, revealed that his team had worked on something similiar that could probably be tweaked to solve this issue in my team. We decided to work together & see if we could come up something using the tools the company already had in place.”

Excited about the possibility of pursuing an idea that could save his team a lot of time & money, Jim discovered that his idea it would not cost the company additional funds except for the time Jim, John &  Neil invested in it.   At the end of 2 months, they had automated & tested the new solution & Jim was ready to present the solution to his boss.

“My boss was blown away by the demo I gave him”. Jim explained.  “Even still he asked me 4 times if I was 100% sure this was not going to cost him money to implement.  I assured him the only thing it had cost us was our time & effort. He was skeptical right through the end.  He stopped being skeptical when he saw how much more efficient the team was with the new solution. He stopped when other teams saw the improvement and wanted to piggyback off the solution.  He stopped when the CEO praised him for the solution he almost shut down.

“I guess I was wrong about ideas costing money” Jim’s boss confessed. “They can  make money, too, if you give them a chance to sprout”.

Can you see yourself in Jim’s boss?  How many times have you not pursued an idea because of possible budget concerns? Did you try looking at creative solutions with what was already available in-house?

Sometimes we make things more complicated that they need to be.  The next time you find yourself shutting down an employee with a good idea because of cost implications, try this:

  • Listen to the idea & see if it has bottom line potential.  If it does, it is worth pursuing
  • Encourage the employee to come up with creative solutions if you have no budget to spare for seed money
  • Find ways to partner with other teams that the solution could benefit.  The effort & cost can be distributed among various departments instead of bearing the brunt of the cost yourself.

Don’t be shortsighted like Jim’s boss about trying out new ideas.  Innovation often just requires a creative way of seeing & using the tools, information, people & resources that you have at your disposal. All you need to do is give it a chance to sprout.

In my blogs I always try to highlight great examples of Millennials doing good & being Millennials.  Last week, I came across a blog on Fast Company written by Simon Mainwaring titled:  “Using Social Media to Mobilize Millennials“.  In the blog, Simon talks about two projects that take a unique & highly Millennial spin on an existing practice.  That practice is social causes & our need as humans to give back and help others less fortunate.

The names of the 2 projects are Pando Projects & Loudsauce.  The first puts the Millennial brainpower to help young people that have an idea for a business but need help putting the business plan together.   Each project gets a website, promotional fundraising & volunteer management tools to kickstart the project.  The project is still a pilot but it shows the power of social media as people support projects based on the personal tie they have with that particular cause.  If you look at the 15 pilot projects, it clearly shows the interest that Gen Y has for causes and making the world a better place.  I particularly loved the projects that also had a multi-cultural component to them as it shows how the future of the US will be more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before.

The second project shows the incredible market savviness that Millennials possess.  Loudsauce lists a series of campaigns for causes & based on your preference you donate money to fund advertising for that cause on TV or billboards & then you spread the word using social media such as Facebook & Twitter.

What struck me in both examples is the creativity they display by leveraging 2 of the 5 unique skills & traits that Millennials bring to any situation.  The 2 skills are their collaboration or crowd sourcing approach to things & their use of technology. I believe Millennials are extremely lucky to be living in a time where technology provides access to so much that was not available in just a few years past.  The way they use technology & harness it is unique to them & extremely powerful.  On top of that, Millennials are natural collaborators.  I’ve shown many examples in my blogs of Millennials coming together to get things done.  They are wired to do it &  because it’s natural to them, they harness that collectivity in ways prior generations can’t begin to fathom.   

I agree with Simon on his take of the future. The unique skills of the  Millennials layered on top of their affinity to get involved in social causes, layered on top of the technology available to help them do that will make them the  ”founders of companies and industry leaders that will transform the products, services and role of brands in near future”.

But where will that leave corporations?  For the first time, we have a generation of smart, collaborative young people who, at an age where other generations were forced to look for corporate jobs to get experience, have an option to start their own companies & use the collective brainpower of their peers to help them succeed.  As corporate leaders continue to rely on outdated principles & techniques that hinder their ability to see the goldmine in their Gen Y staff,  they may decide to opt out of corporate and start their own companies. 

They have the  technology, the social media & the brainpower of their fellow Gen Yers to provide them with the acumen & funding they need to start & grow their own businesses.  That combination has never been available to other generations.  Can corporations compete against that especially as so many Millennials are getting disillusioned by corporate & its leaders on a daily basis?  What kind of talent will be available to corporations?  Will the best Gen Y talent be willing to put up with all the hassles of corporate or decide to try their luck & start their own companies & bring on other bright & motivated Millennials?Will corporate be left with a mediocre talent pool going forward or will they be able to attract, retain & leverage the best of Gen Y?

Interesting questions that will be addressed at time goes on.  If you want to be that corporate leader that can attract & retain top talent, you better start now  First step, let go of the status quo, of your comfort zone & get uncomfortable.  Let go of outdated styles & techniques that blind you to the potential that Millennials bring.  Ignite experimentation in your group & make that connection with your young workforce.    That will give you a good head start.  Remember leading successfully in the 21st Century requires leaders to C.A.R.E. – Connect, Adapt, Reshape & Experiment to keep the best talent engaged & commited. 

Are you doing that today?

So as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, here are the 4 techniques I had to learn and embrace as I dealt with the changing attitudes  and more sophisticated IT skill sets of our user base.

Technique #1:     Let go of the status quo.  I’ve talked about this technique in previous blogs and it relates well to IT. As users become more tech savvy and want a voice and a choice in technology decisions, IT and IT leaders need to re-think their role within their organizations. It will be increasingly difficult in an IT consumer world to control all aspects of IT. As that consumer world bleeds into the corporate fabric, keeping the 2 worlds separate becomes a challenge.  As the tech savvy user base in my organization began to ask more questions and wanted more involvement on IT related matters, I decided to make IT more transparent instead of keeping it as a mysterious “black box”. The more we shared our issues and our approach with our users, the more supportive they became and the more willing to accept the IT decisions we made. By being open and transparent, we ,in turn, received some good suggestions and ideas from users some of whom would have never ventured forth an opinion in the past. Instead they would have continued to bypass IT policies as they had always done.  Break the “black box” habit and make IT more transparent and accessible to your users.

Technique #2: Create a Business Lab.  As the IT user community begins to introduce choice and suggestions on IT solutions, IT will need to be aware of these solutions and understand them so that the risks of the solutions being presented can be appropriately measured.  That means IT has to have a way to experiment and tinker with those solutions and a process to evaluate them. The use of a lab is not new to IT departments since they are often used to test new versions or upgrades of IT components from operating systems to software to productivity tools.  This lab is different in that users are part of the experiment. We created Innovation Labs where IT partnered with business IT savvy users in evaluating IT solutions that were suggested by the users themselves.  By having a fluid process in place to manage the requests and the involvement of  IT and the user community both sides could objectively review the solution. The appropriate people like the risk and security folks could be called upon to be part of the review as well. Sometimes, the solutions passed the litmus test, other times they didn’t.  The important thing is that the lab facilitated an independent and unbiased review of the solution by all concerned parties.

Technique #3: Think beyone IT.  For years, IT groups would protest the fact that the user community did not always embrace the IT solutions it provided them.  As the business urged us to become more business savvy we longed for the day when the business users would become more IT savvy.  Well guess what?  The time has come.  Through the collaborative spirit of Millennials I quickly began to see how tech savvy our users had become.   I realized that my team could use these IT savvy users to expand our reach.   We began to create IT Advocacy Groups within the business teams.  These were people we called “friendlies” (it’s tough to break the friend vs. foe mentality, isn’t it?) and they were thrilled to help us with anything having to do with IT. The business teams, in turn, used them to funnel ideas or issues relating to IT.  Instead of closing them off, we were able to increase our IT army beyond our headcount.   The IT advocates loved being involved, loved sharing their IT ideas and loved serving as the bridge between their teams and IT.  Win-win.   

Technique #4: Push your Vendors.  As I began to apply the techniques above, I realized that the vendors of IT solutions were not always aware that IT was becoming more user driven.  In order for IT to properly manage the risks and security issues behind the consumerization of IT that was already occurring, we needed the help of vendors.  We needed them to focus on making solutions more secure, to understand that what was developed on the consumer side would eventually bleed onto the corporate side and that in doing so, more stringent standards had to be applied.  We began to work closely with our vendors to raise awareness and foster in them an understanding that personal and corporate IT convergence would take place and they needed to factor that into the roadmaps of their respective solutions. What might have been acceptable on the consumer side could possibly fail on the corporate side and this had bottom line implications for the vendors.

As I became comfortable utilizing these techniques, it opened the door for more experimentation and I became more comfortable in challenging or at least questioning my old ways from the old days. What about you?  Will you utilize these techniques and challenge your old ways from the old days?

Recently I was giving a speech on Millennials to an HR group and when it came time for questions, one of the participants commented that based on what I had presented, she felt that  the Individual Contributor concept was on its last legs.  Individual Contributors are people in organizations who are not part of a team or who work in a team but who have to show results as an individual apart from the team contribution.   I completely agreed with her assessment:  the individual contributor was on its last legs. 

From what I can tell by having closely observed Millennials in a work setting, they rarely work alone.  They are natural collaborators always seeking input, involvement, feedback and knowledge from their peers.  They don’t do it because they feel it’s required; they do it because they work best that way.

In many companies the idea of the Individual Contributor is still part of the merit or bonus compensation model.  As I began to see just how collaborative the Millennials in my team were, I had to find ways to break down that collaboration in order to fit the individual contributor portion of the merit and bonus measure.  It was very difficult to do and created overhead that was just not necessary.

Over the next few years,  as Millennials increase in numbers in the workplace, the collaborative contributions made by teams will either override or outweigh that of the individual.  That’s a good thing because bringing different perspectives together to look at a problem or a challenge increases the spark of innovation that can lead to great ideas.  We need that spark in corporate America, don’t you think?