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Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “McKinsey Quarterly”.


Apparently I’m not the only one who has been asking this question lately.  In reading the latest online copy of the McKinsey Quarterly, Olivier Sibony, a Director in McKinsey’s Paris office interviews Dan Ariely and they imbed the video of the interview in the online copy.  The name of the article is “Dan Ariely on Irrationality in the Workplace“ .  Dan Ariely is a Duke University professor and best-selling author who has written a couple of books on the subject of irrationality.  I like the way McKinsey divides the interview into sections & gives a quote from Dan Ariely as a highlight of what is contained in each section.  As I hovered over each section, the very first quote immediately caught my attention.  Dan Ariely said ” I am baffled by why companies don’t do more experiments”.

It was as if this Duke professor had read my mind.   I’ve been baffled by this for quite some time now.  Over the last few years I’ve been working with clients & speaking on the topic of harnessing the talent of Gen Yers in the workplace.  As part of that, I share my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership with corporate leaders.  What the C.A.R.E. system does is it offers a proven methodology that leaders can immediately implement to help them understand, value & harness the Gen Y talent that is sitting untapped right under their nose.  The system also provides techniques to help leaders modify outdated leadership practices that they’ve held on to. The last component of the system is the “E” which stands for Experiment.  This is where I show leaders how to introduce & nurture experimentation in their teams. 

After witnessing it first hand with myself and seeing it with my peers & then later with my clients,  I see that leaders clearly don’t focus on trying new things & experimenting with new ideas & concepts. As I struggled to understand the baffling group we call Gen Y,  I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to shift my thinking & do things differently than I had in the past.  But it was hard for me to do that at first. But slowly & surely I did. One of side benefits of trying was getting comfortable saying “Why not?  Let’s try it”  At first, I fought it.  Things had worked just fine for me in the past so why shouldn’t it work going forward?  Well, the reality is that the going forward bore little resemblance to the past & staying stuck in the past wasn’t getting us anywhere different.  As I slowly got comfortable trying new things, I realized just how stuck I had been & how ineffective it was to just keep doing the same old thing.

Infusing a spirit of experimentation into my management style & into my team made a significant impact to our productivity and innovation .  Giving employees permission to try out ideas & remove the stigma of failure,  freed them to bring up ideas or issues they saw from their unique point of reference.  The team was allowed to carve out time to test ideas & try out different techniques to see if they worked.  With time, I realized that we had created an idea incubator in the team.  It worked very similar to how venture capitalists work with startups.  Venture capitalists understand that not all ideas will bear fruit & make millions of dollars.  But they know the importance of seeding ideas & nurturing them with funding to see what happens.  Nine ideas may flop and not go anywhere but that tenth idea is a home run & will make them millions.

The same thing happens when you infuse experimentation within a corporate setting.  There were many ideas that we tried out that didn’t work but we learned a tremendous amount from them & we were able to apply that knowledge on other projects.  Then there were the 5 to 6 great ideas we developed over the course of a few years that were gold.  They not only contributed positively to the team’s bottom line but they put us ahead of other corproate regions & similar departments.  Over the years, my team proudly delivered many “firsts” for our region. We were the team others called on for advice or help.  Others were baffled by our ability to do what we did with a relatively small team. They couldn’t replicate our track record because they never realized that they had to embrace the unfamiliar and unknown to find the innovative solutions.  They had to break out of their comfort zones & try what had not been tried before even if it meant failing from time to time.

In my next blog, I’ll go over the top 5 reasons why corporate leaders DON’T experiment.

In the meantime, what can you do today to take a baby step into your discomfort zone?

I was reading the latest McKinsey Quarterly edition and was fascinated by the article written by Gary Hamel & Polly LaBarre titled ”Dispatches from the Front Lines of Management Innovation” .  Gary and Polly are part of MIX which stands for the Management Innovation ExchangeIt’s a wonderful forum where the goal is to challenge conventional management thinking & make organizations fit for the future.  I encourage all leaders to stop by and take a look at the wonderful information and conversation taking place there.  It is eye opening and mind opening as well. 

In this particular McKinsey article, the authors talk about the results of a first ever management innovation contest  held at MIX.  Just the concept of holding a management innovation contest piqued my interest because it’s the type of initiative that I go over in my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership.  The”E“  in  the C.A.R.E. framework stands for Experiment.  Experimentation is at the heart of what MIX is doing with this collaborative platform they have built. 

In my Millennial Lab, I quickly discovered that the traditional management principles I had used for so long were no longer working.  However, I was at a loss as to what to do to replace those outdated principles.  So I had to experiment.  I had to challenge myself as a leader and try new techniques that would work in the 21st Century.  In the beginning this was extremely difficult but my lab afforded me the ability to try different things out.  Trial and error so to speak.  That trial and error process helped me identify new techniques that worked in leading a diverse and changing workforce in a fast paced environment.  Doing that was transformational for me as a leader and it had tremendous benefits for my team & the results we achieved.

One of the  transformations I had as I developed and implemented the C.A.R.E. framework had to do with trust.  In the MIX contest  one of the contest challenges was to increase trust.  The winner of that particular challenge was Microsoft.    Ross Smith, who at the time was director of Microsoft’s Windows Security Test team was captivated by this notion of increasing trust in his team.  He quickly realized, as I did years ago, that in order to maximize innovation and creativity within teams, all team members must feel a high level of trust.

That started him on an experimental journey within his team to increase trust.  Working collaboratively with his team, they developed a web-based game that forced the team to create a rank ordering of behaviors leading to trust. Once they had the prioritized list, he encouraged the team to create a trust playbook wiki.  From there, the experiment flourished and wonderful ideas and activities resulted from that.  The results: retention grew 20 to 50% and productivity increased by 10 to 60%.

Experimentation has clear bottom line payoffs but so many leaders are unwilling to take that first step and try.  When you read the article you will see other examples of leaders who challenged their comfort zones and achieved unprecedented results.  Was it easy for them to do that?  No.  Did it take an invesment in time and commitment.  Absolutely. 

In working with and talking to many leaders today, I believe it’s these 2 factors that keep many of them from trying alternative methods to lead in the 21st Century.  Although I share the techniques that worked for me in my framework, it still requires leaders to not only invest their time but to want to do it.  If leaders are simply going through the motions, their team members will see right through that & they won’t buy-in.  They will see that the trust is not there and that there is no commitment to change.  Transparency & honesty are key to make change happen in a positive way.

So read the article, visit the MIX site and start your experimental management journey.  Can you collaborate with your team and create a trust playbook that you can follow?  It may be the exact thing you need to transform your team and take innovation and creativity to a brand new level.   Give it a try.  You can always revert back to what you do today…