Innovation (revisited)


Innovation is one of the ways by which we add value for our customers, however it is elusive to find at times.  When we look at the levers we can control when it comes to justifying our cost, we can improve quality, mitigate risk, reduce cost, or we can innovate.  You can’t reduce costs while improving quality and mitigating risk (typically), nor can we innovate while we’re in a cost cutting phase.  However, all three of those efforts can lead to a reduction in costs longer term.  Innovation usually has the most return for investment when successful and can lead to greater investment overall because of realized savings or increased revenue down the road.

There are many barriers to innovation that we have to overcome: Intrinsic (fear of failure, uncertainty, lack of talent), Managerial (maintaining status quo, risk aversion, rewards discourage innovation, limited resources), and Institutional (threat to career, territorialism, hard work).

Some ways to pursue innovation include out-operating for competitive advantage and executing in a totally different way.  Removing organizational barriers to innovation is key as well, but how do we do so?  From an operations standpoint, eliminate a business culture that undervalues operations, one in which operations is out of sight/out of mind.  Then you’ll be able to promote operational innovation by :

  • Benchmark outside of your organization
  • Identify, then defy constraining assumptions
  • Makes special cases into the norm
  • Rethink critical dimensions of work
  • Practice fast-cycle iteration with feedback

Critical to imbuing innovation throughout an organization is building the high performance team to go with it.  So how do we build high performance teams and take those teams from good to great?

First off, what are the characteristics of a high performance team?

  • Structured for results
  • Manage and improve group processes
    • Have a purposeful way to make the team better – stop and take a look at what’s working well and what isn’t so they can make improvements
    • Leverage start, stop, continue exercises where you discuss what needs to stop, what needs to start, what should be continued
  • Intentional about developing  a high performance team culture (culture describes the practices, traditions and values of the team – the environment in which we work)
  • Have results-oriented meetings
    • Have a purpose behind the meeting, an intent
    • Every once in a while need to do something with the team to have some fun
  • Achieve a high level of performance
    • Have goals and achieve goals
  • They have alignment between formal and informal group norms

Who are the people we look for on our teams?  People who are hungry, humble and smart.  Ok, but what does that mean?  People who are hungry are committed to results and willing to do whatever it takes to help realize success.  This isn’t about working eighty hour weeks and never having vacations, but more so about how when everyone needs to lean in, no one hesitates.  Humble people aren’t driven by ego.  It’s what behavioral questions like what’s your biggest career failure to date” or “Tell me about someone who is better than you in an area that really matters to you” are about.  Humble people share credit, emphasize team over self and define success collectively rather than individually.  Smart speaks to people smart, not book smart.  We have to have common sense about people. Smart people tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way. They have good judgment and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and the impact of their words and actions. A lot of discord is created in organizations when

Once we have the right people in the right roles (or have coached our existing team to a state of hungry, humble, and smart), we’ve taken the first step in building a high performance team.  Here are some others:

  • Focus on different aspects which are observable and addressable
    • Structure, Processes, Culture, Meetings, and Results
    • Within that structure, dissect different areas where there are gaps and address
    • In order to have proper structure, have to be willing to work as team and not as group of individuals towards a common end.  Not feasible to have sustainable structure without clearly defined rallying cry
    • From a process standpoint, teams will frequently shut out those people that aren’t in favor or held in high regard.
    • Frequently radio station WIIFM gets in the way of a strong commitment to success of the team – we have to engage our teams at an individual level so that they:
    • Are aware of the need for change (and their own why)
    • Desire to participate and support the project
    • Have the knowledge of HOW to accomplish the unified vision (and how they fit in)
    • Have the ability to impact the project on a daily basis (through empowerment)
    • We reinforce the need for the broader change/project/program/rallying cry of our customers
  • Team norms need to be developed in the open, not in a vacuum
    • Once established, norms need to be maintained and nurtured; one has to establish a culture of “calling out” when people violate norms but needs to be in a compassionate way (i.e. when they aren’t being hungry, humble, or smart)

Clearly this is simply scratching the surface on innovation, and next week I’ll get back to more of a digest form.  In the interim, check out these articles from HBR on innovation and this talk from Jack Levis about the hardest step in innovation being looking like a fool in front of a crowd.

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