Read Intrapreneuring Case Study “Leading Innovation” by Ivey Business School!

The prestigious Ivey Business School of the Western University in Ontario, Canada, published an insightful new teaching case study on intrapreneuring and corporate innovation titled “Boehringer Ingelheim: Leading Innovation” in which the case writers, Professor J. Robert Mitchell, Ph.D., and Ramasastry Chandrasekhar, follow the footsteps of the newly appointed innovation director.

Meant to raise questions and serving as a learning opportunity for graduate students in academic program around the globe, this case study lifts the corporate curtain a bit to show how innovation through intrapreneuring really happens and decision points along the way.

Outline (by Ivey Publishing)

The newly appointed director of Innovation Management & Strategy at Boehringer Ingelheim, a German-based multinational pharmaceutical company, is finding his way forward in his firm’s new, first-of-its-kind role, which is central to the company’s growth rejuvenation strategy. His job has a threefold mandate: to build internal networks, to establish internal structures and to leverage internal ideas. His biggest challenge, however, may be transforming the organization’s DNA. The blockbuster business model that has characterized the company for decades is no longer appropriate. Instead, the firm needs to develop healthcare products available to end users over the counter. This shift in strategy requires innovative changes in distribution, delivery and customer focus. To accomplish this goal, he needs to institutionalize innovation so that it becomes sustainable. But in doing so, he must also identify the metrics for assessing progress. The case provides an opportunity for students to step into the shoes of an innovation leader, to develop an innovation roadmap for the organization in the face of uncertainty and to understand how to engage in innovation leadership at various levels of a global enterprise.

Learning Objective

This case has two key objectives. First, this case provides students an opportunity to grapple with the difficult decisions associated with innovation in an uncertain environment. Second, this case highlights that anyone has the ability to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and to lead innovation. The case divides the attributes of an innovation leader into five components: observing, questioning, experimenting, networking and associating. It shows the real-life experiences of a manager doing seemingly routine activities, who evolved into a leader who transformed the DNA of a global enterprise. The case also provides a template of the tasks, responsibilities and value-added changes as an individual moves progressively within an enterprise from an operations manager to a senior manager to an innovation leader. This case can be used either toward the beginning or toward the end of any course that addresses innovation and creative thinking in a large organization. At the beginning of a course, it illustrates the challenges of acting in the face of uncertainty in a large organization. At the end of a course, the case provides an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned about innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation leadership.

Join me for the SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting at Yale University on Feb 22

“Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World – Strategies, Innovation and Implementation”

Join me at 11:15am at the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association‘s new Connecticut Chapter (SAPA-CT) Milestone Celebration Meeting held at Yale University (N107 The Anlyan Center, 300 Cedar St, New Haven, CT, 06511), 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Feb 22, 2014.

SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting, "Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World - Strategies, Innovation and Implementation"
SAPA-CT, Boehringer Ingelheim, BMS, and Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale (ACSSY) will co-sponsor this event

Women in Life-Sciences: Pharma Think Tank at UCSF on Oct. 30, 2013

UCSF WILS BI Think Tank announcement
UCSF WILS BI Think Tank announcement

Top 10 posts for Employee Resource Groups (ERG) / Business Resource Groups (BRG)

Here are my Top 10 posts for Employee Resource Groups (ERG) / Business Resource Groups (BRG):

1.  Why do companies need business-focused ERGs?

The answer is as simple as this: Because it makes good business sense!

2.  Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!

The increasing diversity of employees at the workplace led to employees gathering along affinity dimensions like birds-of-a-feather to form networking groups within organizations. The next step goes beyond affinity and establishes employee resource groups (ERGs) strategically as a business resource and powerful driver for measurable business impact and strategic innovation bottom-up.

3.  How to start building a business-focused ERG?

Let’s start with what it takes to found a successful ERG on a high level and then drill down to real-life examples and practical advice.  What you cannot go without is a strategy that creates a business need before you drum up people, which creates a buzz!

4.  Starting an ERG as a strategic innovation engine!  (part 3 of 3)

While many companies demand creativity and innovation from their staff few companies seem to know how to make it work. – Is your organization among those hiring new staff all the time to innovate? The hire-to-innovate practice alone is not a sustainable strategy and backfires easily.

5.  How to create innovation culture with diversity!

Strategic innovation hands-on: Who hasn’t heard of successful organizations that pride their innovation culture?  But the real question is what successful innovators do differently to sharpen their innovative edge over and over again – and how your organization can get there!

6.  “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

What every new employee resource group (ERG) requires most are people: the life-blood for ideas and activities!  But how do you reach out to employees, help them understand the value of the ERG and get them involved to engage actively?

7.  Next-generation ERG learn from U.S. Army recruitment!

What do Generation Y (GenY) oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERG) share with the military?  – More than you expect!  A constant supply of active members is the life-blood for any ERG to put plans to action and prevent established activists from burning out.  The U.S. Army faces a similar challenge every year: how to attract and recruit the youngest adult generation?  Next-generation ERGs listen up:  Let the U.S. Army work for you and learn some practical lessons!

8.  Q&A – Case study for founding a business-focused ERG

If you are planning to found an ERG or are a new ERG Leaders, you might find the attached Q&A helpful.

9.  How to attract an executive sponsor?

10.  Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?

It’s a long list to describe Generation Y with a commonly unfavorable preconception. This  youngest generation at the workworkplacern after 1980, also called Millennial) is said to be: lazy, impatient, needy, entitled, taking up too much of my time, expecting work to be fun, seeking instant gratifications, hop from company to company, want promotions right away, give their opinion all the time and so on. But is it really that easy to characterize a new generation?Don’t miss my Top 10 Innovation posts and Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs!

The OrgChanger tag cloud

Top 10 Innovation posts

Here are my Top 10 posts on innovation:

Can strategic innovation rely on creative chaos?  To make a long story short, the answer is: No!  Read what it takes to consistently innovate and give you a very cool example too.

2.  How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)
What is an innovation leader? Is this role similar to an innovator? (The answer is ‘no’.) – Recognize the three key roles in innovation, how to find an approach and avoid critical pitfalls.

Not everything new is an innovation and some is more renovation than in innovation.  Here is a framework that helps to distinguish an innovator from a renovator and works for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs alike.  It is important to understand which role to play and when; it all depends on what you need to achieve and what is critical to reach your goal!
Creating value through new products is not enough. Capturing the value requires equal attention on the innovation process. Focusing on creativity and neglecting execution along the value chain is a costly mistake.

5.  Why too much trust hurts innovation
Most managers understand that trust is a key ingredient to effective collaboration and innovation.  Yet, few actively try to cultivate and nourish trust in their own organization to achieve the right mix between trust and constructive tension.

6.  Imitators beat Innovators!
You thought Facebook was the original? Or YouTube? Or LinkedIn? – Get ready for your wake-up call! Break-through innovations are over-rated! Imitators are successful by combining someone else’s innovation with the imitator’s advantage and by doing so they can become innovators themselves!

7.  Boost ‘Group Intelligence’ for better decisions!
Group intelligence can be increased and lead to better decision-making – or why not to rely on a group of geniuses!  New research breaks the ground to understand collaborative intelligence and the – but how to apply it to the workplace?

8.  Collective Intelligence: The Genomics of Crowds
Group intelligence beats individual brilliance – and businesses are willing to pay for the crowd’s wisdom in the social sphere.  The MIT’s ‘genetic’ model allows  combining social ‘genes’ to harness the collective intelligence of crowd wisdom successfully and sustainably; areas of application are scientific research or business/employee resource groups, for example.

9.  Can movies innovate with only seven stories to tell?
How innovative are movies really – if at all?  While AVATAR and THE ARTIST appear polar opposites, they share a similar story; so where is the innovation?

10.  ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?
What is the key challenge in the coming years and how to prepare future leaders.

Don’t miss my Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs!

Collective Intelligence: The Genomics of Crowds

Group intelligence beats individual brilliance – and businesses are willing to pay for the crowd’s wisdom in the social sphere.  The MIT’s ‘genetic’ model allows combining social ‘genes’ to harness the collective intelligence of crowd wisdom successfully and sustainably, for example in scientific research or business/employee resource groups.

We use collective intelligence every day

Whenever we face a big decision, we turn to our friends, our family, or our confidants. We seek information, guidance, advice, confirmation, or an alternative perspective.  No matter if we make a life decision (partnership, job, picking a school, etc.), a purchasing decision (house, car, mobile phone) or a less monumental decisions (which movie to watch, which restaurant to go to), we make our decision more confidently and feeling better informed after reaching out to our personal network.

What we do is tapping into the collective intelligence, knowledge, or wisdom of a crowd that we know and trust: we are ‘crowd sourcing’ on a small scale.  We do this because we instinctively know that the focused collective intelligence is higher than the intelligence of individuals.

What is collective intelligence or the ‘wisdom of the crowd’?

Wikipedia, the iconic product of global collaboration and collective knowledge, brings it to the point:

“The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question.  A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group.  An intuitive and often-cited explanation for this phenomenon is that there is idiosyncratic noise associated with each individual judgment, and taking the average over a large number of responses will go some way toward canceling the effect of this noise.”

Scaling up to a ‘crowd

When we read a movie review and rating on Netflix or customer ratings of a product on Amazon, for example, we tap into a larger and anonymous crowd.  On the other end, Netflix and Amazon know how they get people like you and I to deliver them free content (reviews, ratings) that runs their business.

So, let’s take this to a level where it really gets interesting for you!  How can you get a crowd to do your work?  How do you build a framework in which strangers work on your business problems and deliver quality result for free.

Crowd
Crowd Wisdom

Genetics of Collective Intelligence

MIT professor Tom Malone dissects the mechanics of collective intelligence in his groundbreaking article (MIT Sloan Review, April 2010).  The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence researched to understand this matter better and identified a number of building blocks or ‘genes’ than need to come together to engage and tap into the ‘wisdom of crowds’ successfully and sustainably.

Since these ‘genomic combinations’ are not random at all, we can also combine genes to build a collective intelligence system.  Depending on what it is that you want to achieve, the genes can be combined to a model that suits your specific purpose.  This is ‘social genomics’ made easy, and you don’t need a biology major!  🙂

Interestingly, this social genomics can be used independently for social projects you have in mind but also in relation to Employee or Business Resource Groups (ERG/ERG).  – The common link lays in the organizational design that is similar to the generic BRG/ERG business model discussed previously.  Thus, collective intelligence systems need to address the same questions as a business model:

  • Strategy or the goal: what needs to be accomplished?
  • Staffing or the people: who does the work?  Are specific individuals doing the work or is there collaboration within a more or less anonymous crowd?
  • Structure and Processes or how to organize and conduct the work?  How is the product created, and how are decisions made?
  • Rewards or why do they do it?  What are the incentives, what is the measure for success?

Motivation is Key

It is crucial to get the motivation right, i.e. why people engage and continue to come back to contribute more to the cause or project.  It comes down to finding the basic drivers for human motivation.  This explains why people invest much of their time and resources to crowd sourcing.

The famous $1million Netflix Prize was a 5-year open competition for the best collaborative filtering algorithm to predict user ratings for films, based on previous ratings.  The winner had to improve Netflix’s algorithm by 10%.  The million-dollar reward in 2006 gives a flavor of just how valuable the crowd’s wisdom is for a company!  In contrast to common belief, money is not always the driver.  If it was, how do you explain the popular virtual ‘farming’ on Facebook, for example, where players pay hard cash for virtual goods?

In the more clandestine intelligence community, recruiting individual operatives plays to four motivational drivers: Money, Ideology, Conscience, and Ego (easy to remember as ‘MICE’).
The drivers for attracting collective intelligence are a bit different, as Tom Malone found out.  Nonetheless, there are parallels: He calls the key motivators Money, Love, and Glory.

Real-World Examples

Everyone knows Wikipedia, arguably the best-known social collaboration and crowd-sourcing project thriving from an intellectual competition over Love and Glory, no monetary incentives involved for the authors.

How powerful Glory and Honor are we see also in areas away from the mainstream where you may not expect to find crowd-sourcing and gamification: in scientific research.  The following two impactful examples reflect successful implementations for large crowds collaborating and competing to solve scientific problems:

  • Seth Cooper’s AIDS research challenge  on the “FoldIt” online platform challenged players to find the best way of folding a specific protein.  We will not dive into the science behind it and its medical significance; here are the details for those who are interested to dig deeper: MedCrunch Interview with Seth Cooper at TEDMED 2012.  For our purpose, we establish that a relevant scientific problem in AIDS research, which remained unsolved within the scientific community for a decade, took the crowd 10 days to solve!
    You may find it surprising that there was has no monetary incentive involved whatsoever – yet FoldIt attracted over 60,000 players(!) from around the world.  The winner of the AIDS-related challenge was later recognized and honored at the 2012 TEDMED.  It was not a Nobel-prize laureate from an Ivy-League institution but a laboratory assistant from Britain – who, well, enjoys folding proteins and collaborating on the puzzle with think-alike from other countries.  This is the power of Love and Glory!
  • Another example is the ongoing “Predicting a Biological Response” on Kaggle.com, a geeky online platform for people who like developing descriptive models.  My friend and colleague David Thompson of Boehringer Ingelheim (a major yet privately held bio-pharmaceutical company) designed this scientific competition to compete for the best bio-response model for a given data set of scientific relevance.
    The challenge offers a $10,000 prize for the winning model and lesser amounts for the models coming in second and third.  The monetary award together with a time limit of three months helps to speed up the process and keep up the competitive pressure.  Last time I checked, 467 teams competed and have already submitted 4,300 entries with another month to go.  The quality of the model is summarized in a single number (‘log loss’), so competitors can compare their results directly and immediately, the same quantifier determines the winner.
    Note that the Kaggle participation is not driven by the monetary incentive primarily; otherwise, the number of participants should correspond directly with the amount of money offered for a particular challenge, which is not the case.  Thus, participants are in it more for the challenge and fun than for the cash.  (If you are a participant and disagree, please correct me if I am wrong!!)
    On the other hand, don’t underestimate the business value of the gamification of science either: another ongoing competition in Kaggle offers a serious $3million reward!

The bottom line

Social collaboration, crowd-sourcing, and collective intelligence all rely and depend on humans collaborating to make things happen.  What holds true in the real world seems to hold true also in the virtual world: the magic formula is all in the genes…

Job description for an Executive Sponsor

Job description for an Executive Sponsor
Executive sponsorship is an important prerequisite for the success of employee groups.  The challenge is finding a great sponsor, so what should you look for?  What would a job description for an executive sponsor look like?  ‑ Here are some practical ideas that have worked.

Why executive sponsorship is critical

Employee groups consist of volunteers with good intentions.  They work, typically, in addition to their day job and after hours driven by the desire to address a need close to their heart.  Together with colleagues, they seize opportunities to complement the organization’s objectives and goals and to improve the workplace.  In most cases, employee groups are not an integral part of the organization: they don’t show up in organizational charts and have no formal authority.

For most group members, this voluntary work is ‘on top’ of the regular job and not reflected in their professional goals or performance evaluation.  What makes a difference is having a strong ally: the executive sponsor.

From the organization’s perspective, some governance is needed to:

  • Prevent the employee group left to operate in a void or detach from the rest of the organization
  • Align the goals of the group with the needs and strategy of the company in a complementing and synergistic way
  • Ensure the group’s practices comply with company policies and other regulations.

The leaders of employee groups owe their members to:

  • Focus the group’s work to make a meaningful impact on the organization (instead of wasting resources and the member’s time on projects or activities that do not create value, are meaningless or even harmful to the organization)
  • Get funds, active support, and political backing in the organization.

Both, the organization and the employee group benefits from the connection with an executive sponsor.

 

What to look for in an executive sponsor?
What to look for in an executive sponsor?

No silver bullet

When you are looking for an executive sponsor, what are you looking for?  What are the relevant criteria?  – Executive sponsorship is a role, just like any other job, so what would a job description for an executive sponsor look like?

Bear in mind that there is no one right answer for the working relationship with an executive sponsor.  The sponsor role and level of involvement varies and depends on many factors.  It also shifts over time with the changing maturity of the group and its leadership, for example, or levels of involvement and autonomy of the group.  A new group may turn to the sponsor for help with forming, direction, and funding where a mature group may seek business insights, refined success metrics, and leadership development opportunities.

 Criteria for an Executive Sponsor

A perfect sponsor effectively leverages their personal brand, relationships, resources to enhance the visibility and credibility of the group.  Look to ‘recruit’ a well-known leader, who is well-connected within the leadership team and respected throughout the organization.  In an earlier post, we briefly touched on “How to attract an executive sponsor?

Ideally, the sponsor is a top-level executive ‑ you hit the jackpot if you can get the CEO!

Overall, the group’s expectations of the sponsor’s role usually include that the sponsor:

  • Serves as a champion of the group
  • Gives strategic direction to align with the organization’s business strategy
  • Helps to identify measurable success criteria that support business goals
  • Provides advice and counsel to guide the group’s development
  • Connects to a broad network of relationships
  • Liaises with the executive team and accepts accountability
  • Helps actively to identify and overcome obstacles and resistance within the organization
  • Supports the group through communication and visibility.

The stronger your sponsor, the stronger the group!  A strong sponsor

  • Shares valuable business knowledge
  • Demonstrates leadership, and is
  • Genuinely willing to help others.

A good sponsor encourages people to focus on how to engage others and improve communication, enhances the members’ leadership qualities and developing partnerships while helping to overcome barriers.

The sponsor you do NOT want

On the other end of the spectrum, there are also people you should avoid as executive sponsors for the group.  This category includes people who:

  • Provide lip-service over taking action
  • Use the group for selfish reasons; for example, by claiming and promoting achievements of group members as their own
  • Do not see the potential and value that the group can add to the organization and its businesses
  • Do not make enough time to work with the group
  • Are ineffective or unwilling to support and protect the group from opposing forces.

Finally, if you have the choice, avoid the temptation to have a group of executives ‘share’ responsibility and ‘champion’ the group collectively.  This tends to dilute accountability and action while increasing communication and coordination overhead.

There is much truth in the saying:  ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’

Too many cooks spoil the broth.
‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’

One of us?

Often enough, sponsors are chosen or step up because they originate from the group’s affinity core, i.e. they are of the same ethnicity that ethic-focused group represents, a female for a women’s group, a gay or lesbian for an LGBT group, and so on ‑ you get the picture.  I advocate against this practice for two reasons, in particular:  First, with an ‘outsider’ you achieve more diversity and mutual learning experiences in the group as well as for the sponsor.  Secondly, the group becomes more believable as a business driver that attracts a broader membership base instead of risking to be perceived as an ‘insider club’ limited to members with a certain ‘diversity ticket’.

For the same reasons, you may also consider rotating sponsors every few years.

Quid pro quo

What you want is an involved and effective executive sponsor.  Now, this sponsor role comes with additional work, responsibility, and risks for the senior leader’s reputation and career.  Therefore, this ‘job opening’ must be compelling enough to attract a senior executive to step forward and sign up.

It is important to offer a value proposition that makes clear what is in it for the executive sponsor to make this symbiosis work.  It is quite similar as discussed in “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) for the group members.

Know your sponsor

Sponsors are humans too, so here are some thoughts on how to approach them:  Get to know your sponsor first, just as you would prepare and approach to meet any other very important customer or external business partner.  Find out their goals, interests, beliefs, priorities, constraints of the political and economic environment, and personal work-style.  What exactly is the sponsor’s interest in your group?

Clarify your expectations mutually.  Once you know your sponsor and built rapport, it becomes easy to offer what is important to them and helping the sponsor to achieve their goals too.

A value proposition that addresses the (financial) bottom line is powerful and convincing.  It also enables the sponsor to communicate the benefits with the leadership team in a (business) language that everyone understands.  It takes business acumen, though, to specify and articulate the financial impact.  If this is not your strong suit, you need to find other compelling upsides or values that the group can bring to the business and that is close to a sponsor’s heart.

Do and Don’t:  How to work with the executive sponsor

Here is some practical advice on working with an executive sponsor.

On the Do side, preparation and focus are key.  Remember, this is a business meeting.  The executive’s time is valuable, so be respectful of it and do not waste it.  You want the sponsor to remain approachable and willing to meet with you in the future whenever you need to see them urgently.

  • Schedule appointments regularly (monthly, for example, if the sponsor agrees) with an agenda of topics to discuss
  • Provide background information on meeting topics ahead of time and come well prepared
  • Be on time and keep meetings on schedule
  • Present any problems with a proposed solution
  • Inform of  issues in the workplace that affect the group and propose what the sponsor can to mitigate or resolve the issues
  • Be honest with your sponsor – do not sugarcoat, blame others, or cover-up mistakes
  • Give your sponsor a heads-up also before taking more public and visible action so they will not get caught by surprise – if there is bad news, share it with the sponsor first
  • Discuss key goals and ask them for guidance, advice or assistance – allow your sponsor to help you and the group
  • Reserve your requests for sponsor appearances and events to where it counts most.  For example, as a speaker at a ‘headline’ event to draw a crowd, attract new members, and demonstrate the group’s value for the business.  Ask if the sponsor is willing to recruit other executives or respected business partners and customers as guest speakers or participants.
  • The sponsor could host a luncheon or dinner for the group’s leadership once or twice a year to meet everyone in person, discuss, and recognize achievements of the group and individual members.

As for the Don’ts, try to avoid these pitfalls:

  • Don’t come with a hidden personal agenda – it’s strictly about the group
  • Don’t bother the sponsor with petty day-to-day issues – focus on the meaningful impact on the business and the group
  • Don’t ask for general funding or support – be specific and have data and facts ready to support your case
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and advice – but also don’t come just to commiserate.

Beyond the job description

Don’t underestimate the importance of the right chemistry between the group leader(s) and the exec sponsor; it is crucial to establish and foster a trustful, constructive, and pleasant work relationship.

For an employee group, executive sponsorship is more than the group’s endorsement by senior management: a strong sponsor becomes the lifeline when times get rough.

So when you go out to ‘hire’ your executive sponsor, also hire for the right attitude.

Next-generation ERG learn from U.S. Army recruitment!

What do Generation Y (GenY) oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERG) share with the military?  – More than you expect!  A constant supply of active members is the life-blood for any ERG to put plans into action and prevent established activists from burning out.  The U.S. Army faces a similar challenge every year: how to attract and recruit the youngest adult generation?  Next-generation ERGs listen up:  Let the U.S. Army work for you and learn some practical lessons!

The U.S. Army brand

Everyone knows the U.S. Army. This American icon has been around for well over 230 years!

The ‘U.S. Army’ is more than a well-known military force. We recognize it as a brand.  Just like ‘Coca-Cola’ or ‘IBM’ portray and advertise a certain company image to sell its product, the U.S. Army needs to constantly appeal with a unique value proposition for new recruits to enlist. The ‘product’ offered if what the recruit expect to get out of it along the lines of ‘what is in it for me’ (WIIFM).

From this commercial perspective, it seems only natural that the U.S. Army hires world-class advertisement agencies to help meeting recruitment targets.  Marketing and advertisement gained importance especially since the U.S. Army turned into an all-volunteer force in 1973. This is similar to a voluntary ERG membership.

Aiming at a moving target

We distinguish four generations at the workplace today. Each comes with different motivations and characteristics.  The collective personality or zeitgeist influences each generation’s behavior and values.  These need to be considered to adapt and effectively connect with each generation in its own way to maximize their potential and productivity for the better of the organization overall.

You can easily find this spectrum of generations reflected in the historic recruitment campaigns of the U.S. Army.  The U.S. Army ‘brand’ changes over time and adapts to appeal and attract fresh recruits.

Let’s take a look at these recruiting campaigns for the four generations before we move on to extract the practical benefits for ERGs today:

1.  Veterans, Silent or Traditional Generation (born 1922 to 1945)

"I Want You"
Uncle Sam

I admit, in practice this campaign hardly affects today’s ERG anymore since most of this age group has already left the workforce by now.

Nonetheless, using the ‘propaganda’ flavor in this message proved very successful in both WWI and WWII.

‘Uncle Sam’ captures the essence of a generation of disciplined conformers with much respect for authority and an ingrained understanding that duty to the country is an obligation.

2.  Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964)

The U.S. Army became an all-volunteer force in 1973, which changed the recruiting game entirely.  Not being able to rely on a general draft anymore, the U.S. Army needed a new approach to attract a steady stream of voluntary recruits.

This coincided with an upcoming new generation of the younger Baby Boomers generally characterized as full of optimism and thirst for social engagement.  To tackle the new challenge of effective marketing, the U.S. Army brought in a professional advertisement agency.

"Today's Army"
Who expects “Today’s Army” to be a fun crowd playing football?

The first ads to the “Today’s Army wants to join you” campaign (1971 to 1980) suggest membership in a nice group of people sharing many similarities.

Also, women were now encouraged to enlist. It’s all about optimism, getting together and being involved!

This was a gutsy and somewhat liberal first step to attract a volunteer force.  Though thinking ‘out-of-the-box’ it did not work out all that smoothly as indicated by changes following quickly.

"Join the People who Joined the Army"
All serious in 1973

This ad (1973 to 1976) is like a pendulum swinging back to the opposite extreme!

Tone and focus changed dramatically in this newer version of “Join the People” emphasizing the seriousness and commitment of being a soldier while also highlighting personal benefits.

The message is clear:  No more playing around here, responsibility and duty is back, no more football on the beach!

Finally, the U.S. Army settled on a more balanced campaign.

"This is the Army"
Blends people & duty

Here is an example for “This Is the Army” campaign ads.  The headlines read “In Europe You’re on Duty 24 Hours a Day, but the Rest of the Time Is Your Own” or “Back home, I wouldn’t mind doing the work I’m doing here” influenced also by a loss of military reputation after the Vietnam war.

One campaign or another, the U.S. Army missed its recruitment goal by more than 17.000 in 1979.  This announced a new generation, GenX, coming with a different background and values that required the U.S. Army to re-think and find a new approach.

3.  Generation X (born 1965 to 1980)

Birthrates cut into the recruitment pool. In addition, the smaller Generation X turns out to be tough to target.

This generation came with an inherent distrust of authority originating from geopolitical change as well as changes in western society and family structures.  Despite GenX’s dominant drive for independence and self-reliance, this generation is also looking for structure and direction in life.

6 Be all you can be ad
Personal growth

“Be All You Can Be” (1980 to 2001) emphasizes a personal challenge and an opportunity for self-development, i.e. taking charge of your fate to become a better individual.  Note that the “we” is gone,  it’s all about “me” for GenX.

The benefits offered by the U.S. Army included significant education support.  (The U.S. military remains the largest ‘education organization’ in the U.S. in terms of funding tuition, in particular.)

 

3 "Army of One" logo
Self-reliant GenX

The succeeding “Army of One” campaign (2001 to 2006) hits the true core of the independent GenX by underlining the single person in their message.

However, the campaign was also short-lived because a focus on the independent individual appeared contrary to the idea of teamwork that any military organization relies on and cannot work without.

Facing demographic decline, recruiting advertisement reached out into Spanish-speaking ‘markets’ (in a campaign known as “Yo Soy el Army”) to tap into the increasing Hispanic population.

 

Image result for image top gun free online
Top Gun (1986) movie

 

The U.S. Army made more use of TV advertisement to reach GenX, a generation brought up in front of a TV.

Perhaps the boldest recruitment stunt was the 1986 smash movie “Top Gun” – sponsored by the Pentagon in need of a major image boost. And it worked! Think about it: Tom Cruise is a self-reliant ace who has a problem with accepting authority – a poster-boy Gen-Xer. In the end, he became a valuable team player for the greater good meeting the military’s needs and got the girl.

4.  Generation Y or Millennials (born 1981 to 2001)

The ongoing “Army Strong” campaign builds on a proposition of lifelong strength through training, teamwork, shared values and personal experience.  – What a change from the previous focus on independence for GenX!

“Army Strong” also suggests contemporary leadership, personal empowerment and strength building that found on shared values.
(Read more on managing Generation Y at Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?)

Here, ‘strength’ is meant literally:  The U.S. Army overhauled the fitness training to ‘toughen up’ this generation.  Weakened by a more tranquil lifestyle (such as video-gaming),  GenY-ers often lack experience with physical confrontation that is unavoidable and crucial for effective warriors.

Army Strong
“Army Strong” since 2006

Perhaps confusing for older generations, “Army Strong” caters to GenY’s interest in making a difference not only in their lives but also for their extended communities.  Work is less central in this generation while individuality and leisure value high.

The campaign milks the social ties deliberately addressing not only recruits but also the people who love and support them, i.e. the people who influence the recruits’ decisions such as family and friends as well as the broader public.

Print ad for "Army Strong"
GenY pride and social values

Consequently, the U.S. Army presents itself more as a responsible and somewhat selfless social service in advertisements by highlighting how soldiers serve their communities and for their nation beyond executing force during a conflict.

The U.S. Army adapts its spectrum of communication channels to keep up with GenY, a generation for which technology serves as an extension of their personality and their physical selves.  Constantly online and connectedness with an appealing adventurous fun-factor, the U.S. Army is present across the entire landscape of noteworthy social media these days – it even entertains its own video game to warm up GenY.

Targets on the demographic curve

Next-generation ERGs and the U.S. Army both aim to attract a specific demographic:  The U.S. Army targets 17 to 24-year-old recruits, looking at the lower end, while ERGs typically look for the older end, i.e. young adults with professional training, perhaps a college degree and some work experience.

Thus, the U.S. Army’s target demographic starts just a few years younger than the typical employees entering the (civilian) workforce, so the U.S. Army operates a bit ahead of the age curve that becomes relevant for ERG membership recruitment.

Let the U.S. Army do your research!

Using this time difference to their advantage, next-generation ERGs, in particular, benefit from the U.S. Army doing the heavy lifting with regard to generational research.  With the U.S. Army’s advertisement contract worth more than $200 million each year (or $2,500+ per recruit) don’t fool yourself:  an ERG will never have funds anywhere close to hire a top-notch advertisement agency for attracting new members … unless you are perhaps the guys who invented Google or so…  J

From a next-generation-ERG’s perspective, here is what you can reap:

  • Target Characteristics

Using its marketing dollars, the U.S. Army identifies the characteristics of your future demographics for you – for free!  Look at how the U.S. Army is targeting today.  It gives you a clear picture of what the characteristics are of your next ERG generation tomorrow.

The U.S. Army shares its findings publicly.  This includes a sharp outline of the specific characteristics of the youngest employees that enter your workplace now or it in the near future.  So, keep an eye on the U.S. Army’s next recruiting campaign and time is on your side!

  • Trial-and-Error without getting hurt

It gets even better.  The U.S. Army provides you with field test results on whether their findings hold true in practice:  The U.S. Army’s annual recruitment figures serve as a success criterion for the recruiting campaign.  These figures are available in the public domain and found easily online within seconds.

  • The early warning signal

If the actual Army recruitment figure exceeds or falls short of the target figure (somewhere around 80.000 recruits each year), you get an idea what worked and what did not.  The latter reflects not only that the campaign lost effectiveness but may also indicate that the next generation has arrived with a changed set of values and characteristics.  – Use this as a free early‑warning system for your ERG!

Note that over the past five years the U.S. Army’s number of “accessions” (=recruits) exceeded the “mission” (=target value); note though that the “mission” bar was lowered in 2009 and 2010.

When the U.S. Army misses its recruitment target in the future, the next campaign is just around the corner.  A significant change in the core message targets the next generation.  So, here comes your next lesson and opportunity for the ERGs!

Back to the Future?

If the U.S. Army is not for you, don’t worry.  Choose any military branch of your liking – they all face the same challenge.  You don’t need to love the military to learn from it, and the lessons are valuable.

As a general yet effective approach to strategic innovation, keep an eye on industries and organizations that face similar challenges earlier than you do.  Learn from them and prepare your business and ERG for the change.

Starting an ERG as a strategic innovation engine! (part 3 of 3)

While many companies demand creativity and innovation from their staff few companies seem to know how to make it work. – Is your organization among those hiring new staff all the time to innovate? The hire-to-innovate practice alone is not a sustainable strategy and backfires easily.

An alternative and sustainable way to tap deep into your employees’ creative potential and turning it into solid business value is by forming an employee resource group (ERG). A well-crafted ERG serves as a powerful and strategic innovation engine for your organization!

Losing the innovative edge?
It is the large companies that seem to struggle with innovation most. When companies grow they tend to become less innovative. When this happens we see great talent turning into under-performing employees. – Why is that and is there a way out?

Stuck in mental models of the past?
Remember the heavy dinosaurs that finally got stuck in the pre-history tar pits and starved, too heavy to move themselves out of the calamity? Mental models are the tar pits that companies grow to get stuck in – unless they find a way to shed (mental) weight and think nimble again to survive.

The mental models often originate from days past when the business started and flourished with initial success. The models worked when the company grew back then but models out-date easily over time. At some point the company began to work harder to standardize its processes to ensure the output is delivered reliably and predictably and costs are driven down: the focus shifted from innovation to efficiency. Specialized and refined business functions create increasingly complex and bureaucratic processes, ‘standard operating procedures’ rule the course of action. Things don’t move fast here anymore. Improvement ideas from employee on the floor hardly make it to the top executives and starve somewhere in between, probably in the famous ‘idea box’…

> For more general insight on complexity as a leadership challenge, read this: ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?

This focus on incremental efficiency also traps R&D departments to a point where true creativity and innovation get stifled, the innovative output drops. In short, the larger a company the less it innovates. Sounds familiar?

Many companies chose the dangerous and seemingly easy way out in buying new ideas from the outside through acquisitions and hiring ‘new talent’. The danger lays in applying this practice too broadly and becoming reliant on this practice, i.e. getting trapped in a vicious and reinforcing cycle. This practice also alienates and frustrates the more seasoned employees who feel underutilized and –quite rightly so see their career opportunities dwindling. Soon enough the sour side of the hire-for-innovation practice for employees becomes transparent also to the newer employees and drives them away in frustration. This organization just found the perfect recipe to turn top talent into poor performers!

Don’t waste your human capital
Bringing in fresh brains to an organization may justify mergers, acquisitions or hiring at times – but not as a strategy for continuous innovation and without also at least trying to tap into the innovative capacity that lays dormant within the organization.

Don’t write your staff off easily by following blindly the common yet wrong assumption that an employee loses the creative spirit after a few years and that new hires would be more innovative than whom we already have working for us. Haven’t we hired the best and brightest consistently in the past? Well, then this logic doesn’t add up, right?

Ask yourself: have you lost your innovative edge? Will you personally be more innovative once you change to another employer? – I don’t think so either. The good news is that even if you don’t believe it, changes are that managers and human resource experts of your new employer do, at least the ones who follow the outdated mental model! – But then, how long can you expect to last there before you get written off? It’s like getting on a train to nowhere.

Derailing the train to nowhere
But seriously, the seasoned employees’ intimate knowledge of the organization and its people can hold enormous potential for innovation not only under financial considerations but also as a morale booster for staff. Getting personally involved more and engaging them in driving change again actively leads the way to measurable and favorable results for the organization. These employees are the people who know your business, your markets, your customers and where to find resources and short-cuts if needed to get things done! Remember the “Radar” character in M*A*S*H who creatively procured whatever his unit needed by knowing how to play ‘the system’ and navigate the cliffs of bureaucracy on unconventional routes?

So, how can you motivate and (re-)activate your employees to come forward with brilliant ideas and getting them implemented to boost the organization’s profitability? How can you spread new hope and direct the enthusiasm to practical and meaningful outcomes for the company and the individual employee alike?

Facing organizational barriers
There is no shortage of good ideas in the heads of employees. Too few of them, however, actually get picked up and implemented since organizational barriers have many dimensions the need to be overcome first. Here are some examples:

  • A vertical barrier effectively disconnects employees from the executive level which hold the (financial and other) resources to make things happen. Penetrating this barrier means to connect the people within the organization closely and effectively again. > Readers of my previous post What does take to keep innovating? (part 1) will recognize that an executive champion is needed who brings together the technical and business champions. If you feel intrapreneurial and consider becoming an executive champion, check this out: How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2)
  • The horizontal barrier separates business functions and operating units that evolved to become silos or manager’s ‘fiefdoms’ of sub-optimized local productivity often with lesser concern to the overall performance of the organization. What you are up against here is often enough beyond specialized deep expertise but also defensive egos and managerial status thinking that led to a comfortable and change-adverse local equilibrium. As an intrapreneur you bring a much needed yet disruptive element to the organization. Since you are rocking the boat you can get caught up in ‘politics’ easily. Functional managers and their staff may perceive you as throwing a wrench into their well-oiled and fine-tuned machine that could jeopardize not only their unit’s efficiency but also their personal incentives for keeping operations running smoothly. > For more insight on the tension field of management vs. leadership check out Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?
  • Another barrier relates to the perceived value that your work creates for the organization, so let’s call it the value barrier: When you start acting intrapreneurial, you may be seen as someone wasting resources, incurring additional cost or generating questionable value (if any value at all) in the eyes of executives and other managers.

Therefore it is of critical importance to clearly demonstrate the business value your work adds to the organization. Based on an unambiguous success metrics the value proposition needs to be communicated clearly and frequently especially to executive management to gain their buy-in and active support.

These and possibly more barriers are a tough challenge. Now, I assume you are not the almighty ‘Vice President of Really Cool Stuff’ (that would be my favorite future job title!) but hold a somewhat lower rank. Perhaps you got stuck in the wrong department (the one without the Really Cool Stuff).

So, where do you start to innovate and ‘rescue’ your organization from a looming train-wreck scenario?

Breaking down barriers by innovating from within using ERGs

A vehicle I tried out quite successfully over the past years was forming an employee resource group (ERG). This grassroots approach has the power to crash right through the vertical, horizontal and value barriers while driving change effectively and sustainably through the organization as a strategic innovation engine.

> A previous post discusses the business model behind the ERG approach in more detail: Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!

Here are the first steps on the way to founding an ERG:

  • Identify a business need and build a business case, i.e. a clear value proposition aimed at executive management convincing them of the need and benefits of forming an ERG within the limits of company policies. Attracting an influential executive sponsor to gain buy-in is a key requirement for instituting an ERG successfully. The sponsor serves as a political and resourceful ally, an experienced advisor and advocate but also ensures strategic alignment of the ERG’s activities with the broader goals of the company.Since executives value their time more than yours, keep it short and to the point. Think executive summary style and offer details separately for those who chose to dig deeper and to demonstrate that you thought this whole thing through. If your organization already has a distinguished officer or departments with a vested interest in employee engagement for example then connect, collaborate and leverage your joint forces. > More on how to build a case study for an ERG at: Q&A – Case study for founding a business-focused ERG
  • Get organized! Seek voluntary members and reach out to future constituency of the ERG. Active members are needed as the driving force and source of ideas that the ERG turns into business projects aimed to innovate and energize the organization.
    The first ERG I founded was “NxGen”, which stands for the “Next Generation at the Workplace”. The NxGen ERG has a generational orientation but is open to all employees regardless of their age or workplace generation. Nonetheless, from the start mostly the youngest employees (Generation Y) drove NxGen. In many cases they did not know of each other as the GenY-ers were spread thin across the various business functions of the company.The GenY-ers, in particular, found a forum in the NxGen ERG to get to know each other in the first place. We then focused on goals based on shared values or needs to build a strong support network within the company. At all times we kept the ERG open and inclusive to interested employees join from other workplace generations.

    The ERG offers its members a safe environment to discuss issues and ideas. It also serves as an informal forum to find coaches and mentors for personal development or specific projects and initiatives. Active ERG membership allows less experienced employees to quickly acquire new skills and test them in real-life by running a project hands-on even in areas outside of their job description or business function to address needs close to their heart with tangible business value. Here, the ERG serves as a very practical leadership development pipeline and safe ground for experimentation within the organization.

    > More on the virtues of Generation Y as I experience it in NxGen under: Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?

  • Get active by launching business-focused projects. Again, you are targeting management and executives in particular to build credibility and thereby become more effective over time.Start with feasible projects of high visibility and short duration that address a significant business need with a clear and quantifiable success metrics. For each project seek executive sponsorship at the highest level you can attain from the business area that the project affects. Make sure to communicate your successes broadly and frequently to kick-start the ERG. Stick to a clear, specific and unambiguous metrics for your success; if you can tie it to a monetary ROI the better, as this is the language of business. > More on establishing a success metric under: Driving the ROI – where to start your projects metrics?

    Showcasing and celebrating your successes as an ERG motivates the already active members, keeps attracting new members and builds credibility among executives to keep the ERG wheels turning as a strategic innovation engine for your organization.

On a personal note
The example of the NxGen ERG is very real. NxGen was nationally recognized as best-practices ERG within 5 months (!) of its founding and became a valued and frequent sounding board for C-level executives within one year. The ERG has no funds of its own yet runs projects and initiatives nationally and internationally that already shifted the company culture and opened it more for change.

References and additional reading

Difference affords opportunity – social media leverage by an ERG

Yammer.com is a micro-blogging platform which allowed our NxGen ERG to reach out to employees and engage them in a new way for our company.

Here is what we did and how it worked for us. – Note that my good friend and co-founder of our NxGen ERG, Dr. David Thompson, wrote this article when he was invited to guest blog on Yammer.com directly!

Difference affords opportunity – how an ERG uses social media to each out to employees (by Dr. David Thompson)

Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!

The proposed business model for ERGs forms a foundation for continued innovation, strategic alignment and measurable results. It turns an ERG into a true and sustainable business resource for its members as well as the hosting organization.

Summary – The increasing diversity of employees at the workplace led to employees gathering along affinity dimensions like birds-of-a-feather to form networking groups within organizations. The next step goes beyond affinity and establishes employee resource groups (ERGs) strategically as a business resource and powerful driver for measurable business impact and strategic innovation bottom-up.

Limited to social?

Employee resource groups (ERGs) emerge for various reasons. They tend to start with a social underpinning that naturally unites and organizes like-minded employees. ERGs come in different flavors mostly along the traditional lines of diversity characteristics such as ethnicity, skin color, age, gender, physical (dis)ability, sexual orientation, military veterans, etc.

For ERGs, a ‘social stickiness’ is important and can be the key integrating factor of employee populations within organizations. It may also influence the choices of ERG goals and activities to a large extent. This may result, however, in possibly limiting the ERG and its members to be seen as a ‘social club’ of sorts by others. Management, in particular, may not see the direct (or even indirect) positive business impact that an ERG can have.

This is where ERGs can fall short: when they fail to tie a strong business-focused bond that ensures continued support by leadership that in return ensures the ERG can sustain and proper for the better of its members as well as the hosting organization.

Becoming a business resource

From a management perspective, ERGs can provide social ties within the workforce that are mostly seen as favorable ‑ at least as long as it does not affect the employee performance; whether perceived or real.

Better off is the ERG that demonstrates an unambiguous contribution to the bottom line. A clear business value proposition sets a solid foundation that makes it easy to communicate with and convince executives securing their continued support. The company benefits from positive business outcomes as a direct result of the ERG activities, while it engages employees broader and deeper. This uses more of the employees’ true potential to ‘maximize the human capital’ as an important element also of employee engagement, development and retention.

This approach serves not only the company but has advantages also for its employees and the ERG in return. The ERG members benefit directly in many ways such as by interesting work outside the immediate scope of their job, by developing new skills and by increasing their visibility within the organization and continued ‘employability’, i.e. their personal market value as an employee.

So what is the key to success, how do you ‘build’ an innovation-driven and business-focused ERG?

A ‘business model’ for ERGs

My proposal is to establish the ERG as a self-propelling and sustainable system, an ongoing process that continues functioning quite independently from changes in the ERG leadership and consistently delivers innovations. Individual leaders are important for operations and make valuable contributions, but the ERG must be able to continue functioning even if key players become unavailable and replaced.

The following dimensions are generic and apply to any organization. Here, we use them to describe a general business model for the ERG:

1.       Strategy

2.       People

3.       Processes

4.       Organization

5.       Metrics/Rewards.

Dimensions of a business model
The five dimensions of an ERG business model

To illustrate the model and making it more tangible I use a generic example. It is based on NxGen (for Next Generation at the Workplace), a generational-oriented and business-focused ERG that I founded. NxGen was recognized in early 2010 as a best-practices approach by the National Affinity Leadership Congress (NALC).

1. Strategy

The strategy brings to the point the ERG’s goal and objectives. A well-thought-out value proposition is a foundation for the ERG.

For example, NxGen is a forum to develop leadership skills, networking and problem-solving that aims to open up cross-functional/cross-disciplinary opportunities for its active members through strategic business projects with measurable results. As a goal, NxGen aims to become a sounding board for management as a valued business resource.

2. People practices

People, active volunteers, are the life-blood of every ERG. Staffing and selection are crucial and continued activities to induce fresh ideas and prevent burn-out of established ERG members. What you are looking for are active volunteers who are passionate and energetic. You want members who become active change agents, role models, within the organization. Value a diverse set of backgrounds and capabilities that can complement another.

Rather than trying to recruit new members, focus on how to attract new members to engage and actively participate (in contrast to the ones signing up to receive email updates or a periodic newsletter, which is a passive form of membership). NxGen membership is open to all employees.

There is a broad range of benefits for active ERG members that can include (but are definitely not limited to):

  • Insight and work in other business functions and departments
  • Members lead a relevant project possibly in another business function
  • Experiment and learn in a safe and nurturing environment
  • Develop and apply skills like leadership, consulting, problem-solving
  • Build an open and supportive network with members coaching each other
  • Increased visibility within the organization
  • Potential to open new career opportunities
  • Making a measurable change in the organization here and now.

At NxGen, we see that younger employees (primarily Generation Y also called Millennial, born after 1980) tend to drive the ERG activities most. The explanations I offer is that GenY’ers, in particular, enter the workplace as well-educated professionals, optimistic and motivated to make a difference. GenY was brought up to believe they can achieve anything and are interested to explore lateral career moves. They are used to collaborating in teams to overcome obstacles and network while leveraging technology effectively to this end. At the workplace, GenY typically is not (yet) part of the decision-making bodies due to their junior positions ‑ but they do want to be heard (and should be listed to given their increasing numbers in the demographic shift of the population that has reached the workforce).

3. Processes

The ERG acts through business-relevant projects. At NxGen, the member ‘grass-roots’ identify otherwise un-addressed or under-served business needs that the ERG chooses to pursue. Based on a clear value proposition (return-on-investment, ROI) for the organization the ERG seeks executive sponsorship for each project. The executive sponsor ensures strategic alignment with the organization’s goal, expertise in the functional area, political support and funding for the project (since the ERG has no funds of its own).

The project scope often lays outside of the immediate job description of the ERG-appointed project leader allowing for broader hands-on learning opportunities. Applying professional project management methods to all projects ensures the projects deliver the specified deliverables.

The ERG core team steers and administrates the ERG project portfolio which is documented in an annual business plan and shared publicly. As resources are limited, not all imaginable projects can be conducted at once but are staged. Projects can build upon and leverage each other while making use of synergies whenever possible.

In the beginning, it might be challenging to find meaningful projects that make the best use of the ERG’s resources and capabilities with favorable business impact. It takes time and persistence to develop a trustful relationship with executive management and to gain credibility as an ERG to attracts more complex and important projects from management in return.
NxGen works and communicates openly, it acts transparently and leverages (social) media to inform and connect with its members and non-members displaying operations and result of the ERG’s work.

4. Organization

The NxGen ERG operates within a general framework set by a company’s office to ensure all ERGs abide the company policies. This office also provides an organizational home for ERGs within the company. It generally coordinates and supports the different activities across ERGs and ensures each ERG has a distinguished executive sponsor to connect the ERG with senior management.

A charter defines the basic roles and processes of the NxGen ERG in more detail and is posted publicly. A core team of active members guides the ERG activities and ensures ERG operability. The core team is lead by the ERG’s elected chair and co-chair(s); it further comprises the project leaders, distinguished role-holders, and liaisons to key functions in the organization. The core team members support and advise each other. The ERG provides a safe and social environment that relies on trust among the members to connect, to build relationships, to network and to run projects.

NxGen actively reaches out to other ERGs, innovative groups within the organization but also other operating units and companies to cooperate, share, benchmark and collaborate on common goals.

5. Metrics and rewards system

How do you measure success, i.e. the effectiveness of an ERG? An annual business plan covers the portfolio of ERG projects. It serves as an instrument to measure the ERG performance across all ERG activities that the ERG chair is held accountable for.

What are the rewards for active ERG members? Besides the benefits listed in the above section ‘People’, accountability and success for individual members derive from their projects or their input to other ERG activities that all have clear objectives and a success metrics attached. Driving the change and making a difference is a reward in itself.

NxGen and individual members received several awards and recognition for their work inside and outside the company which the ERG celebrates in public. Some members list their ERG involvement and experience proudly on their résumé which is an indicator that the ERG’s value proposition is effective for its members, i.e. the members value the ERG membership, projects, recognition and awards as means of their ‘employability’.

Building the ERG as an innovation incubator

The business model positions the ERG clearly as a powerful business resource for the organization but it can be even more. The ERG can serve as an ‘innovation incubator’ by combining an attractive system with creative space in an effective governance framework. The processes create measurable value for the individual and the organization that can significantly contribute to process innovation and also drives product innovation.

In an empowering bottom-up movement, the ERG directly connects its active members from any level of hierarchy with the decision-makers high up. This bears the potential to cut right through established or perceived boundaries such as hierarchy, bureaucracy, and red-tape or functional silos that may severely limit the effectiveness and innovative effectiveness of other units that were created top-down within the organization.

Herein lays the deeper potential of ERGs as a true business resource and going beyond possible self-inflicted limitation to social affinity. ERGs can well be the means that contribute to driving the future success of an organization for an organization that understands and value how ERGs open opportunities to tap into its workforce and unleashes hidden potential.

Additional reading

Driving the ROI – where to start your projects metrics?

The most compelling metrics focuses on the business impact of an ERG rather than on ‘measuring the ERG’. Here are the rationale and a generic approach to deriving meaningful and business-relevant metrics for ERG projects.

Driving the ROI – where to start your projects metrics?

So you have started your ERG and done your homework on what the business strategy of your organization is. You also found areas of need in your organization that you want to address with some serious projects. – But where to start building a project metrics? What is important, what makes sense and is meaningful?

Establishing metrics can be stressful and confusing. What metrics persuade your stakeholders? Less is often more, so focus on just a few parameters that are to the point rather than drowning in a myriad of complicated and detailed measurements that will quickly suck your precious time and bore your audience to death.

In general, your project metrics can reflect the ERG or focus on the business results that the ERG achieves – I opt for emphasizing the latter.

ERG focused metrics

Let’s look at the ERG focused metrics first. It seems the traditional approach for most ERGs that may have evolved from affinity and network groups: The basic idea in establishing this kind of metrics is to help justify the ERG by demonstrating its growth and maturity over time. The typical metrics are, for example, the number of active and passive members, the participants in meetings, how many new faces (=potential recruits) show up and how many of them signed up as members, etc. These figures are helpful to explain that there is an interest in the ERG, what happened to funds (often spent on catering) or if the organization met demographic goals of diversity, for example.

However, if you measure along these lines alone you may miss out on leveraging your ERG to get recognized and valued as a credible business resource to the organization.

Business-focused Metrics

Question for you: which message does an executive find more compelling? “The ERG has 300 members and meets monthly for two hours.” or “The ERG contributed to $260 million in sales last year.”

Now, this kind of metrics takes a different approach, doesn’t it? It aims at driving business results, the famous return-on-investment (ROI), the ‘bottom-line’. It easily grasps a stakeholder’s attention because it demonstrates a significant and direct value proposition for the company.

By the way, the above example is real! According to DiversityInc.com, Ford Motor Co. directly linked the sales of $260m in one year to an initiative of its InterFaith ERG!
– Look it up yourself if you like: http://www.diversityinc.com/cgi-bin/cms/article.cgi?mode=printable&id=284

Not all goals are high rolling and they also depend on the business you are in. The spectrum of possible success metrics is broad and ranges from obvious business goals such as increasing revenue, profit, market share, quality, speed and customer satisfaction to –perhaps‑ less obvious ones such as increasing employee satisfaction, intellectual property created, employee acquisition and retention or reducing turnover, waste or business risks, just to give some examples.

How to get started

For many ERG leaders, the most difficult question is how to establish a metrics when the targets appear fuzzy and are not as easy to grasp as a sales figure that was either met or not.

To find your bearings, try this: Relax. Breathe deeply. Then take a step back and use your imagination… Envision a picture of what the results look like when the project completed successfully. What do you see when you have reached the goal, what are the visible and tangible results, what has changed?

Now describe this envisioned picture in words in a demonstrative way using clear and unambiguous terms such as “By September 1st I want to be able to touch X and use to do Y with Z!”

This provides you with a great starting point to refine more specific requirements and also leads quite naturally to meaningful metrics in a simple but effective way such as the tangible deliverable (X), the target time until completion, some required feature (Y) and some input (Z) requirements in the example.

“What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

ERGs rely on active membership to succeed while the ERG in return can also provide the symbiotic grounds for personal and professional development and careers of its members.

“What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

What every new employee resource group (ERG) requires most are people: the life-blood for ideas and activities!  But how do you reach out to employees, help them understand the value of the ERG and get them involved to engage actively?

Communicating the benefits they have from joining and becoming an active member. Give them solid answers to their question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM).

From my experience, there are people in every organization that actively seek an opportunity to challenge and prove themselves, who want to develop new or apply acquired skills, make a significant difference even outside their immediate job requirements, impact the business results, going the ‘extra-mile’ and being recognized for it.

Take a look at the volunteers, the activists, the silent experts, the social connectors around you that show positive ‘organizational citizenship behavior’ within your organization. What are they interested in, what troubles them, what makes them ‘tick’? What opportunities does your ERG provide for them?

Now, ERGs may offer different benefits to its members. In general, fulfilling motivators can include:

  • Exposure to other business areas and insight to departments outside their day-job
  • Doing meaningful, interesting and business-relevant work
  • Solving a problem that many people share
  • Making a difference – directly, here and now
  • Personal growth and professional experience and development opportunities
  • Developing skills such as presentation, organization, negotiation, etc.
  • Meeting like-minded people to connect and network with
  • Visibility to management, leaders, and decision-makers within the company and possibly also outside the company
  • Receiving appreciation and recognition for achievements
  • Aiming for new career opportunities.

Find the driver and aim to form a symbiosis between member and ERG to the better of the organization, the individual member and the ERG.

A business focused ERG may even serve as a real-life ‘leadership development pipeline’ for the company where more experienced members support and coach the less experienced ones to reach a shared goal. This way an ambitious ERG member can gain hands-on experience in relevant business projects, lead increasingly larger projects and take on more responsibility over time while establishing a credible and professional track-record for themselves.

Now, those are achievements an employee can proudly point out in their next job interview, while the company and the ERG benefits from unleashing the employees full potential!

Q&A – Case study for founding a business-focused ERG

Answers to questions around establishing the NxGen ERG at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in 2009

If you are planning to found an ERG or are a new ERG Leaders, you might find the attached Q&A helpful.

In an interview style, here are the answers to the following questions around establishing the NxGen ERG (Next Generation at the Workplace) at Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) in 2009:

  • Where did the idea for NxGen originate?
  • Why was the Next Generation at the Workplace ERG necessary at BI?
  • What makes NxGen innovative? How do you think your approach to creating and growing this new ERG was different from the past?
  • What is the business case for the existence of NxGen? How do you link NxGen to BI business plans/activities?
  • How does the NxGen seek to drive innovation at BI?
  • Are there specific requirements for project size, scope, etc that the NxGen group takes on?
  • How are employees able to allocate time to create and develop NxGen projects?
  • Do the initiatives that arise out of NxGen resonate with other generations in the workplace? within BI?
  • What are the criteria necessary to make an ERG like yours successful? What role do NxGen members, executive management, and the overall company have in its success

Attachment: NxGen Case Study for NALC 2010

(Published also as “Expert Insights” in the Network and Affinity Leadership Handbook, Powerful tools for Employee Resource Groups, p.76-79, Diversity Best Practices, New York, NY; 2010)

How to attract an executive sponsor?

Effective executive sponsorship is a key success factor for ERGs. This posting discusses the benefits of executive sponsorship and how to attract and recruit an executive sponsor.

How to attract an executive sponsor?

All right, I take it you started building you ERG business case, as this is the first step to getting executive support to move on. (See the previous posting.)

You want to make sure the ERG’s goals are not only aligned with the company’s business strategies and are measurable! Having a clear and unambiguous success metrics at hand is the best basis for argumentation, to check your progress and finally document your success. It makes it so much easier to build credibility and trust as well as to communicate success clearly to get support throughout the organization. (Metrics will certainly be a future topic here!)

So look at the business areas, the strategic goals and high-level projects that your CEO communicates. Consider thinking along those lines to flesh out the need for your ERG, to set goals and getting ideas for projects that your ERG could work on in support of the business.

What you aim for is attracting a powerful executive sponsor that serves you and your ERG in several ways:

  • Support and promote the ERG’s activities actively
  • Help you navigating through the deep waters of corporate politics to keep you and your ERG out of trouble
  • Build alliances
  • Point out opportunities  and
  • Provide some basic funding to run the ERG
  • Offer advice when you need it (or when you think you don’t need it but then find out you were blindsided and now are happy you sponsor picked up on it!)

Look at your executive leadership team for a sponsor that has a vested interest in your ERG and its goals. Go out and talk to them, pitch your idea! Be creative how to approach them (this is actually a nice future topic by itself!). – You may be surprised how willing executives listen to compelling business logic that you unfold in front of the.

What are the business needs of the executive sponsor? Build them into your business plan. Consider synergistic ERG projects that will also help your sponsor achieving their goals. You may even ask what you could do for them and make sure to find out what the sponsor’s expectations are.

Be very respectful of their (valuable) time. Make it easy for them to follow you (give an informative summary, for example) and prepare for them what you want them to do (such as drafting an email you want them to send out).

Remember, from the executive sponsor down to each recruit each person wants to know: “What’s in it for me?” – Prepare to deliver!

How to start building a business-focused ERG?

Identifies the key objectives for any business-focused ERG and practical advice how to get started by developing a business case for founding an ERG.

How to start building a business-focused ERG?

Let’s start with what it takes to found a successful ERG on a high level and then drill down to real-life examples and practical advice.

What you cannot go without is a strategy that creates a business need before you drum up people which creates a buzz! You will have to make sure that you never run short of

  • Executive support for your ERG,
  • Recruiting members,
  • Showcasing your achievements and
  • Communicating effectively to meet the above three goals.

My approach was to build a business case to prove the company’s need for having the ERG.  To convince executives, explain to them what is in it for them, i.e. what the benefit is to the company and to them individually by supporting your ERG. Address very basic questions as a first step: Why does the company need this ERG? How will the company benefit from it measurably? What resources do you need to found and sustain the ERG?

Let me know what you think – more to come!

Why do companies need business-focused ERGs?

Changing the organization from within by engaging employees in business-focused employee resource groups (ERGs) – the practical “how-to” guide!

Why do companies need business-focused ERGs?

The answer can be as simple as this: Because it makes good business sense!

But what makes this answer so simple? – Well, because it’s made up of a few simple aspects:

First of all, every company, unless it is classified as a non-profit, is in business for one reason: to make money by providing some sort of product or service to its customers.

Simply put, if a company fails to rack up profits it will go out of business. That’s why focusing on the business benefits, the “bottom line”, the return on investment (ROI) makes not only sense but is key for successful employee resource groups (ERGs). It’s the bottom-line arguments, the financial benefits, that open the doors to executive support, buy-in, and funding.

Second, to take advantage of the diversity and capabilities of the human capital readily available.

Let’s look at companies, its workforce and its markets today: We live and work globally – everyone is connected. Our markets today are just as diverse and multi-faceted as our workforce should be. It takes all we know and who we are as diverse human beings (coming from different cultures and ethnicities, religious beliefs, physical characteristics, sexual orientation, and so on) to understand what our customers need and how we can give it to them.

Therefore, it makes sense not only to diversify the product portfolio to mitigate risk and seize opportunity but also to diversify the workforce for the same reasons. Not tapping into all of your workforce’s diversity and capabilities puts you at a disadvantage to companies who know how to maximize their human capital effectively.

Are you still with me? So, the next question is how to meet this goal.

Stay tuned for practical advice, keeping it simple, and examples taking you through the steps on how to build a business-focused ERG.

– Any questions so far?