The Future of Pharma: Calls Moving to Consults (video)

Calls Moving to Consults is a thought leadership video in the “10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015” series that was hosted by the stellar Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer with Cegedim.

This video addresses the question:  How can the pharmaceutical industry reskill representatives to be knowledgeable consultants to physicians?

Today, sales expertise is not enough. The pharmaceutical representative needs to be a broker of information. Physicians now have very limited time – and dictate when they can meet with representatives, from whom they need comprehensive information that they can pass along to their increasingly educated patients.

In this video, Jo Ann Saitta, Chief Digital Officer of the CDM Group, Stephan Klaschka, Innovation and Healthcare Consultant, and moderator, Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer at Cegedim, examine this shift and the challenges pharmaceutical companies may face in properly retraining their people. These challenges include: adopting a culture of learning agility; integrating silos of information; having the ability to serve up dynamic content; and training representatives to utilize technologies that will maximize their brief but demanding visits with physicians.

Use this link to watch all 10 videos in the series on YouTube directly – enjoy!

  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Communication moving to Collaboration
    • Angela Miccoli
    • Wendy Mayer
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Content moving to Context
    • James Corbett
    • Craig DeLarge
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Care moving to Cure
    • Michael DePalma
    • John Nosta
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Compliance moving to Culture
    • Bill Buzzeo
    • Gus Papandrikos
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Supply Chains moving to Supply Constellations
    • Ray Wang
    • Aron Dutta
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customization moving to Configuration
    • Tracy Maines
    • Krishna Cheriath
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customer moving to Consumer
    • Paul Kandle
    • Mark Stevens
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Calls moving to Consults
    • Jo Ann Saitta
    • Stephan Klaschka
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Cloud moving to Crowd
    • Les Jordan
    • Krishnan Sridharan
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015- Charity moving to Cause
    • Janet Carlson
    • Beth Bengtson

Eyeforpharma interview “Taking the entrepreneurial approach”

Read this insightful “Taking the entrepreneurial approach” interview conducted by Eyeforpharma on the impact of hierarchy and how executive mindset inhibits adapting to the rapidly changing commercial landscape.  It outlines how “intrapreneurs” and internal “angel investors” can get large, mature organizations moving again!

Innovation drives Diversity&Inclusion 2.0

The traditional world of corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is being disrupted by a new take on D&I and combining it with innovation and talent management.  What some perceive as a threat to the D&I establishment may just be the next step of evolution that could invigorate and drive D&I to new heights.

Though not an entirely novel approach (see also How to create innovation culture with diversity!) the new thinking gains traction.  As this could play out in different ways and only time will tell what worked, here are my thought on where we are heading.

Struggles of the  Front Runner

Many traditional D&I programs, let’s call them “version 1.0” of D&I, struggle transitioning beyond a collection of affinity groups, tallying corporate demographics and competing for D&I awards to post on their webpage.  In these traditional D&I programs ‘diversity’ is often understood to be reflected by more or less visible differences among individuals at the workplace while ‘inclusion’ translates to supporting defined sub-populations of employees through, for example, establishing affinity groups.

The United States is seen as the front runner of the D&I movement.  D&I has been around in the U.S. corporate world for decades.  For historic and demographic reasons it hones in on removing obstacles for minorities at the workplace supported also by strict legislature and execution; exercising Affirmative Action, for example.

This legacy in the U.S. lends itself to an inside focus on organizations that became the backbone of the traditional D&I programs.  It comes down to the question ‘what can or should the organization do for specific groups of people’ defined by ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, faith, disability, war history and so on.  Apparently, it still is work in progress as, for example, Silicon Valley just recently got on the public radar, which stirred up the debate afresh along the lines of D&I 1.0; see Google releases breakdown on the diversity of its workforce.

Stuck in the ‘Diversity Trap’?

The inside focus and minority messaging of D&I 1.0, however, can be limiting when D&I erodes to a process of ‘doing things right’ by pushing for quotas, ‘checking boxes’ and inflating variations of terminology perceived as ‘politically correct’.  This can in fact be different from ‘doing the right thing’ for the company overall, its employees as well as the affinity groups and their constituency.   It should not surprise that Affinity groups can be (and often get) stigmatized and perceived as self-serving and self-centered social networks without significant and measurable business impact.

Under this paradigm these D&I 1.0 programs struggle to get serious attention, support and funding from executives beyond operating on a minor level to ‘keep the lights on’ more for public image purposes than business drive.  The fundamentals seem to get forgotten: in the end, a business exists to generate a profit, so less profitable activities are likely to be discontinued or divested.  It’s a symbiosis and to say it bluntly: without healthy business there is no D&I program and no affinity groups.  When this symbiosis get lopsided, D&I 1.0 gets stuck in the trap.

D&I 2.0

“Diversity” is catching on beyond the United States in Europe, for example, where many countries do not have share a highly heterogeneous demographic composition, for example.  Here, companies can start with a fresh approach jumping straight to D&I 2.0 – and many do!  It reminds me of developing countries installing their first phone system by skipping the landlines and starting right away with mobile phones.

The 2.0 internal focus corresponds to hiring workers that truly think differently and have different backgrounds and life experiences some of which overlaps with D&I 1.0 affinity roots.  In addition, there is also an external focus putting the staff to work with a clear business proposition and reaching even beyond the organization.  So here a candidate would be hired or employee promoted for their different thinking (2.0) rather than more visible differences (1.0).

While need remains for affinity groups to tend to their members needs within the organization, the “new” D&I 2.0 opens to shift focus to go beyond the organization.  It goes along the lines of a statement President John F. Kennedy became famous for and that I tweaked as follows: “Don’t ask what the COMPANY can do for you ask what you can do for the COMPANY AND ITS CUSTOMERS.

D&I 2.0 gears towards actively contributing and driving new business results in measurable ways for the better of the employees as well as the organization and its customers.  A visible indicator for D&I 2.0 affinity groups helping their constituency beyond company walls is affinity groups identifying and seizing business opportunities specific to their constituency.  They translate the opportunity and shepherd it trough the processes of the organization to bring it to fruition.  For example, affinity groups are uniquely positioned to extending and leveraging their reach to relating customer segments in order to identify ‘small elephant’ business opportunities; see How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations.

The D&I 2.0 approach demonstrates sustainable business value which is why D&I 2.0 sells much easier to executives. It makes a compelling business case that contributes to new business growth, the life blood of every company.

Challenging Transition

U.S. companies stuck in D&I 1.0 are hard pressed to keep up with the D&I 2.0 developments and overcome their inner struggle and resistance.  With decades of legacy, D&I 1.0 programs in many organizations lack the vision and ability to make a compelling business case, to develop a sound strategy as well as capability and skill to implement it effectively.  This is the requirement, however, to truly see eye-to-eye with senior executives and get their full support.  This can become a serious disadvantage in the markets relating to products and customers but also in attracting talent.

In the end, the saying holds true that “talent attracts talent” and all organizations compete over talent to compete and succeed.  Therefore, a D&I 2.0 program combines business focus and talent management while tying it back to the core of diversity and inclusion: Fostering diverse thinkers and leveling the playing field for all employees.  This requires a level playing field that offers the same opportunities to all employees, which is the real challenge.

How do you level the playing field effectively in a large organization?  How this will be implemented becomes the differentiating success factor for companies transitioning to D&I 2.0!

Here is a example 2.0-style for a level playing filed that has its roots in the D&I affinity group space yet opened up to include the entire workforce.  It empowers and actively engages employees while leveraging diversity, inclusion and talent management for innovative solutions with profitable business outcomes.  It may take a minute or two to see the connection between D&I, talent and disruptive innovation but it is at work right here in the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company.

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Previous posts relating to innovation and employee affinity groups / employee resource groups (ERG) / business resource groups (BRG):

Be the next Steve Jobs!

Can you innovate?

It a strange question.  Isn’t it astonishing how many people say “I am not creative” or believe “innovators” are so much different from themselves.  As if innovators are an enlightened lot of geniuses that come up with breakthrough innovations that nobody else could have thought of or made happen but them.  Icons such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) stand out.  They apparently think differently and changed the world.

The question for the rest of us is: could I be a Steve Jobs too?  Or do have to be born gifted to be able to innovate in ways that “make a ding in the universe” like Steve Jobs?

Are you a Steve Jobs? (photo credit: http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Technology/images/steve-jobs-3g-iphone.jpg)
Are you a Steve Jobs?
(photo credit: http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Technology/images/steve-jobs-3g-iphone.jpg)

You can learn creativity!

If you ask kids in kindergarten or preschool if they are creative, they enthusiastically respond “Yes!”  At that age we are convinced we are creative and express our views, thoughts and ideas in many ways.  We design rockets to Mars or create new animals, nothing is out of bounds or out of reach.

What has happened to us that we believe as grown-ups and employees we can no longer create and change the world? I heard “I could never do that” and “nothing will change anyway” too many times.

Good news is that genetic predisposition only attributes one-third to your creativity and innovative-ness (if this is a word), while two-thirds are skills that can be learned, as research confirmed many times over (see Marvin Reznikoff et al, Creative abilities in identical and fraternal twins, Behavior Genetics 3, no. 4, 1973).

Therefore, innovation can be taught, “nurture trumps nature.”  So, you can learn it too!

Are you an intrapreneur or entrepreneur? 

However, not everyone wants to take the risk and uncertainty to make an entrepreneurial dream come true by starting a new business on their own.  Many of us work in large organizations and would like to improve the company from within somehow.

This is where intrapreneuring comes into play.  Intrapreneurs are also called corporate entrepreneurs, since they apply entrepreneurial methods within the organization to create intraprises.   (See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur)

What innovators have in common

So is there anything that great innovators share and which we ‘mortals’ can replicate or do similarly to succeed? – In fact, there is!

In his iconic book “The Innovator’s DNA,” famous disruptive innovation guru Clayton Christensen (who is also known for coining the term ‘disruptive innovation’) identified four common catalysts that sparked the great ideas:

  1. “a question that challenged the status quo,
  2. an observation of a technology, company, or customer,
  3. an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new,
  4. a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity”

This comes down to the four following behaviors, as Christensen found out:  questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

Thinking different

While, typically, the underlying information is not unique, the innovator’s associative thinking combines information and connects dots that seem random or unrelated to others.  They create a picture or vision of a need or opportunity to pursue.

Now, on your way to become an intrapreneur (or entrepreneur), how can you get to these insights, find a suitable target and make it happen?

There are two basic steps:

  1. Don’t work alone
  2. Seek a fertile environment.

1. Don’t work alone

An  African proverb says “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together”.  Developing and bringing a disruptive idea to life takes time, work and -more than anything- collaboration.  It’s not a fast shot and you will need help.  What you can do is tapping into more brains: ask others and bring together a diverse team around an idea.  You want to get as many different perspectives to see the fuller picture, risks, needs, opportunities to tackle the problem you are working on.

You may be blindsided or unaware of things critical for your success including much needed political cover, validating your assumptions or technical aspects outside your expertise.  If you try to do everything yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure for a simple reason: you are not an expert in everything!  Stick with what you are good at and let other experts help you with what they are good at.

2. Seek a fertile environment

If you want to start your own business as an entrepreneur, you may want to move where you find the best condition for a supportive business environment, an ecosystem.  For entrepreneurs, for example, Stanford University and Silicon Valley remain a major tech magnets with ample and easy access to top talent and money.  Also accelerators can serve this purpose.  Comparable conditions for an innovative ecosystem exist at the US-East coast in the Boston area.  Depending on your business idea, other locations and ecosystems may be more suitable – do your homework and find the right one for you.

As an intrapreneur, your available ecosystem seems more limited: it typically is the company you work in that defines the perimeter of your freedom to navigate.  Your advantage here can be that you already know the environment and who could be supporting or funding your idea.  If not your, you could more easily ask colleagues for help than people outside your company could, which significantly lowers the bar for access to resources.

Let’s continue by focusing on intrapreneuring.  Compared to the entrepreneurial world out there, within an organization you may have more opportunities to help shape the fertile ecosystem for breakthrough ideas if none exists yet.

Now, if you are stuck with a company that does not provide an environment that supports intrapreneuring, you may consider becoming the innovation leader (see How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)) to build an ecosystem within a large organization.

– Stay tune to find out how.

How open offices kill productivity – and how to make it work

Open offices are not a new invention.  They have been around for a long time as hallmark of start-up companies that simply cannot afford glitzy corporate skyscrapers with plush corner offices (yet). Open offices emerged less by deliberate design than driven by need.

Start-ups typically run on a vibrant culture of passionate people wanting to spend time together to create something great, everyone works together closely in the tight space available.  Information flows fast and freely.  Recreational elements and other services offered remove the need or motivation to leave.  Employees hang out to work maximum hours as a team in a fun, inspiring and supportive environment.  Productivity is up and work gets done.

Start-up open office (source: theepochtimes.com)
Start-up open office (source: theepochtimes.com)

Growing pains

Large companies are attracted by this powerful value-proposition for open offices – or so it seems.  Mature organizations struggle with their increasing size that, over time, entails increasing specialization and complexity with a stifling system of red tape and inertia.

While jobs are large in small companies and come with broad scope and high accountability, which are diluted when jobs narrow in large companies by increased specialization over time.  Functional silos emerge and sub-optimize often to the detriment of other business functions.

This siloed corporate world only contributes to a climate that works against diverse collaboration and inhibits breakthrough innovations; and business results degrade from 10x to 10%.  (See also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)

Cutting costs is a questionable driver

The reasons for large organizations moving to an open floor plan are often glorified and communicated as a measure to increase creativity and productivity in an appealing modern working environment: employees connect casually and spontaneously at the ‘water cooler’ to network and innovate together again.

The true and paramount driver for tearing down the office walls, however, is often more sobering: it comes down to simply cutting costs by reducing the expensive office footprint.  Fitting more people into less space comes at a price for the workforce.

Cost savings only get you so far.  It’s an easy approach but not a sustainable business model for productivity.  What do you really save if productivity goes down?  How sustainable is your business then?  Sacrificing productivity for cost savings is a narrow-minded approach lacking long-term perspective and, therefore, not worth it.  That is unless your goal is to achieve short-term gains without consideration for the future of the business, which is a disqualifying business perspective altogether.

The popular phenomenon in large companies is a move for the wrong reasons (the better driver being increased productivity) and entails serious consequences that jeopardize the company’s productivity, workforce satisfaction, and even the bottom line.

Design constraints

It gets even worse when the new environment is retrofitted space with structural limitations, founded in the legacy of existing buildings and investments, and if no flanking measures taken to enable effective collaboration needs.

A design from scratch has the potential support the collaboration needs and flow of the workforce best.  This is an advantage start-ups have when they can shape and rearrange loft space to their immediate needs without limitations carried forward.

Size matters

Controlling cost is necessary and reducing office footprint is an effective business measure.  Aetna, for example, has nearly half of their 35,000 employees working from home already, which saves ~15% to 25% on real estate costs – that’s about $80 million saving per year.

Do not get me wrong, there are undeniable benefits to open office spaces – when applied for the right reasons in the right context, with right priorities and proper execution.  The point I am making is that cost reduction alone is not a worthwhile driver if it sacrifices productivity.  There comes a point where a hard decision has to be made and if you prioritize cost savings, you sacrifice productivity and other aspects automatically.

Open Office Plan (source: Foundation 7)
Open Office Plan (source: Foundation 7)

What does it take?

Unfortunately, the start-up company model with open office space and its agile and enthusiastic does not scale for large organizations.  The corporate one-size-fits-all approach does not do the trick for several reasons.

Let us look at aspects that make the open office work:

  1. Tear down cost center walls
  2. Make presence easy
  3. Level the (remote) playing field
  4. Embrace work style differences

1.  Tear down cost center walls

Proximity favors who needs to work together closely.  In a start-up company, staff is few and jobs are big.  This ratio flips in large organizations where many employees work in highly specialized functions.  With increasing specialization comes complexity that leads to functional silos.  The employees become separated by every rising departmental and organizational walls.

In large organizations, work space is typically paid for by department and charged to cost centers.  Staff gets corralled this way and kept separated in functional clusters that are easier to administer but counteract productivity, streamlined workflow, and diverse collaboration cross-functionally.  After all, it wouldn’t make sense to have any department operating completely independent from the rest of the organization.

These artificial and structural boundaries make no sense (unless you are an accountant, perhaps).  Therefore, trade the urge for financial micro-management for what makes the workforce more productive, as this is the most important aspect of collaboration and, ultimately, the bottom line.

2.  Make presence easy

Make it easy for your employees to go the extra mile.  Now here is where large companies can learn from how start-ups: offer incentives for employees to hang out and remove reasons for them to leave to maximize time to work and collaborate.

The list seems endless: free beverages and food, services such as laundry, hair dresser, spa or receiving deliveries, exercise equipment, healthy snacks, child and pet care, and other useful perks that cost-cutting companies often omit.

Sounds like a waste to many large companies.  But is it really?  You get more out of your employees’ carefree working along longer than by pinching the free coffee and have them leave during the day or early to run their necessary errands.

3.  Level the (remote) playing field

It may sound counter-intuitive but when cost saving rules, the open office space often only works when not all employees are around at the same time.  If all employees showed up on the same day there may not be enough room and resources (seating, access to power and networks, etc.) to fit and accommodate everyone, since the physical office footprint is now too small ‑ a Catch-22.

When only a subset of employees can be present in the office at any given workday, the rest has to work remotely forming an –at least- virtual organization.  Consequently, the random personal connection “at the water cooler” becomes less likely as does spontaneous cooperation by “pulling together a team” since your pool of physically available staff is limited.

Management needs to take deliberate and determined measures to level the playing field for remote workers by giving them the same opportunities as colleagues present in the office.  Why?  “Out of sight, out of mind” is a powerful and human nature.  If not managed effectively, it only becomes worse when remote staff easily is continuously overlooked when it comes to projects staffing, development opportunities and promotions, for example. The resulting inequities undermine workforce cohesion, effectiveness, and talent development.

Read more on virtual teams at Why virtual teams fail, and how to make them work (part 1) and How to make virtual teams work! (part 2).

4.  Embrace work style differences

There are too many individual work styles to list them all – for example, just think of

FastCompany recently came up with a list of reasons by workers arguing against open offices, which is a good indicator where the pain-points are.  Representative or not, the list tends to resonate with people that experienced first-hand working in a corporate open office environment.

The key complaints are about

  • Distraction – hard to concentrate with surrounding noises of all sort; loud speaking coworkers; interruptions of coworkers stopping by at any given time
  • Discomfort – no privacy; by-passers looking at your screen and documents; food, bodily and other odors; white-noise generators blamed for headaches; spreading contagious illnesses; having to talk to people when you don’t feel like it; “hiding” by wearing earphones
  • Workflow obstacles – competing over quiet spaces, conference rooms or other rare resources; no place to store personal items or personalize the space.

In summary

One size does not fit all and it does not do the trick for large companies, in particular.  So if you have to downsize office space or accommodate more employees, take a sound and sustainable approach by making productivity the driving priority and not cost.

After all, we are human beings that work best when we have control over our work environment and schedule.  When we perform at our best, it is also for the better of the company as a whole.  Flexibility, empowerment and inclusion go a long way – otherwise, mind FastCompany’s warning: “What was supposed to be the ultimate space for collaboration and office culture was having the opposite effect” – also for the bottom line.

How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations

Driving innovation in large organizations is like herding elephants.  Big and small elephants. – How so?

Elephants come in different sizes
Elephants come in different sizes

Big Elephants in the Back-Office

In large organizations, departments gravitate to sub-optimize their core business.  Silos form under local management to run their department more efficient – following the old mantra: do more with less.
(Read more about silos forming at Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?)

Although all business functions are affected, corporate Information Technology (IT) departments often lend themselves as best examples for a “big elephant” world: they are critical enablers in a pivotal position of every modern organization.  Even though the success of practically every business function hinges on IT, also IT is not immune to this silo-forming phenomenon in large organizations.

Over time and with ‘organizational maturity’, the IT department tends to end up focusing on what they do best: large back-office projects that cannot be funded or run by any business function in isolation, since they span across disciplines or impact the entire enterprise.  Just one examples for a “big elephant” project is implementing a comprehensive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across multiple locations internationally.

This is the back-office domain and comfort zone of IT with technology know-how, big budgets, long duration, high visibility, rigid governance and clear processes to follow.

Small Elephants in the Front-Office

In contrast, the front-office typically comprises Marketing, Sales and Product Development.  Here, a small tweak or agile change (that requires some IT input) can go a long way and have significant impact on organizational effectiveness and business results.  – These micro-innovations are “small elephants” as recent Gartner research coined them.

These little disruptions to the slower-moving big elephant world easily trigger the “corporate immune-system” that favors large elephants and suppressing small emerging ones.

Typically, most projects in large organization aim to reduce cost in some way.  Only a minority of projects address new business and growth opportunities that tend to come with uncertainty and greater risk.

While big elephants are typically incremental improvement project to save cost, it’s the small elephants that are more likely to be disruptive drivers of growth and future business opportunities: the much needed life-blood of sustaining business and future prosperity.

Barriers in the Big Elephant World

IT departments tend to struggle the farther they move away from their ‘core competency’ meaning leaving the big-elephant back-office and dealing with the myriad of small needs of the customer-facing units in the small-elephant front-office.

Many reasons contribute to say “No!” to emerging small elephants:

  • Small elephants are disruptive to the big elephant world, perhaps even threatening to the establishment
  • It is hard for the back-office to accept that there cannot be much standardization around these small small elephant solutions by the very nature of their scope and scale
  • It is cumbersome to plan and manage resources scattered across small projects that pop up left and right without significantly impacting big elephant projects.  Unfortunately, pressure to save cost only fuels the focus on fewer, bigger elephants.
    Gartner brings the dilemma to the point: “[..] the focus on optimization, standardization and commoditization that underlies IT’s success in the back office is contrary and even detrimental to the needs of the front office.”
  • Insights in front-end processes and customer needs are essential (and not usual IT back-office competencies) to seize small elephant opportunities, which are often disruptive and driven by the agile intrapreneurial spirit that makes full use of the diversity of thought and understanding customers deeply.
    – See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur
  • On top of it all, the challenge for IT is to understand the potential and pay-off for initiatives that rely on IT in a domain outside of IT’s expertise:  In the mature world of big elephants, ROI projections are demanded upfront and based on models that apply to mature organizations.  These models typically do not apply well to measure project ROI in the emergent worlds of small elephants, which puts the small elephants at a disadvantage; another disconnect that easily leads big elephant organizations to reject proposed small elephants.

As a bottom-line, for large IT departments it is simple and convenient to say ‘No!’ to requests for “micro-innovations” coming in from employees scattered across the front-offices.  And, sadly, often enough this is exactly what happens. Despite the lasting impact of “No!” (see also How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”), turning ideas and proposals down too fast also leaves out opportunity for huge innovation potentials (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).

What happens to IT without small elephants?

Ignoring the need for micro-innovations and not supporting them effectively will not serve IT departments well in the long-run.  With only big-elephant focus IT departments are at high risk to lose sight of the needs of their internal customers.  Consequently, IT undermines and finally loses its broader usefulness, acceptance and footing in the business functions they intend to serve.

When small elephants are neglected or blocked, it practically forces the front-office to look for other resources sooner or later in order IT-services providing resources to get their needs taken care of.  Over time, the big IT department drifts to become more and more obsolete, and finally replaced by agile and responsive agencies and contractors that deliver on their front-office customer needs.

After all, IT’s general role is one of an enabler for the core businesses rather than being perceived by its customers as a stop-gap.

How to raise Small Elephants

So, what can a mature yet forward looking IT organization do to support micro-innovations – or ‘balance the herd,’ so to speak, to include a healthy number of small elephants in the mix?

  • Brad Kenney of Ernest&Young recommends limited but dedicated resources (including time) for micro-innovations in Ernest&Young’s 2011 report “Progressions – Building Pharma 3.0”;
    for example, dedicate 10% of the expert’s time to implement micro-innovations
  • Test changes in emerging markets first, if possible, where agility is high at a lower risk of jeopardizing the bottom line or threatening the established organization and its investments in mature markets
  • Establish effective collaboration platforms that make it easy for employees to openly and conveniently share content among each other as well as with external parties.

How Intrapreneuring helps

A systematic approach to Intrapreneuring can go a long way to help move these micro-innovations forward.  It starts with systematic intrapreneurial skill-building for employees across all levels of hierarchy and includes:

  • Understanding how innovation happens in large organizations, i.e. large and small elephants and the need for both to exist
  • Helping employees become aware of and overcome their own mental barriers and silo-thinking
  • Attracting, inspiring and engaging employees to take their idea forward knowing there are obstacles in their way
  • Training skills that help to frame, develop and pitch ideas to potential supporters and sponsors
  • Building and presenting a business case for review and improvement by peers and management
  • Enabling and empowering employees to bring their small elephants to life and sharing the story of their success to inspire others
  • Working to gradually change the mindset of the organization, its culture, as needed, to become more balanced on the elephant scale, to unlock the resources within the own workforce and to seize opportunities for growth and the future of the business.

Just as out there in the wild, without raising small elephants the life-span of organizations with only big elephants is limited.

10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?

Google co-founder and CEO, Larry Page, continues to have big expectations for his employees:  come up with products and services that are 10 times better than their competitors, hence “10x” – that’s one order of magnitude!

10X vs. 10%

Many entrepreneurs and start-up companies, they seem to ‘shoot for the moon’!  Far more than 90% of these ventures fail within just a few years.  Few, such as Google, succeeded and grew to dominate internet giants.  The question remains though if they can maintain the innovative pace of 10x when the innovation rate tends to sink closer to 10% in matured companies.

How big dreams changed the world

This challenge effects also other visionaries that changed the face of the world and transformed society in ways nobody has imagined, such as:

  • Apple building a micro-computer at times when mainframes ruled the digital world and only few could envision a demand for personal computing
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977; just a few years before the first IBM PC was sold.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” – Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977 – just a few years before the first IBM PC sold.
  • eBay establishing a new online sales model that millions around the globe use every day
  • Google taking over the browser market through simplicity, by giving everyone control to use the most complex machine on Earth, the Internet
  • Microsoft cultivated software licensing to sell one piece of software millions of times over effortlessly at minimal cost.

Innovation downshift

As disruptive and transformative ventures grow and mature, the definition of what is perceived ‘innovate’ changes.  Both momentum and focus shifts.  With size companies struggle to continue innovating similar to their nimble start-up origins.

What happens?  With size comes a downshift from disruptive to incremental change. Simplicity makes space for adding features.  Adding features makes products more complex and ultimately less usable and appealing to the majority of customers.

Look at Microsoft’s Offices products, for example:  Wouldn’t you wish they came out with a ‘light’ version with reduced feature complexity by let’s say 75%, so the software becomes easy to use again?

It also starts haunting Google, as their established products such as Search or Gmail need to be maintained.  Additional “improvements” aka. features creep in over time.  Perhaps you noticed yourself that recently Google search results seem to be less specific and all over the place while the experimentation-happy Gmail interface confuses with ever new features?

Even the most iconic and transformative companies experience the reduction of their innovative rate from 10X to an incremental 10% or so.

Technology S-curves

Funny thing is that -at least in technology- incremental improvement quickly becomes obsolete with the next disruptive jump.  The current technology matures up along the S-curve (see graphics) and generates revenue, but the next disruptive technology emerges.  Companies hold on as long as they can keeping revenue flowing by adding features or improvements of sorts to gain or maintain a marginal competitive advantage.  Thus, incremental improvement and process optimization found their place here to minimize cost and maximize profit in a market where the product became a commodity, so the competition is based only on price.

The new technology does not yet make significant money in the beginning at the beginning of the next S-curve.  The few early units produced are expensive, need refinement and are bought by enthusiasts and early adopters who are willing to pay a steep premium to get the product first.  Nonetheless, development reached the point of “breakthrough,” becomes appealing to many and quickly takes over the market:  the big jump onto the next S-curve gains momentum.  Suddenly, the former technology is ‘out’ and revenue streams deflate quickly.

S-curve (http://www.carteblancheleeway.wordpress.com)
S-curve (http://www.carteblancheleeway.wordpress.com)

(source: http://www.carteblancheleeway.wordpress.com)

Large and matured organizations ride on an S-curve as long as possible.  They focus top-down on optimizing operations.  Little effort is made to address the underlying limitation of the current technology and seeking out risky new successors.  Maturing companies tend to transform into a ‘machine’ that is supposed to run smoothly.  A mind shift happens to avoid risk in order to produce output predictably and reliably at a specific quality level to keep operations running and margins profitable.  Incremental process improvement becomes the new mantra and efficiency is the common interpretation of what now is considered ‘innovative’.

10X has turned into 10%.  To keep up with the ambitious 10x goal, companies would have to constantly re-invent themselves to replicate their previous disruptive successes.

How Goliath helps David

Even our recent iconic ‘giants’ find themselves in a tighter spot today:

  • Google struggles to integrate a fragmented product landscape and maintain the ambitious 10X pace of innovation
  • Microsoft suffocates loaded with features that make products bulky and increasingly unusable while consistently failing to launch new technologies in the growing mobile segment successfully
  • Apple waters down their appealing simple user interface by adding features and clinging to defend their proprietary standards from outside innovations.

On top of it, all giants tend to face the stiffening wind of governmental scrutiny and regulation that influences market dynamics to protect the consumers from overpowering monopolies that jeopardize competition and innovation.

This is a fertile ground for the next wave of innovators, small Davids, to conquer markets from the Goliaths with fresh ideas, agility, and appealing simplicity.  Where does your organization stand on the S-curve, riding the current curve with 10% or aiming high at the next with 10x?

Observing the down-shift

What can you observe when the down-shift happens?  How do you know you are not on the transformative boat anymore?  Here are just some examples:

  • Small Jobs – job descriptions appear that narrow down the field of each employee’s responsibility while limiting the scope by incentivizing employees to succeed within the given frame.
  • Safe Recruiting – practices shift to playing it safe by hiring specialists from a well-known school with a streamlined career path to fit the narrowly defined mold of the job description.  They newbies are expected to replicate what they achieved elsewhere.  To risk is taken to getting the ‘odd man out’ for the job, a person who took a more adventurous path in life and thinks completely different, as this may disrupt the process and jeopardize the routine output by shifting the focus away from operations.
  • Homogenized workforce – as a consequence of hiring ‘safely’, the workforce homogenized thereby lowering the innovative potential that comes with the diversity of thought and experience.
  • Visionaries leave – with the scope of business shifting, the visionary employees that drove innovation previously lose motivation when innovation and creativity slows.  Now they are held to operate in a business space where they do pretty much the same thing as their competition.  Naturally, these go-getters move on, as it is easy for them to find a challenging and more exciting new job in a more dynamic place. – This ‘leaky talent pipeline’ gets only worse and costly when the talent management focus shifts to talent acquisition and leaving talent retention behind.
  • Complexity creeps in – the temptation to constantly add features increases the complexity and starts a spiral that is hard to leave again (see also ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?)
  • Procedures for everything – operating procedures regulate every detail of the job.  The new ‘red tape’ is not limited to the necessary minimum but rather by the possible maximum.
  • Short-term focus – work output becomes mediocre and focuses on short-term goals and sales targets; the next quarter’s numbers or annual results take priority over following the big dream.
  • Sanitized communications – broader communications within the company become ‘managed’, monitored, ‘sanitized.’  A constant stream of (incremental) success stories pushes aside an open discussion to target the bigger problems.  Opportunities are missed for open dialogue and creative disruption that fuels the quantum leaps forward to outpace the competition.  Peer to peer communication is monitored to remain ‘appropriate’ and can even be actively censored.  Trust in management and subsequently also among employees erodes.

Management fear of being the first

The real problem is the shift of mindset in top management that quickly works its way down:  not wanting to take the risk of being first, which includes avoiding the risk to fail while chasing to next big opportunity or technology.  Instead, they sail the calmer waters among more predictable competition fighting for small advantages and holding on to the status quo opportunistically as long as they can.  In some cases, the management even acknowledges the strategy shift from ‘leader’ to ‘fast follower’ despite whatever the company motto proudly promotes – and thereby accepting 10% and avoiding to leap ahead of their competition by bold and game-changing 10x moves.

Interestingly, these same managers still love to look over the fence to awe the iconic leaders but steer away to take charge and work to become the leader again themselves.  The nagging question remains if they could actually pull it off getting into first place.

Outside-of-the-box thinking may still be encouraged in their organization but is not acted upon anymore. Internal creativity or ideation contests become more of an exercise to keep employees entertained and feeling engaged, but the ideas are hardly being funded and executed.  Instead, company resources are concentrated to run the incremental machine predictably and reliably at 10% as long as its profitable, no matter what.  – They simply have no resources to spare and dedicate to 10x!

Business Darwinism

These businesses undergo a cycle of breaking through by successful disruption in a narrow or completely new segment, then continued growth to a size where the organization slows down to an incremental pace and somewhat stagnating innovation.  It may then get driven out of business by the next disruptor or pro-actively break up into more competitive fragments that allow for agility and risk-taking once again to become leaders in their more closely defined space of business.  This closes the cycle they are to go through next.  There is a strong parallel between evolution and Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

Keeping this cycle in mind, it becomes easier to see why management undergoes the mind shift to predictable and incremental improvement during the massive growth phase of the company in the center of the S-curve.  It is also the time when the disruptive innovators have jumped ship to join the next generation of cutting-edge innovators and risk-taking disrupters that prepare to take the leap working on the next S-curve.

Which way to turn?

The question is where you want to be:  the true risk-taker or the incremental improver?  Understanding the trajectory and current location of your company helps to make the right decision for you.  It can save you from frustration and be banging your head against corporate walls and be wasting your energy in a dinosaur organization that is just not ready anymore for your ‘big ideas’ and quick moves outside its production-house comfort zone.

This leaves some of us thinking which way to turn.  If you are looking for predictability, longer-term employment (an illusion these days one way or another) and good night sleep, this is the place you will feel comfortable in.

Otherwise, dare to follow the risk-taking visionaries like Elon Musk (the brain behind PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; see his recent great interview) to move on.

And then there is ‘intrapreneuring’ as a third direction that tries to change the company from within. (See ‘The Rise of the Intrapreneur‘)

To say it with the words of Niccolo Machiavelli, the wise and sober realist: “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”

Shoot for the moon (or Mars, if you are Elon Musk), change the world no matter what and enjoy what you do!

The Rise of the Intrapreneur

The Rise of the Intrapreneur
How to become an ‘Intrapreneur’?  Why are Intrapreneurs needed?  What is the difference to Entrepreneurship?  – The future of innovation within large organizations lies within, if you know how to tap into it with intrapreneurship!

What is Intrapreneurship?

Did you know that ‘Intrapreneur’ and ‘Intrapreneurship’ are not new terms but were coined nearly 35 years ago by Elizabeth and Gifford Pinchot in 1978?

As a definition for our purposes, an intrapreneur takes responsibility in large organizations for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.  In contrast to an entrepreneur, the Intrapreneur operates within an existing organization with an internal focus.  Intrapreneurship requires an organization of considerable size for an intrapreneurial role to become applicable in the first place.

What is the difference to Entrepreneurship?

‘Intrapreneur’ is not as well known as the more established term ‘Entrepreneur’ which it derives from.  It even takes a deliberate effort to pronounce the word Intrapreneur so doesn’t sound like and get confused with Entrepreneur.

The word ‘Entrepreneur’ has been around since the 19th century with its functional roots reaching even farther back into the 16th century.  According to the original definition, an Entrepreneur is “one who undertakes an enterprise […] acting as intermediatory between capital and labour” or in other words, to “shift economic resources out of lower and into higher productivity and greater yield.”  (source: Wikipedia)

The role of an Entrepreneur is not so different from the Intrapreneur but many differences exist relating to the environment they operate in and the approach they take.  An Entrepreneur founds a new venture, a business, or company, as an independent economic entity.  This new entity then typically competes for profit in a market with other companies.  Today, Entrepreneurship has fanned out to include specializations such as lifestyle, serial, or social Entrepreneurship that also expanded in markets (in lieu of a better word) previously dominated by non-for-profit, clerical or government institutions.

As a bottom-line, Entrepreneurship roots in competition between companies or organizations by introducing and building a new entity that grows as a company to stand alone in an economic marketplace – while the Intrapreneur connects “capital and labour” using somewhat entrepreneurial methods within an existing organization.  You can even see Intrapreneurship as a downstream evolution for a successful and matured entrepreneurial venture.

Why do we need Intrapreneurs?

With increasing size, an organization slows.  Inertia and paralysis set in to replace agility and effectiveness.  This is often caused by the organization’s own success: The focus shifts towards delivering with increasing efficiency (cost, time) and consistency (quality).  You can easily observe the results in many organizations – it looks somewhat like this:

  • Business functions specialize and sub-optimization to become more efficient and productive; they thereby form ‘silos’ with communication and interactions thinning between them to the detriment of the organization as a whole.
  • Hierarchical structures become steeper to manage more employees; they effectively disconnect the executives on the top from the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy.
  • Promising innovation ideas from the grassroots don’t get through to the executive level for backing or funding to be developed and implemented; the ideas starve and innovation suffers overall.
  • More rules and procedures regulate the growing workforce and detailed aspects of work processes; governance, red tape, and bureaucracy pour over the organization like concrete and become obstacles to change.
  • Career paths become linear, job profiles and responsibilities narrow, entailing an equally narrow view and mindset of the staff that eats away motivation and creativity over time.
  • Talented and creative employees are the first to leave or become hard to retain, as they are always in demand and easily find interesting work elsewhere.
  • Innovation suffers while competitive pressure increases when nimble competitors and start-ups outpace the organization.
  • Management used to command-and-control eagerly seeks fresh talent and ideas externally, i.e. ‘hiring the best and brightest’, to reanimate the organization – yet the leaky pipeline continues bleeding talent, as also the new ‘super stars’ find themselves trapped and escape to new adventures elsewhere.

It takes a jolt to overcome this inertia, revive it, and get an organization moving nimble again ‑ this is the hour of the Intrapreneur!

Time for Action - Clock
Time for Action – Clock

How to become an Intrapreneur?

It takes a new role in the organization to jump-start it, so we “Innovate to Implement“.  Sometimes, a new CEO is hired to turn the corporate ship around from the top; sometimes it works.  The Intrapreneur, however, also considers working bottom-up by pulling the loose ends together and connecting people again across all functions and levels of hierarchy.  The Intrapreneur bridges the various gaps within the organization vertically and horizontally.

It takes a different approach to include, and engage all employees in ways outside their immediate job description that makes best use of all dimensions each individual brings to the (work) table.  The Intrapreneur inspires and spreads a new sense of enablement throughout the workforce.

The Intrapreneur looks differently at how we conduct our business and unlocks innovative value chains, new business models, or propositions.  It takes a strategic lead to become a facilitator for the organization, to adapt continuously and make best use of the changing environment.  The Intrapreneur builds networks and alliances to help actively moving the organization towards its business goals.

The Intrapreneur is a much-in-need and critical role within the matured organization.  It can come in different flavors too!  Being the ‘Executive Champion’, for example, is an intrapreneurial role (see “How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3).”

As an Intrapreneur it is important to be aware what hat to wear and when.  Sometimes an ‘architect’ is needed and an ‘orchestrator’ at other times, for example.  ‑ For more details see: “Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

Risks becoming an Intrapreneur

Now, as a word of warning, being an Intrapreneur is not always easy:  You tent to step on many people’s toes if you want to make a difference.  It can be so risky, that Gifford Pinchot even formulated The Intrapreneur’s Ten Commandments starting with: “Come to work each day willing to be fired.”

So brace yourself because there are many obstacles to innovation and change out there that the Intrapreneur will face.  Intrapreneurship is most and foremost a leadership role, which has a natural tendency to conflict with managers (see “Leadership vs Management?  What is wrong with middle management?”).

Prepare to hit the obstacles to an innovation environment that Irving Wladawsky-Berger in Business Week calls “indifference, hostility, and isolation” – I couldn’t agree more!

The bottom-line

It is not always easy to become an Intrapreneur.  It takes skill and persistence as well as courageous leadership and risk taking.  Truly making a difference and reviving an organization though is rewarding in itself – at least you will learn a lot and make new friends.  ‑ Most of all make sure you have fun!

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.

Measure your company culture in real-time!

It is difficult if not impossible to assess organizational culture directly.  Instead, managers favor surveys to measuring organizational climate as a first step.  However, surveys fall short in many ways and can lead to skewed results as input to managerial decision-making.  Better than surveys is observing employee behavior with a meaningful metrics.

What is your organizational culture?

No matter where you work, you are a part of it:  the organizational culture.  Culture is understood to comprise shared beliefs, values, norms, traditions but also myths of employees about interpersonal relationships, behaviors and activities of the organization.

A (favorable) strong culture indicates alignment to organizational values and goals – some call it the organization’s personality.  This is the internal glue for collaboration and outstanding results as an organization.  In a strong culture, ‘can do’ stories share ‘how things are being done around here’ that inspire and motivate employees to action and ‘organizational citizenship behavior’.  A strong culture supports employee satisfaction and retention as well as innovation and productivity. (See also: How to create innovation culture with diversity!)

In contrast, misalignment of values and goals in an unfavorable weak culture has an eroding effect.  They easily lead to extensive rules and bureaucracy that rely on exercising control.  Working in this place is not much fun.  Don’t expect anyone to go the extra mile!

Unfortunately, organizational culture is a slippery and complex subject, which makes it hard to grasp – and hard to measure directly.  It is easier to feel than to express.
– Try it!  How does the culture of your organization feel in your gut?  How about putting it in words?

How to measure culture?

A common approach is to measure a company’s organizational climate by looking at the culture’s outcomes or consequences rather than trying to grasp culture directly.  Thereby, the climate is used as surrogate marker for the underlying culture, since outcomes are easier to observe and to measure.

Here we find a handle on whether the employees are happy at work and feel valued, if they enjoy their work environment and trust their colleagues, if they go the ‘extra mile’ for their team – or if they are frustrated, disengaged or even act hostile against coworkers or the organization.
Factors to establish a metrics offer themselves relating to –for example- communication, accountability, behavioral standards, rewards, trust, and commitment.

Organizational climate’s primary driver is daily leadership that influences the expectations as well as the behavior of all individuals in the organization.  The leadership also determines the organizational structure, another key to an organization’s effectiveness.  Both enable the organization to reach its goals, but also reflect priorities and heavily affect how employees communicate, collaborate and interact with each other.

Many factors obscure the clear picture including rapidly growing workforce and geographic separation but also the way we actually measure organizational culture.

Yet another survey?

Many companies invest in surfacing climate data to ‘feel the pulse’ of their staff and to confirm positive effects or apply corrective action to adverse findings.

The most common way to measure climate is a climate survey and repeated to compare changes over time.  Despite our daily information overload, many companies typically use surveys to collect data from as many employees as possible to paint a representative picture of the company.

Surveys seem the first tool in the managerial arsenal.  They appear attractive, seem simple and powerful.  Survey results are seen as straightforward, clear, quantifiable and reflecting the ‘truth’ since the workforce was asked directly.

‑ But are surveys truly the best tool available or even an proper tool at all as a starting point?

What is wrong with surveys?

Unfortunately, surveys are far from ideal for several reasons.

The first issue we face is that there is no common standard for measuring the ‘climate’.  Every organization or consultant comes up with a different scale.  If an organization introduces its own scale and applies their metrics consistently, it can build a database over time.  The data, however, only compares directly against other client organizations or industries that were measured similarly, i.e. sharing the same scale, at a premium for this proprietary benchmarking.

Even worse, results hardly compare because surveys ask questions relying on language.  A slight nuance in phrasing of a question may change the meaning and influence the responses.  After all, words are ambiguous and open for interpretation – and even more so in a multi-cultural society and multi-lingual.  For consistency and easy processing, they typically come with a fixed set of response options such as multiple choice, which can limit the responders’ options and influence what they respond.

Often overlooked, the real workload comes after the survey closed in the analysis, when you start slicing the data to combine questions, sub-populations or start exploratory analyses in an afterthought with all the shiny data you find in your hands that seem to open endless opportunity for finding answers.  This is where you easily run out of time or budget – and where it becomes tempting to cut corners just to finish up and deliver results while sacrificing depth and consistency.

Surveys tend to be inherently skewed – Why?

When was the last time you enjoyed taking a survey?

Our email in-boxes are full of customer service surveys for a recent purchase or some service call over the phone or online.  The whole world seems wanting to improve their services – and sends us a survey.

However, surveys are far from ideal for several reasons including these (and many more):

  • Fatigue – There is no shortage of surveys these days.  Coming back to our information overload and time constraints, many people just don’t want to fill out another questionnaire or find time for it in the first place.  ‑ Did you ever give random responses or skipped questions just to get it over?
  • Privacy – Some other questions you may not feel comfortable answering in the first place because they invade your privacy by collecting data with questionable benefit to you.
  • Anonymity – in the computer age, anonymity is hard to find.  Even in an otherwise anonymous survey, the combination of responses can identify individuals under certain circumstances feeding privacy concerns.
  • Past – Surveys measure the past.  Even the most credible survey questions inquire about past behavior at best, which is the most solid data you can get out of a survey.  The results may be good for forensics but hardly reflect the current situation.
  • Diversity – a diverse workforce can come with communication barriers of language or cultural background that leads to misunderstanding. Geographic idiosyncrasies can induce further bias in distributed organizations.
  • Delay – surveys take time to prepare, to conduct and to analyze.  Don’t expect to get the results anytime soon, especially because you cannot control when your responders choose to respond.  You have to adjust to their schedule, so getting survey results removes you far from ‘real-time’.
  • Precision – in surveys, you can easily measure everything to a dot and even farther right of the decimal point.  Some give you the tendency to ask and measure too much just because we can or we feel the results (and our work) look more credible this way.  Often it is an illusion that a higher level of precision adds to clarity when it adds to inertia instead by a flood of obscure information irrelevant to the decision you want to make.

The list goes on… you got the point.  The question remains what is a better approach to measure organizational climate?

Why it is better to measure behavior

A survey measures our intent – not our behavior.  Unarguably, behavior is a much stronger indicator than intent.  It comes down to whether we observe people putting their money where their mouth is or if we get only the lip service that a survey represents.  – Think of it as the litmus test you remember from chemistry class: It shows you the truth and reveals whether your assumptions hold true!

Let us look at the benefits of measuring behavior using the same list again:

  • Fatigue – As human beings we can refuse to respond to a survey ‑ but we cannot stop behavior as such.  Even if we refuse to respond, this is our observable behavior and becomes measurable.  For example, if large parts of the surveyed staff do not respond to the survey, this tells you something about the organizational and what is important to the staff.
  • Privacy and Anonymity – Usually, your observable behavior as an employee is not a privacy concern, since you are out in the open and visible to your co-workers anyway.  Again, you cannot not show behavior once you agreed to go to work, there is nowhere to hide. 
    (Let’s not derail by focusing on or encouraging questionable, unethical or even illegal intrusion of privacy at the workplace or outside.)
  • Past – Our observable behavior is now, it is the present.  You can’t get better real-time data!
  • Diversity – For observations, it does not matter if your workforce is diverse or understands the questions you ask.  There are no communication barriers when it comes to observing behavior. Actually, quite the opposite holds true: the employee behavior can help you to better identify communication barriers or other issues that a survey would not reveal!
  • Delay – observing behavior also takes time but it is mostly the time to identify what you want to observe for what reason as well as observing it and then summarizing the results.  There is no polishing questions and response options.  You get to results faster because you are on your schedule and do not have to wait for responses trickling in.
  • Precision – key is to measure only as much as needed, i.e. to establishing necessary and actionable facts.  Forget the fluff and focus on the one or two most important aspects needed for effective decision-making.

How to measure behavior?

Now, measuring behavior is not always easy.  It requires thinking through the cause-and-effect dependencies.  – A well-known example of how not to do it is the questionable relation of using the price of butter in Bangladesh to predict the stock market in the USA…

What the right metrics is depends on what you want to find out.  What is the underlying business problem you are trying to solve?  Many roads can lead to Rome, so to speak, but the basic idea is to keep your target simple.  Choose a target that is meaningful, robust and easy to observe.

Clarity helps.  As much as we crave being informed and gather data this approach is not helpful, since it tends to produce clutter.  Instead, focus on measuring the minimum you need as the basis for making a sound decision.  Don’t fall for the nice-to-have and garnish data you could have in addition.

How precise do you need the results really to be?  – As an example, you may be concerned about low meeting attendance.  Does it make a difference for your decision-making if you find out that in three consecutive meetings “63.26%, 58.18% and 69.4% of the invitees did not show up” versus “on average, 2/3 don’t attend”? – Let me guess, “2/3” does just fine to decide slimming down who is invited in the future or to change the purpose of the meeting, right?

The key is to stick to clearly observable behavior.  Some solid behavioral data may already exist within the organization.  – For example, a long tenure and low turnover may reflect that employees prefer to stay with organization, while many internal job applications reflect dissatisfaction with their current position or department.

Bottom line

Next time you think of running a survey consider taking a close look at employee behavior first!

References

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

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