Excellent service happens when leadership defines and reinforces a culture to support it. Leaders set the bar, values and tone for how customers are treated. In the age of lean budgets and follow-the-script type of service, it is too rare to have a delightful experience. So, it was a pleasant surprise to personally have a great service experience and learn about the culture that allowed it.
Think back. Did you ever ask your parents to check for monsters under your bed? Are your children or grandchildren afraid of the big, bad monster lurking in the closet? Most adults smile fondly at their children and check around to assure them that everything is fine. We recognize that the fear may be irrational, but a child cannot settle down until they know they are safe. What is the child really afraid of? The unknown. They can’t see under the bed or in the closet because it is dark. What they can’t see or what they don’t know, they instinctively fear.
Santa has certainly changed the world. The Santa story is known in many countries and cultures. He is called by various names: Santa Claus; Kris Kringle; Old Saint Nick; Pere Noel (Father Christmas); and Sinter Klaas to name a few. But the real Saint Nicholas was born in 280 A.D. in Patara or what is now Turkey. He lost his parents as a young man and reportedly used his inheritance to help the sick and poor. He became the Bishop of Myra where his good deeds continued.
He is best known for providing the gift of a dowry for three young girls so they could be married versus sold into prostitution. After living a life with piety and helping those less fortunate, he died on December 6, 343. His death was remembered by the tradition of giving gifts. Saint Nicholas is reportedly buried in Bari, Italy…but we all know his spirit is currently running things from the North Pole.
If you ask most senior executives if they are open to new ideas and approaches, they would say, “Of course!” But is that really true? Unfortunately, we found that not to be totally accurate. In fact, we found that openness to new ideas and thinking varied widely.
Using our CliC innovation tool data which measures the trait Openness, we found there is a statistically significant, reverse correlation between size of company and willingness to actively engage to find new ideas. Thus, the bigger the company, the less chance executives enjoyed hearing about unique ideas and the less action they took to learn about new subjects. The implications are big for delivering innovative products and services.
Most leaders claim they support innovation, employee empowerment and appreciate when employees act in the customers’ best interest. They want a culture of accountability, results and innovative thinking.
As a leadership development consultant, I hear that a lot. Everyone knows the buzzwords and likes to think of themselves as empowering leaders. They believe they provide the tools and processes necessary to help bring about the cultures they want. But too often, things don’t play out the way senior leaders intended. As ideas and concepts move down the organization, the original intent can get lost in translation and the existing culture.
Executives often ask, “Are people just born with innovative capabilities?” Or, “Can someone be taught to be more innovative?” At the risk of sounding like a consultant, the short answer is yes. It is both natural ability and learned tools and approaches that enable someone to think and act innovatively.
As a consultant who specializes in executive and leadership development, I have a lot of experience helping individuals, teams and companies expand their awareness, knowledge and capabilities. Some people are naturals. They have always thought differently, creatively, are willing to take risks and have a strong ability to commercialize and bring their ideas to market success. They thrive on solving complex problems in unique ways. But those are the precious few. Most people have some of the innovation traits, but need help in developing other capabilities. For example, a leader may be good at implementing and getting things accomplished, but not good at generating new ideas. Can we take someone who is not natural at coming up with ideas and help them be more innovative in their thinking? My experience says the answer is absolutely!
It is a common perception that to bring new, innovative thinking into an organization requires hiring “younger” minds. But, does age really make a difference in innovation capabilities? Being the curious types, we had to check this out. The results were surprising!
The CliC Innovation Assessment is the perfect tool for an age analysis. The ability to think innovatively comes from a combination of motivation, willingness to take risks, capability to envision new ideas or changes, and the perseverance to see the idea through all the obstacles to commercialize it. CliC is a development tool that measures the eight traits that impact an individual’s ability to be innovative: Desire, Break Away Thinking, Uncertainty, Stand Alone, Openness, Trends, Extrapolate and Perseverance.
Making innovative change happen within an organization is not easy. It doesn’t matter if you are a big organization or a small one. Most change gurus will tell you there needs to be a compelling reason or a pain so great there is no choice. And most times, sadly, that is correct. But there is a third possible driver of change: when leaders in the organization have an epiphany that change can be positive and enhance the business results.
What makes the innovation initiative at Financial Management Solutions, Inc. or FMSI such a great story is they not only decided to support innovation and change, they did so while the organization was by all accounts highly successful. Even with the recent recession, they are enjoying double digit growth and increasing market share. What’s not to love about that!
We were curious about how effective leaders are at spotting innovative talent. So, we interviewed senior leaders to determine which team members they thought were innovative. We then assessed their employees using our CliC Innovation tool. Our research shows that leaders typically rate an employee as highly innovative based only on a couple of factors:
- How often the employee makes suggestions or offers ideas, and
- How willing the employee is to proceed with projects without a lot of management direction or intervention.
We agree that these are important factors! However, it is not the full picture of what it takes to be innovative. We learned that many leaders underestimate the degree to which risk tolerance impacts the willingness to make suggestions. They are also not considering the type of ideas that are generated – which gets more at the capability to think differently. This is not an academic distinction. Willingness and capability are two separate but critical concepts.
Building a successful business is getting tougher. Clients’ expectations are growing. They want customized solutions, unique to their situation and environment. They expect efficiency and accuracy. You don’t get points for that – they just expect it. In order to compete, you need to provide something new with a bit of a wow factor. Clients expect specialized solutions and they want them now.
Enter the latest hot topic, innovation. Let me point out that innovation has been a driver of success for well, ever. But, the need to stay ahead of the competition and keep up with rapid market changes makes continuous innovation imperative. The big difference today is it is not just important for a chosen few people to think about things differently, but people across the organization. That is a very new concept for a lot of companies.
Leaders recognize the need for innovation and they are asking employees to generate new ideas and think differently. But by making the request for people to think differently without changing the culture, leaders are setting up a potential conflict: The culture says keep following the rules, but the boss is telling you to be more innovative. Some of the traits that make up an innovative personality are the willingness to challenge the current rules, experiment with new ideas, and take some risks. Is your organization really prepared to support and reward challenging the status quo?