Three Keys to Innovation

I had the opportunity to chat with Google’s western Canada director at a tech pitch contest last month, and I asked her how Google manages to keep being so innovative even though they are now one of the largest and most recognized corporations in the world. Her answer made me think “it can’t really be that easy?”, a signal which I’ve learned to pay attention to.

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Inside Google they use Chat and Hangouts (text messaging and virtual meetings) to make all decisions, collaboration, and creation. Nobody sets up meetings for next week if they can help it. They just hop on the existing Google tools (and yes, there are others that do the same thing) and start talking to each other. The default behaviour is face-to-face, the default time is now, and the default ownership is none.

The on-line tools are allow everyone to mark up a project, document, spreadsheet, or slide show. Nobody controls it so everyone can contribute. Your idea may not win, and that’s okay. You may not be the best person to lead or execute that idea, and that’s okay too. But nobody slows down the elaboration, collaboration, or refinement of an innovation. Nobody waits for a meeting, or a mark-up, or a review if possible. It’s all done in real-time, now, and “in-person”.

Of course, because it’s a tech company, they also track how many meetings and how many people take part in those meetings, every day.

The Hard Work: 

Get up and talk to the person you need to talk to. Or dial them up on Skype/Zoom/Hangouts. Or call them. And share the work – give them the pen/whiteboard marker/credit.

I think that last one’s the hardest.

HBRs Tips for Running Virtual Meetings

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Stop Wasting Time on Email

Email is not work, and it certainly isn’t collaboration. It’s good for confirming facts and capturing decisions already made. It’s horrible for making decisions. Here’s why: The Bad News About Using Email to Collaborate

On Being Nice to the Waiter (and Everybody Else) (All the Time)

pork and beansThere’s a saying that “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, isn’t nice.”

My first sergeant said it differently: “There are two people in the squadron you never want to piss off: the quartermaster and the pay-clerk. No beans, no bullets, and no way to pay your bar tab.”

That man had his priorities straight. 

He had a point: everybody is important. Everybody can and will contribute the company’s (squadron’s) success. We all depend on each other. We can’t do everything ourselves, so corporations (teams, squadrons) organize by task and specialities. With that comes the need to cooperate, collaborate, and communicate.

I’ve actually heard executives call employees in their company “little people”. Why is beyond me. Everybody on the payroll should add value to the company, and it should be clear how they do it. If they don’t it’s because the same executives haven’t designed their own organization properly.

It’s the “little people”, if you say hello to them in the hallway (better yet learn his or her name) who will let you into the building when you forget your swipe card, who will find a coffee for your client after hours, or who will help you get home when you’ve lost your wallet.

This happened to my father (losing his wallet) on his first business trip to Western Canada. No identification, no credit cards or gas money. It was the front desk clerk, whom he’d been pleasant to when he checked in, who helped him get home. Nice guys don’t finish last. They get things done because they’re nice.

They get things done when things go wrong because they’re always nice.

Who Are Your Best Employees?

I got an e-mail from a former colleague of mine, a wonderful if quiet lady who was instrumental in supporting a major bid I was the proposal manager on several years ago. She wrote to ask me some career questions:

Hi Bernie,

I have been reading your articles from your company pages on LinkedIn. Good articles by the way! I quite enjoyed them. I have a question that comes from your article on employees being treated “fairly”. By the way, I totally agree with the philosophy — each person has to be recognized for their contributions, or punished for messing up, in an appropriate manner. The “how” they are praised or punished has to be appropriate for each individual. What I still don’t see is how the person who harasses someone in an office gets the promotion while the person who was harassed got fired. I also wondered at how one person, who works hard all day and has excellent quality, doesn’t get recognized for their work while the person who is exceptional at politics (and doesn’t work all day, less output –with the same quality level) gets kudos for their work. Is this where the interpretation of “unfairness” comes in? This is also where the following question comes in.

Have you done any research on how managers might help people who are not outgoing, i.e., extroverts versus introverts? Another subject that comes to mind are those people who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. They are so different in how they are (or not) able to interact that they must be handled differently also. How do managers help build up confidence in these people? This question comes to mind because I read some statistics the other day about how 4-5 people out of 10 have physical disabilities whereas 7-8 out of 10 have mental (anxiety/panic, bipolar/schizophrenia and depression) disabilities. This was quite a surprise to me and yet we still don’t address it or recognize it as being a major part of our society and how we function.

I feel managers have a major part in recognizing these employees and should have strategies to help them. After all, extroverts may be the ones to come up with all the ideas but it’s the introverts who are able to carry through and get the work done.

X.

She’s absolutely right. It is the job of managers to get the best out of the people working for them. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. Managers get the best out of their staff by recognizing those strengths and weaknesses and adjusting the work-load, training, and coaching to get that best.

The Effect of Poor Promotion Decisions

I see this often in my current consulting work. People have been promoted as a reward for doing good, or because they are good at convincing their boss they’ve done good. You might say their strength is managing the relationship.

This isn’t always what’s best for the company. Especially when the newly minted manager doesn’t realize that their rôle and the skills required have fundamentally shifted. At best they are only mildly effective.

At worst, they are actively holding back the company, wasting time and resources, demoralizing others, and blocking advancement to more deserving employees. Plus the job they used to do so well is being left un-done or done poorly.

Let me say this as clearly as I can: Managers Manage People.

Managers Manage People

They don’t manage departments, or projects, or work product, scope, quality, schedule, or cost. They manage people, and everything else is managed by proxy through those people. Once you’ve gone beyond the level of individual contributor, the tools and techniques will fundamentally change. You now lead the collaboration.

Collaboration, team-work, relationship building- they’re all especially important in intellectual, knowledge-based, and innovative workplaces. It’s only going to get more collaborative as the Chinese and other formerly third-world economies come on line. Everything eventually becomes commoditized and sub-contracted.

One of my clients is currently in India talking to his drafting department. Don’t think he isn’t trying to figure out other ways to reduce his costs, work internationally, and grow his business. They have a low-bid Chinese competitor working on the building next to theirs spurring him on every day. The Chinese product’s installation may suck right now, but their people will get better at it.

Once you’ve gone beyond the level of turning a wrench, running the cash register, or writing that report, you’re effectiveness depends on “using” your people most effectively.

Let the Facts Speak For Themselves

Recognize and develop the people that actually do the work, based on facts and measures. Don’t get suckered into favoring the ones that have the skill to build a relationship with you. You will lose credibility.

I’m not saying that staff shouldn’t have the ability to build relationships. Certainly it’s a strength and a skill. I’m saying they shouldn’t be promoted based solely on the strength of their relationship with you.

As managers we shouldn’t have to judge the people that work for us. The facts, presented fairly, will do that for us. That’s why properly performed performance reviews are not just an annual event. They’re a process. One that you need to pay attention to every day.

Managing Your Relationship With Your Boss

My first response to Lady X (sounds mysterious doesn’t it?) was:

. . . . there’s a podcast I’d like to recommend to you called “Career Tools”. It can be found at http://www.manager-tools.com/podcasts/career-tools , and also on iTunes if you listen to podcast on your iPod or other technology. Of particular interest to you I think would be the “Professional Updates” episode: http://www.manager-tools.com/2008/11/boss-one-on-ones-professional-updates .

I’ll be writing more next week about how employees can help themselves, and about dealing with different behaviors and personalities most effectively.

In the meantime consider this:

How Should We Judge Managers?

Imagine you’re a manager. The CEO has decided your promotion and bonuses are now based on the fit and performance of the people you hired in the past. In other words, every year you will be evaluated by how well the people you hired into your company are doing, whether they still work for you directly or not.

You’re being evaluated on how well you pick and develop talent. How would that change how you whom you hire and how you lead them?