Creating The Right Culture For Innovation and Change

I’m not sure I buy into the concept of organisations having a culture of innovation.

After all, innovation is a process consisting of four things:

  • Having an idea that solves a problem
  • Doing something with that idea
  • Proving that it delivers new value for people
  • Translating it into reality and making it part of the everyday

The idea then that innovation is everyone’s job is naive at best.  Successful organisations need to be boringly reliable and radically disruptive at the same time, living with two competing sets of values.

However I do believe in creating the right culture for innovation.

Indeed, for an organisation to support innovation the culture must accommodate the risk and uncertainty that accompanies it.

What kind of culture are we looking for?

For me there are four elements to this:

Just enough friction: the most effective teams have regular, intense debates. As leaders, we need to help our teams disagree more. Discord has to be allowed to take its proper place if we are to solve the problems that matter.

The practice of high standards: innovation requires a set of crosscutting practices and processes to structure, organise, and encourage it. This requires a steady supply of high performing people who are committed. And if you create an environment of energy and high performance it will attract other high performers.

Permission to be different: a culture where it’s allowable, even encouraged, to push back. Everyone should be OK with questioning assumptions,  calling out inconsistent behavior and challenging old business models.

The ability to think and act experimentally: a tolerance for failure through practical experiments that show whether the fundamental assumptions about innovation are correct and what they mean for the business.

These traits only happen through a commitment to creating the right conditions. These are cultures that are reinforced every day, not just by the leadership , but with active collaboration from people at every tier of the organisation.

Let’s face it – most Mission Statements and Company Values are a complete waste of time. They exist as tacked up bits of paper on a wall rather than something that sits in the hearts and minds of people.

Here are three organisations from very different industries whose values are conducive to supporting innovation:

Zappos

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Zappos , the online shoe and clothing store, are known for their unique culture and values. Their CEO Tony Hsieh has said his company’s number one priority is the company culture. “Our whole belief is that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand or business, will just be a natural by-product of that.”

Here are the Zappos core values that are designed to be different:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  •  Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  •  Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

With the call to “create fun and a little weirdness”, Zappos are making it a place that supports innovation.

Buffer

I love the culture of Buffer, a service that helps you share to social networks.  You can feel the genuine enthusiasm for the organisation from the people who work there and what they tweet and blog about.

The Buffer team has jointly decided which words define the culture and put together this list of the 10 Buffer Values and how they live them.

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What’s impressive here is that they are a continual work in progress, with all members developing them in the open.

Having dealt with Buffer on a number of occasions I can say their values are displayed both in 1:1 dealings and in their online social presence: Listen First , Then Listen More.

Bromford

(Disclosure:  I work for Bromford and have a hand in developing the DNA – but I think it’s worth sharing the story)

Imagine screwing up your mission statement , vision and values and handing it over to three colleagues to start all over again and pitch it direct to the CEO. That’s what Bromford did and it’s how they came up with their original Bromford DNA.

The latest version of the DNA though, developed under new CEO Robert Nettleton, had a completely different genesis – focusing on collaboration. Bromford held more than 30 workshops with over 500 colleagues attending and sharing their views.  After these sessions a smaller group of colleagues took part in a fusion session with Bromford Lab – and from this the final definitions of our DNA emerged.

DNA Slides

 

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The fact so many people have co-developed the DNA gives Bromford a head start in embedding the culture. When you’ve energised the early adopters, you have given the framework for the culture added impetus and traction.

Bromford have even provided colleagues with a personalised notebook for them to record their actions and barriers to consistently living the DNA.

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Supporting ideas from fruition, selecting the best ones, experimenting and growing them is a very fragile process.

All we can really do as leaders is to create a climate that supports innovation –  a climate that will help to sustain a future ready organisation over the years to come.

Why Change Fails: Four Ways To Hack Your Culture

Org Structure

All over the the world our organisations are experiencing profound change. The most common way to react to that is the corporate change programme.

Every year businesses will embark on a series of reports , meetings, visioning sessions , training events and communication strategies. In almost every case the goal will be the same: to make fundamental changes to how business is conducted in order to cope with a new, more challenging market environment.

70% of these programmes will fail. And it will largely be down to your culture.

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Generally organisations don’t change. They don’t like it and don’t see why they should.

They adopt a culture – a unique blend of practices , beliefs and customs – that takes a long time to form and an age to break down.

Think how hard is to is to make a significant change to your personal life: quitting smoking , losing weight , ending a relationship. Multiply that difficulty by the number of employees you have and the hundreds and thousands of inter-relationships.

Just as your body is designed to fight a common cold, most of our cultures protect the organisational DNA from any irritant antibodies. Add something new and it’s likely to get rejected.

The challenge then is not to embark upon another change programme , but to disrupt your culture. To deliberately set out to mutate your organisational DNA.

But this isn’t easy and will be resisted. As David Burkus points out, research suggests that there is often a cognitive bias against new introductions – a “hierarchy of no”.

It’s going to be difficult for any of us to abandon our organisational structures – but there are ways you can create a “hierarchy of yes.”

Here are four ways to begin hacking your culture and challenging the status quo:

1 – Hack your Hierarchy

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As Tony Hsieh has said – one of the biggest organisational barriers to change can be managers themselves. Hierarchies simply aren’t built to accommodate change. If change is going to happen, it often has to be project managed a year in advance!

We don’t necessarily need to go the ‘No Manager’ extremes that Zappos are doing, but we do need a more democratic work environment. One where employees’ input is sought into areas once reserved for a select few. Social networks are wonderful opportunities to do this but, even in 2015, are still underused.

It’s more than seeking inputs, though. If we are serious about hacking hierarchy it means employees co-creating solutions with managers, not just feeding into meetings.

2 – Innovate from the edges

One of the mistakes change programmes often make is starting with managers. It’s almost impossible to innovate from the centre of the business. It’s easier to start at the outer edge and work your way in towards decision makers.

At Bromford Lab we’ve had to distinguish between wicked problems which might require widespread organisational change – and the smaller changes and innovations we can introduce from the edges of the organisation.

It’s why Jeff DeGraff argues for the creation of a “20/80 rule” to innovation: “It’s easier to change 20 percent of your organization 80 percent than it is to change 80 percent of your firm 20 percent,” he notes. Work your innovations from the outside in.

3 – Create an innovation dispersal system 

Keeping innovation locked up into a Lab or Hub type arrangement will only get you so far. You are going to need to infect emergent leaders if you want to bring about widespread change.

Leadership development programmes are a great way to make creativity part of everyone’s role. However they can often instill too much adherence to past organisational behaviour rather than a more disruptive future model.

As part of our own Lab work we helped formulate ‘squads’ as a way of cultivating problems and getting things to test quickly. This is also a way of seeding innovation throughout the organisation and beginning wider cultural transformation.

4 – Make everyone a disruptor 

Philippa Jones has recently called for people to use common sense rather than policies. For Bromford colleagues to bin the rulebook and think on their feet. For leaders to praise those who bend rules as long as it gets the right results for customers.

The organisation of the future will be one that differentiates their customer experience from the competition. Those who rip the rulebook apart, rather than slavishly follow the herd,  will be rewarded.

Giving people permission to create new rules is the quickest way to eliminate fear , the biggest enemy of innovation

These are all big, bold ways to hack your culture – but there are lots of mini-hacks you can do that will make a huge difference. Most colleagues are annoyed with a limited number of things which breed mediocrity.

The endless emails, the one to ones and appraisals, the meetings, the reports they have to write and the reports they have to read.

Most of us have the power to change these things. The power to test ideas and run experiments on doing these differently.

Our track record of introducing incremental change programmes is abysmal. And yet we now need to rewire our organisations for disruption. For sustaining as much rapid change as possible without falling apart.

The challenge is to develop a DNA that embraces those new and foreign ideas and quickly assimilates them.

  • A culture where change is led by everyone – not initiated by leaders and consultants.
  • Where everyone is actively questioning the status quo.
  • A culture that constantly asks: “How can we do this better?” or “What would we do if we started again?”.

If we all get to that, we’ll never need change programmes again.

[ Lead image rights: Integration Training

Six Ways To Kill Email

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Every week more and more organisations are waking up to the tyranny of email, and the part it is playing in the impending death of the office. We spend hours each week , up to four years of our lives, shifting low value (or no value) information from one place in our organisation to another.

Despite this, email apologists will tell you it doesn’t really need to be tamed . There really isn’t a problem: email , for all its faults, is the best thing we have right now.

I don’t believe that for a second.

ATOS chief Thierry Breton , who has banned internal email, estimated that barely 10% of the 200 messages his employees received on an average day were useful. ATOS calculated that managers spent between five and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails.

Nick Atkin of Halton Housing has announced that internal email will end from this February. He’s said it’s part of a fundamental rethink of how the organisation works, stating “We are taking back control from some of the systems and cultures we have all allowed to develop during the 20 years email has been part of our working lives.”

Email is undeniably wasteful but my problem with it runs deeper.

Email represents anti-social business. It locks down knowledge in silos. It reinforces hierarchy and disconnected thinking. It promotes an insidious system of cc’ing and , even worse , bcc’ing as a way of denying accountability. 

Despite that I do use email – it still has uses, but needs replacing as the default way we choose to do work.

Is it possible to seriously tame email without turning it off completely?

Yes. I’ve managed to reduce the time I spend on email by about 75% by adopting six rules.

The results speak for themselves – when I took nearly 3 weeks off work last September I returned to only 20 emails.

So , in the spirit of open knowledge sharing, here’s my six tips for a saner inbox:

1: Don’t send any 

This is by far the most effective thing you can do. Every email you send begs a reply – sometimes several. By pressing send you are literally making work for yourself – which is a pretty stupid thing to do. Copying people in to every email is not effective information sharing. There are loads of better tools for keeping people informed of what you’re working on (Note: they probably aren’t interested anyway.)

2: Use WhatsApp for chats

Since the formation of Bromford Lab , we’ve turned off in-team email and moved to Whatsapp. WhatsApp is great for creating groups and promoting a more social place to chat and interact without the annoyance of email threads. It eliminates team spam about cakes and whose birthday it is. And it’s loads more fun too.

3: Create a “Yesterbox”

I’m shamelessly stole this tip from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

The idea: Only deal with yesterday’s emails today. 

The rule: If it can wait 48 hours without causing harm, then you are not allowed to respond to any emails that come in today, even if it’s a simple one-word reply. You need to psychologically train yourself to not worry about emails that are coming in….

You can read an outline of the concept at Yesterbox.com

It’s worked well for me as you have a much better sense of which to prioritise – as well as ruthlessly deleting any that aren’t worthy of attention. Which leads us to…

4: Delete any that are three days old 

This takes some bravery – but trust me it works. If you haven’t looked at something for three days it simply can’t be very important. Delete it. If anyone is bothered they will chase you up on it. 90% of the time they don’t – it was low value work that never really needed doing.

5: Restrict mail to just four sentences.

If you do get an email from me you’ll see this:

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By cutting down the waffle and getting to the point you save time for yourself and the recipient. The link takes you to this site which explains why verbose mails are toxic. If you want to be more radical you can take it down to three lines, or if you’re really hardcore, two.

6: Unsubscribe from everything 

Make it part of your day to unsubscribe from at least five email lists. Email marketeers breed like rabbits but you can stem the flow by turning off their constant distractions.  Don’t just delete them and hope they will go away – they won’t. Also go into the notification settings of any work networks like Yammer you are part of. Turn them off – you’ll see a huge difference instantly.

I’ve seen radically different results from using these six tips, I hope you found them useful.

Please share any of yours in the comments section – if we get enough I’ll turn it into a slide deck.

Managers are waste: Five organisations saying goodbye to the boss

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“Until there is a monumental shift in the leadership dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then the debate about the need for an office (in the traditional sense) will be a long one.”  – Tracey Johnson commenting on Why The Death Of The Office Can’t Come Too Soon

For lots of people the traditional office – a place many go to simply to attend meetings and do emails – has become toxic.

But many readers of my recent post thought I was overstating the problem, believing if we tackled those two big time wasters it could be restored to a former grandeur.

I personally favour more radical solutions – as alluded to by Tracey in her full comment here.

Emails and meetings, together with outdated reporting and approval systems, are part of a wider hierarchical culture that is at odds with the onset of truly social business.

One of the barriers to adopting more transformational ways of working is often not the executive leadership of the organisation but the point at which it can all start to go very wrong.

The manager.

Management is the greatest inefficiency in any organisation.

Many of you will be familiar with the work of Gary Hamel – but it’s worth revisiting his examples on management waste in the context of the death of the office.

Typically a small organisation might start off simply – one manager and 10 employees. 

But as it grows it will often keep this ratio and sometimes reduce it. So an organisation with 100,000 employees will have at least 11,111 managers. Because an additional 1,111 managers will be needed to manage the managers.

And that’s before you go near management related functions whose entire function is , well , management.

It’s very easy to make yourself busy as a manager:

  • The one to ones and appraisals.
  • The team meetings and management meetings.
  • The reports you have to write and the reports you have to read that other managers have to write.
  • Authorising peoples annual leave and expenses or explaining why you won’t authorise peoples annual leave and expenses.

You could fill up 40 hours a week with just being a manager.

This multi-tiered management model piles inefficiency upon inefficiency. Decision making slows. People become less empowered.

Unsurprisingly, a number of organisations are now exploring the manager-less organisation. And it’s a trend that will only grow as social technology enables very different ways of working, both across the organisation and even across sectors.

One of the biggest has been Zappos, the online shoe and clothing store, who have adopted a system called holocracy – which replaces top-down control with a distribution of decision-making.

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Here’s how Tony Hsieh  (who was CEO before they all gave up job titles) describes his vision:

“Research shows that every time the size of a city doubles, innovation or productivity per resident increases by 15 percent.
But when companies get bigger, innovation or productivity per employee generally goes down.
So we’re trying to figure out how to structure Zappos more like a city, and less like a bureaucratic corporation. In a city, people and businesses are self- organising.
We’re trying to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work, instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”

Rather than by managers,  Zappos is being run via a series of self organising teams. Instead of going up the chain of command, decision-making is entrusted to groups of employees, called circles.  People can assume whatever roles they want within these circles to focus on the task in hand.

Whether it’s successful or not – it marks a shift in how large organisations are dismantling long established models to encourage greater agility and innovation.

Here are some other organisations that are worth looking at:

Valve

Valve, the video game developer , have a culture built on the premise that there are no managers, with each colleague able to choose the project he or she is working on. Don’t like the project? Fine , just get up and move to one you like. Valve also have a wonderful employee handbook which is a must-read.

Medium

Medium, the blog publishing platform, have adopted a philosophy of “No people managers. Maximum autonomy”. Adopting a form of holocracy, people can build versatile roles for themselves that speak to their whole skill sets — rather than just a single ability.  This goes against the standard , and completely wasteful , practice of recruiting for roles rather than people.

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Treehouse , the online interactive education platform, have not only adopted the #NoManager philosophy but have also combined it with a four day working week. Over 90% of employees voted to adopt a manager less structure (the other 10%, presumably, were managers) with the rules of the new organisation being written by collaboration on a Google doc.

Gore

And it can be done at really large companies. At  WL Gore –  a multi-billion dollar company with 10,000 staff, people choose their own bosses – or “sponsors” as they call them.  There are “no chains of command” and instead associates communicate directly with each other.

It’s interesting to contemplate why the public sector – most of which requires far more radical transformation than the likes of Zappos – has not explored the #NoManager principle.

Social media has distributed knowledge across countless networks. On Twitter , for example, you can connect and learn from anyone. The unlikeliest people can become leaders, knowledge sharers and super-connectors.

Exactly the same thing will happen in organisations as people seek out people who inspire them rather than who manages them on a structure chart. And just like social media , you will not be able to control it.

The traditional manager , just like the traditional office, has to adapt or die.

How Social Are Your Organisational Values?

Be Different

One of the most repeated laws of the social web is that people trust word of mouth recommendation via personal networks more than they do advertising or PR.

With that in mind , it’s odd that more organisations don’t harness one of the most powerful resources at their disposal-the people they employ.

If ,for example, you look across the UK public sector – there are only a handful of organisations who have a significant employee social media presence. This seems counterintuitive –  as the average employee is regarded as a more trustable brand advocate than the Chief Executive. (Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2013)

One of the reasons we don’t see more employee social presence is that it doesn’t happen by accident. Organisations that are on the journey to being a social business have cultures that have been developed over time. Cultures that are reinforced every day , not just by the leadership , but with active collaboration from people at every tier of the business.

These are organisations where employees identify with and believe in the company values and are only too keen to promote them.

And some of the organisations who are doing the most exciting things on the social web have company values that actively encourage people to behave differently.

Let’s face it – most Mission Statements and Company Values are a complete waste of time. They exist as tacked up bits of paper on a wall rather than something that sits in the hearts and minds of people.

So I want to look at three organisations from very different industries who are doing things differently:

Zappos

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Zappos , the online shoe and clothing store, are known for their unique culture and values. Their CEO Tony Hsieh has said his company’s number one priority is the company culture. “Our whole belief is that if we get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand or business, will just be a natural by-product of that.”

Here are the Zappos core values that are designed to be different:

Deliver WOW Through Service 

Embrace and Drive Change 

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness 

 Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded 

 Pursue Growth and Learning 

 Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication 

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit 

Do More With Less 

Be Passionate and Determined 

Be Humble

With the call to “create fun and a little weirdness”, Zappos are making it OK to have a unique social presence.

Buffer

Buffer

I love the service and the culture of Buffer, a service that helps you share to social networks.  You can feel the genuine enthusiasm for the organisation from the people who work there and what they tweet and blog about.

The Buffer team has jointly decided which words define the culture and put together this list of the 9 Buffer Values , a continual work in progress:

Always Choose Positivity and Happiness

Default to Transparency

Have a Focus on Self Improvement

Be a “no-ego” Doer

Listen First, Then Listen More

Have a Bias Towards Clarity

Make Time to Reflect

Live Smarter, Not Harder

Show Gratitude

Having dealt with Buffer on a number of occasions I can say their values are displayed both in 1:1 dealings and in their online social presence: Listen First , Then Listen More.

Bromford

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(Disclosure:  I work for Bromford and my handprint is on these values – but I think it’s worth sharing the story!)

Imagine screwing up your mission statement , vision and values and handing it over to internal colleagues to start all over again and pitch it direct to the CEO. That’s what Bromford did and it’s how they came up with their Bromford DNA.

Mainly developed in an intensive 90 minute session and presented to the Board without so much as a report being written – the Bromford approach sets outs an expectation that colleague and company behaviour should follow the Four B’s.

So to Be Bromford you should:

Be Different

Be Brave

Be Commercial

Be Good

The aim was to have something simple that colleagues could remember but also be something they could live by.

I think this post by my colleague Andy Johnson gives some of the best examples of how these values are being brought alive and built upon by colleagues. It’s a hashtag ready set of company values.

Although there is never going to be a “best way” to lead a social organisation – the key differentiator will be the way their service is delivered through people.

We should aim for values that set people free to be unique and memorable – during the 9-5 and beyond.

I’d love to hear other examples of great values you have seen or are developing.

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