Category Archives: culture

Building Teams with a Culture Of Trust

Building Teams with a Culture Of Trust

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Trust is the foundation of any successful team. Without trust, team members will not feel comfortable sharing their ideas, taking risks, or admitting their mistakes. Building a culture of trust on a team is crucial for achieving better results, higher levels of engagement, and less stress.

But first, we need to confront a brutal truth up front: trust alone is not enough. What teams need is a culture of psychological safety. When team members feel safe to express their opinions and ideas without fear of judgment or retribution, they are more likely to take risks and share their failures.

And the process of building psychological safety on a team has three stages: trust, risk, and respect. In this article, we will explore the three stages of and offer some advice on how leaders can guide their team through each one.

Stage 1: Trust

The first stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is trust. Team members need to trust each other before anyone takes any interpersonal risk like speaking up or disagreeing. And while many leaders go to elaborate lengths like trust falls, team-building activities, and personality tests, for most teams, trust is built by building relationships. People trust people they know and like. And for teams, that means finding uncommon commonalities between members of the team. When team members share their interests, hobbies, and personal stories, they can find common ground and build rapport. This can lead to more open and honest communication, which is essential for building trust.

The most common way leaders can help team members find uncommon commonalities is by creating unstructured moments for conversation. This could be through shared meals, shared activities, or even just small moments before or after meetings when the conversation drifts away from work. When team members have the opportunity to connect on a personal level, they can build relationships beyond their work roles and that builds trust in their work roles.

Stage 2: Risk

The second stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is risk. Once team members trust each other, they’re more willing to take risks. Risk-taking involves being vulnerable and sharing failures. It also involves airing disagreements. And can even mean sharing a “crazy” idea that’s outside the norm. All of those moments are forms of interpersonal risk—and teams need those risks. When team members take risks, they are more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions. However, taking risks can be scary, especially if team members do not feel safe to share their failures.

The most common way leaders can help team members take more risks is by modeling the way as a leader and being vulnerable first. When leaders share their own failures, or at a minimum admit when their weakness or doubts, they demonstrate that they are trusting the team. And when people feel trusted, they’re more likely to respond with trustworthy behavior and to trust the person being vulnerable more—which makes it more likely they’ll take interpersonal risks in the future too.

Stage 3: Respect

The final stage of building a culture of psychological safety on a team is respect. Respect happens after the risk—and is all about how people respond to one another’s risk-taking. It’s great to build small amounts of trust on a team, and great when people start to take interpersonal risks. But when someone speaks up, airs a disagreement, or admits a failure and they don’t feel heard, respected, and cared for—their trust is immediately diminished. And the trust levels of anyone watching the exchange go down as well. That’s the reason trust on a team is not enough. Trust needs to lead to risk taking which leads to respectful responses—otherwise the level of trust stays low.

The most common way leaders can help team members respond respectful is by practicing active listening. When vulnerable moments occur, leaders need to be focused on the person sharing, offer non-verbals that encourage more sharing, and ask clarifying questions to draw out even more. If leaders are focused elsewhere or snapping back with quick responses or criticisms, then not only does the person sharing feel slighted, but the team also begins to believe that is how to respond to divergent ideas. In contrast, active listening signals respect, which increases trust and encourages more sharing in the future, which offers more opportunities to signal respect.

In that way, the cycle of trust, risk, and respect operates like a flywheel and needs to be consistently maintained to keep the culture of trust high. By finding uncommon commonalities that build trust, encouraging interpersonal risk-taking, and responding to risk-taking with respect, teams can continue to increase their level of psychological safety—and provide a climate where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on June 12, 2023

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CEO Secrets of a Successful Turnaround

CEO Secrets of a Successful Turnaround

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

While most outside of the tech industry won’t know the Avaya brand, most will have experienced its technology if you’ve contacted customer support or communicated directly with a brand for any reason. It is a multinational technology company based in the U.S. that provides communications and collaboration technologies for contact centers in 172 countries, including 90% of the Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. Its product helps give a better customer service experience for its customer’s customers.

I had the opportunity to interview Alan Masarek about the Avaya story. Specifically, we discussed what happened since he joined the company less than one year ago. The short version of the story is that he and his leadership team successfully guided the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, restructuring its finances and streamlining its operations. And they did this while maintaining what Masarek calls Avaya’s North Star.

In referring to that “North Star,” Masarek says, “Customer service and experience is core to who we are and for every role in the company. Our customers count on us for the communications and collaboration technology that make customer interactions not only work, but work better.” He went on to explain the four core components they focus on:

1. Culture: Everything starts with culture. Masarek wants to make Avaya a “destination place to work,” which means attracting and keeping the best talent. Once you get good people, you must keep them there. His strategy for creating a “destination place to work” includes three components. The first is a rewards and recognition program that validates an employee’s efforts and creates a sense of accomplishment. The second is to create a culture employees want to be a part of. And third is to provide an opportunity for growth. Masarek says a company’s positive reviews and ratings on, where employee rate their employers, is a success criteria he looks at.

2. Product: Avaya is a technology company and must continuously innovate and improve. They created a “product roadmap” where customers can see what products are being phased out, retained and, most importantly, being developed for the future. “We must deliver innovation—the right innovation—and we have to deliver it on time and with quality,” said Masarek. “We will be successful when we are both transparent (which is why Avaya published the roadmap) and reliable. When we deliver on that commitment over time, that reliability becomes trust.”

3. Customer Delight: If your customers don’t like the experience or the product doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, they will find another company and product that meets their needs. Masarek recognizes the importance of customer delight and has invested heavily in hearing and understanding the “Voice of the Customer,” paying attention to customer satisfaction scores and NPS (Net Promoter Scores). Masarek is emphatic about customer delight, stating, “We are in service to the customer. CX is everyone’s responsibility.” And this isn’t just lip service. Those satisfaction and NPS numbers are tied to some of the employees’ compensation plans.

4. Accountability: “We must be accountable,” Masarek says, “to one another, to the customers, and to the results. When you take care of the first three (culture, product and customer delight), this fourth one becomes much easier to achieve.”

While sharing the entire story in a short article is impossible, you can see the overarching strategies and thinking behind Masarek’s leadership and Avaya’s success. And here’s my observation: It’s not complicated!

If you look at the four core components Avaya focuses on, you might say, “There’s nothing new here,” but don’t let simplicity, or that these seem like common sense, get in the way of incorporating them into your strategy. In good times and bad, focusing on culture, product, customer delight and accountability/results are the undeniable strategies that drive success.

This article originally appeared on

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Culture Secrets for Attracting and Keeping the Best Employees

Culture Secrets for Attracting and Keeping the Best Employees

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer. It is more important than ever to create a culture that attracts and retains the best employees. Good or bad, the culture and employees operating within it will influence the customer experience. That’s why today we’re going to dive into creating a workplace culture that gets and keeps your best people.

“Toxic workplace” is a common buzzword in today’s society. An article in Business Insider says nearly 30 million U.S. workers think their workplace is toxic. However, toxic workplaces don’t usually start out that way, and if they do, they find it difficult to survive in today’s hyper-competitive landscape. So, assuming the path is paved with good intentions, what goes wrong along the way?

While many companies are founded upon core values, rarely are those values consistently seen throughout the organization’s leadership. The two keywords in this statement are consistent and leadership. If your organization’s leadership and management aren’t representing its stated values, how can you expect their supporting employees to do so? Moreover, if the leadership isn’t consistently representing the company values, their actions can be even more polarizing.

Like it or not, humans remember bad memories longer than good memories; it’s a scientific fact that leads back to evolutionary behaviors. That means if your leaders are not consistently, meaning always, acting with the organization’s core values in mind, they aren’t representing the values at all. This will be noticed and remembered by employees. And, you can’t expect your people to act any differently than the leaders they are supposed to follow and admire.

So why implement a corporate culture in the first place? Jonathan Keyser, the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win, states, “A good culture equates to so much more than just an enjoyable workplace or a happy team. A strong culture acts as a safeguard to protect your business’s most valuable resources. When companies do not focus on their culture, they are prone to significant setbacks, including a loss of brain trust, costly recruiting fees, training and development time, and stunted interpersonal collaboration, which all equate to a financial loss.”

When Keyser is not out speaking to organizations about how to create the culture of selfless service that gets employees to stay, he’s running a successful commercial real estate company. USA Today calls Keyser “The Commercial Real Estate Industry Disrupter.” I had a chance to meet with Keyser to discuss his book and he shared five steps to creating a healthy workplace culture:

1. Reflect – Keyser asks, “What type of employee do you want to attract?” You start by creating a mental persona for that individual. You want to define the behaviors and attitudes you are seeking. You also want to know what would attract that person to your organization. That will be reflected in your organization’s behavior. Keyser adds, “Once you define what’s important to your employees, follow the same process for your clients.”

2. Specify – Keyser says, “The problem with most corporate values is they are ambiguous. Companies will write words and phrases like integrity, teamwork and hard work on their office walls and don’t give context as to what those words truly mean within the workplace.” Go beyond the writing of the words and add simple and clear definitions or descriptions of how they are to be used at work. Start with your core value key phrases—what do they mean in relation to how your team interacts with each other and the outside world?

3. Differentiate – Is the culture you are implementing different enough from your competitors to win the attention of recruits? If not, you’re just like any other employer. You want to find your difference. For example, one of Keyser’s core principles is to be bold. Plenty of companies claim to be bold. However, Keyser takes it one step further and clearly defines what this means in his company. He says that they do not punish mistakes, because fear of mistakes keeps a person from being bold and willing to take massive action, which is where value is created.

4. Implement – This goes back to the second step, specify. One toxic person can destroy a culture, so it’s crucial to be specific when you outline what type of behavior is expected of your team and what corrective action should be taken if you find misalignment. The words you “write on your walls” must come to life.

5. Realign – The question isn’t if you’ll go out of alignment with the culture you’ve created (or want to create), it’s when. Keyser suggests constantly monitoring and evaluating the culture. Speak to members at the top and bottom of your organization, have your HR team conduct exit interviews, and check online sources like Glassdoor regularly. Keyser says, “A toxic workplace can spread like wildfire, so it’s your job to investigate proactively and realign when necessary.” I refer to this as defending the culture, which may be one of the most important jobs of a leader.

A toxic workplace will challenge the company to keep not only employees, but also customers. The leaders’ ability to define core values, as well as live and demonstrate them to employees is the key to creating an enduring, positive culture. These five steps to creating a healthy workplace culture will also help you prevent a toxic culture so you retain your best employees—and your best customers.

This article originally appeared on

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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The Comforter Cold War of 2006

(or How Assumptions Stifle Innovation)

The Comforter Cold War of 2006

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

In the room were two single beds, each with a fluffy white comforter folded neatly on top.

“Yeah, this is not gonna work.”

I had just entered my one-bedroom corporate apartment in Copenhagen, and while everything else was pleasantly light and spacious, there was no way I would spend the next six months sleeping in a single bed.

So, I set down my suitcases and immediately pushed the two beds together, using the two nightstands to secure them. The two comforters would work since there was just one of me, and I made a mental note to request a king-sized comforter from the desk when I left for work in the morning.

Thus began the great Comforter Cold War of 2006/2007.

Every few days, I would request a king-sized comforter for my jerry-rigged king-sized bed.  I would return to find one queen-sized comforter.  The luxury of a larger comforter would diminish the disappointment of not getting an appropriately sized one, and I would bask in the warmth of fully covered sleep.  For one night. The next day, I would return to my room only to find that the two single comforters had returned.

This went on for nine months.

I shared this story of passive-aggressive housekeeping at my going away party with my colleagues. Midway through the story, I noticed the absolutely baffled looks on their faces.


“Why did you want one comforter?”

“Because I have one bed.  A comforter should cover the bed.”

“Why?  A bed doesn’t need a comforter.  A person does.  You just need a comforter to cover you.”

[extended silence while we try to process each other’s points]

“So, does that mean that in Denmark, if a couple sleeps together, they each have their own comforter?”

“Yes, of course!  Why would we share?  Each person has their own temperature preferences, and there’s no worry about someone stealing your covers.”

My mind.  Was.  Blown.

This made so much sense. A comforter covers a person, so the 1:1 ratio of comforter to people is far more logical than a 1:1 ratio of comforter to bed (and often a 1:2 ratio of comforter to people).  Seriously, how many relationships would be saved by simply having separate comforters?

Yet, for nine months, it made more sense to me to battle for a comforter size that apparently doesn’t exist in the country without ever asking why I couldn’t get what I was so clearly and reasonably (in my mind) requesting.

I assumed the apartment building didn’t have king-sized comforters or only enough for the actual king-sized beds.  I assumed housekeeping was on automatic pilot, not realizing they were replacing a queen-sized comforter with two single ones.  I assumed that communication amongst the staff was poor, so my request wasn’t being shared.  I assumed a lot.

But I never assumed that I was wrong and that the root of the problem was a cultural difference so deeply ingrained and subtle that it never occurred to anyone to question it.

Question your assumptions.

Assumptions are a shortcut to understanding our world.  Based on culture, experiences, and even stereotypes, we make assumptions about what came before, who we’re interacting with, what’s happening now, and what will happen next.

Most of the time, we’re right (or at least more right than wrong), so we keep making assumptions. It’s also why, when our assumptions are wrong, we tend to question everything but our assumptions.

And that kills innovation because it limits our curiosity and imagination, our perception of what’s possible, and our willingness to engage with and learn from others.

We all cling to assumptions that lead to Cold Wars. 

What’s yours?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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How A Networked Culture Drives Experian’s Innovation

How A Networked Culture Drives Experian's Innovation

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, the bestselling memoir of the his historic turnaround at IBM, Lou Gerstner wrote, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—It is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

There has been endless discussion about whether change should be driven from the top-down or the bottom-up, but that is, for the most part, a red herring. True transformation tends to move side-to-side, driven through horizontal connections among peers. The best way to create change in an organization is to empower it.

That’s why the data giant Experian invested years networking its organization and found that it paid off when it mattered most. While traditional hierarchies waste valuable time and effort pushing orders down the chain of command, networked organizations can adapt to changing market conditions with far more agility. Transformation begins with a networked culture.

An Innovation Culture Is A Collaborative Culture

One of the most common questions I get asked by senior managers is “How can we find more innovative people?” I know the type they have in mind. Someone energetic and dynamic, full of ideas and able to present them powerfully. It seems like everybody these days is looking for an early version of Steve Jobs. Yet the truth is that an innovative culture is a collaborative culture.

When Justin Hastings arrived at Experian North America as Chief Human Resources Officer, he saw it as his job to support and empower the culture. “Essentially, we run a talent business,” he told me. “My job is to not only supply, maintain and retain that talent, but to make sure those people are are motivated and see real meaning and value in their work.”

“Culture is front and center, just incredibly important to us,” he continued. “It’s the enabler of business performance. Our company is all about driving the innovation that drives value for customers. A big part of what makes that possible is that we work hard to make everybody here feel included, that the company’s success is their success.”

However, Hastings warns that building a culture takes a lot more than just some pleasant platitudes in an employee handbook, nice speeches by the CEO and company events. “You can’t just build a culture from the top down. To be authentic, you have to build your culture organically, through informal networks,” he explains.

The Strength of Weak Ties and Boundary Spanners

In the early 1970s, sociologist Mark Granovetter began researching how professional, technical and managerial workers found jobs in the Boston area. He was somewhat surprised to find that they often found work someone they knew, but not a close contact, like a friend or family member, but someone more removed, like a friend of a friend or a distant cousin. He called this principle the ‘Strength of Weak Ties’.

Further analysis shows why it works. Those who are closest to us know pretty much the same things we do, because they frequent similar places and do similar things. So if we want to gain access to new information, we need to broaden our scope and connect with people further out on the social spectrum.

Hastings noticed this principle at work in Experian’s volunteer efforts. For example, many employees participate in its “Le Tour de Experian” bike rides to benefit charity. They do it to do some good and have some fun, but Hastings saw that the bike riders were also building strong bonds across organizational boundaries and these bonds were resulting in professional collaborations that created value for Experian and its customers.

Network scientists call people like the collaborating bike riders boundary spanners, because although they form strong bonds with each other, they essentially play the role of “weak ties” in Granovetter’s research. They perform a crucial function by linking disparate parts of the organization and helping knowledge and information to circulate.

Hastings figured that he could accelerate the formation of boundary spanners throughout Experian by giving employees the opportunity to organize around things they care about. Experian clubs, like the biking group, are focused on interests, while Employee Resource Groups focus on identity, like Latino heritage, gay pride or military service.

Using Networks To Empower Transformation

When Barry Libenson first arrived at Experian as Global CIO in 2015, he devoted the first few months to getting a sense what its customers wanted. It quickly became clear that what they coveted most was real-time access to data. If he could provide that by shifting Experian’s technology infrastructure to the cloud, it could be an enormous opportunity.

Yet it could also be an enormous problem. “There was a lot of concern that we were going to disrupt our own business and that we would lose control of our data,” Libenson told me. “For years, Experian’s business model had been based on a traditional architecture. There were also security concerns.” To make matters worse, research by McKinsey indicates that roughly 75% of transformational initiatives fail.

So instead of trying to force change through, Libenson sought to empower it. Much like Hastings did with Clubs and Employees Resource Groups, he identified people within the organization that were already enthusiastic about the shift to cloud technology and made sure they were trained to implement it. Those early apostles could then help convert others.

Libenson also saw how Experian’s networked culture helped smooth the way. “Digital transformation is somewhat of a misnomer. You’re not really transforming the technology, but more importantly, the people who use it. Having a networked culture means that you can spread enthusiasm about transformation—as well as the expertise to implement it—much faster and with far less resistance than you could otherwise,” he says.

The Journey Continues

As I explain in Cascades, all too often an initial success gives way to inertia, backsliding and eventually, failure. The truth is, it’s not enough to just drive change, you also need to learn how to survive victory. You do that by focusing on culture and values, rather than on any one particular objective, so that you are constantly preparing for the next challenge.

These days, Experian is highly focused on leveraging artificial intelligence which, much like the shift to the cloud, is both a great opportunity and a potential problem. AI has the potential to vastly improve things like credit scores, but the algorithms can’t be a “black box.” To be effective, they must be auditable and explainable.

Experian’s Datalabs unit is hard at work creating more transparent AI algorithms, and making progress, but the technology will only be valuable if Datalabs scientists can work effectively with professionals from other divisions of the company. So Eric Haller, who leads Datalabs, set up a series of seminars to connect with the rest of the company.

“To implement this technology requires a certain amount of sophistication that is relatively rare,” he told me. “So not only were we putting information out there, through the connections we made we were also able to identify expertise throughout our company we were not aware of. Those new relationships have already opened up new possibilities for collaboration.”

What’s interesting and salient about how the network culture was built at Experian is how it all seems so mundane. Many firms have clubs, employee groups and volunteer efforts. Seminars aren’t particularly unusual, either. Yet it’s not any one program or platform, but how those initiatives are optimized to widen and deepen informal bonds across the organization, that makes the difference.

The truth is that, today, competitiveness is no longer determined by the sum of all efficiencies within a business, but the sum of all connections.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on
— Image credit: Unsplash

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What Einstein Got Wrong

Defining Design

What Einstein Got Wrong - Defining Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”Albert Einstein (supposedly)

This is one of my favorite quotes because it’s an absolute gut punch.  You think you know something, probably because you’ve been saying and doing it for years.  Then someone comes along and asks you to explain it, and suddenly, you’re just standing there, mouth agape, gesturing, hoping that this wacky game of charades produces an answer.

This happened to me last Monday.

While preparing to teach a course titled “Design Innovation Lab,” I thought it would be a good idea to define “design” and “innovation.”  I already had a slide with the definition of “innovation” – something new that creates value – but when I had to make one for “design,” my stomach sank.

My first definition was “pretty pictures,” which is both wrong and slightly demeaning because designers do that and so much more.  My second definition, I know it when I see it, was worse.

So, I Googled the definition.

Then I asked ChatGPT.

Then I asked some designer friends.

No one had a simple definition of Design.

As the clock ticked closer to 6:00 pm, I defaulted to a definition from the International Council of Design:

“Design is a discipline of study and practice focused on the interaction between a person – a “user” – and the man-made environment, taking into account aesthetic, functional, contextual, cultural, and societal considerations.  As a formalized discipline, design is a modern construct.”

Before unveiling this definition to a classroom full of degreed designers pursuing their Master’s in Design, I asked them to define “design.”

It went as well as all my previous attempts.  Lots of thoughts and ideas.  Lots of “it’s this but not that.”  Lots of debate about whether it needs to have a purpose for it to be distinct from art.

Absolutely no simple explanations or punchy definitions.

So, when I unveiled the definition from the very official-sounding International Council of Design, we all just stared at it.

“Yes, but it’s not quite right.”

“It is all those things, but it’s more than just those things.”

“I guess it is a ‘modern construct’ when you think of it as a job, but we’ve done it forever.”

As we squinted and puzzled, what was missing slowly dawned on us. 

There was nothing human in this definition. There was no mention of feelings or empathy, life or nature, connection or community, aspirations or dreams.

In this definition, designers consider multiple aspects of an unnatural environment in creating something to be used. Designers are simply the step before mass production begins.

Who wants to do that?

Who wants to be a stop, however necessary, on a conveyor belt of sameness?

Yet that’s what we become when we strip the humanness out of our work.

Humans are messy, emotional, unpredictable, irrational, challenging, and infuriating.

We’re also interesting, creative, imaginative, hopeful, kind, curious, hard-working, and resilient.

When we try to strip away human messiness to create MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) target markets and customer personas, we strip away the human we’re creating for.

When we ignore unpredictable and irrational feedback on our ideas, we ignore the creative and imaginative answers that could improve our ideas.

When we give up on a challenge because it’s more difficult than expected and doesn’t produce immediate results, we give up hope, resiliency, and the opportunity to improve things.

I still don’t have a simple definition of design, but I know that one that doesn’t acknowledge all the aspects of a human beyond just being a “user” isn’t correct.

Even if you explain something simply, you may not understand it well enough.

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An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

An Innovation Lesson From The Rolling Stones

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

If you’re like most people, you’ve faced disappointment. Maybe the love of your life didn’t return your affection, you didn’t get into your dream college, or you were passed over for promotion.  It hurts.  And sometimes, that hurt lingers for a long time.

Until one day, something happens, and you realize your disappointment was a gift.  You meet the true love of your life while attending college at your fallback school, and years later, when you get passed over for promotion, the two of you quit your jobs, pursue your dreams, and live happily ever after. Or something like that.

We all experience disappointment.  We also all get to choose whether we stay there, lamenting the loss of what coulda shoulda woulda been, or we can persevere, putting one foot in front of the other and playing The Rolling Stones on repeat:

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you might just find

You get what you need”

That’s life.

That’s also innovation.

As innovators, especially leaders of innovators, we rarely get what we want.  But we always get what we need (whether we like it or not)

We want to know. 
We need to be comfortable not knowing.

Most of us want to know the answer because if we know the answer, there is no risk. There is no chance of being wrong, embarrassed, judged, or punished.  But if there is no risk, there is no growth, expansion, or discovery.

Innovation is something new that creates value. If you know everything, you can’t innovate.

As innovators, we need to be comfortable not knowing.  When we admit to ourselves that we don’t know something, we open our minds to new information, new perspectives, and new opportunities. When we say we don’t know, we give others permission to be curious, learn, and create. 

We want the creative genius and billion-dollar idea. 
We need the team and the steady stream of big ideas.

We want to believe that one person blessed with sufficient time, money, and genius can change the world.  Some people like to believe they are that person, and most of us think we can hire that person, and when we do find that person and give them the resources they need, they will give us the billion-dollar idea that transforms our company, disrupts the industry, and change the world.

Innovation isn’t magic.  Innovation is team work.

We need other people to help us see what we can’t and do what we struggle to do.  The idea-person needs the optimizer to bring her idea to life, and the optimizer needs the idea-person so he has a starting point.  We need lots of ideas because most won’t work, but we don’t know which ones those are, so we prototype, experiment, assess, and refine our way to the ones that will succeed.   

We want to be special.
We need to be equal.

We want to work on the latest and most cutting-edge technology and discuss it using terms that no one outside of Innovation understands. We want our work to be on stage, oohed and aahed over on analyst calls, and talked about with envy and reverence in every meeting. We want to be the cool kids, strutting around our super hip offices in our hoodies and flip-flops or calling into the meeting from Burning Man. 

Innovation isn’t about you.  It’s about serving others.

As innovators, we create value by solving problems.  But we can’t do it alone.  We need experienced operators who can quickly spot design flaws and propose modifications.  We need accountants and attorneys who instantly see risks and help you navigate around them.  We need people to help us bring our ideas to life, but that won’t happen if we act like we’re different or better.  Just as we work in service to our customers, we must also work in service to our colleagues by working with them, listening, compromising, and offering help.

What about you?
What do you want?
What are you learning you need?

Image Credit: Unsplash

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3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

(including one that makes Radical Innovation easy)

3 Ways to View Your Innovation Basket

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

You are a rolling stone, and that means you gather no moss!  You read the September issue of HBR (and maybe last week’s article), tossed out your innovation portfolio, and wove yourself an innovation basket to “differentiate the concept from finance and avoid the mistake of treating projects like financial securities, where the goal is usually to maximize returns through diversification [and instead] remember that innovation projects are creative acts.”   

Then you explained this to your CFO and received side-eye so devastating it would make Sophie Loren proud.

The reality is that the innovation projects you’re working on are investments, and because they’re risky, diversification is the best way to maximize the returns your company needs.

But it’s not the only way we should communicate, evaluate, and treat them.

Different innovation basket views for different customers

When compiling an innovation basket, the highest priority is having a single source of truth.  If people in the organization disagree on what is in and out of the basket, how you measure and manage the portfolio doesn’t matter.

But a single source of truth doesn’t mean you can’t look at that truth from multiple angles.

Having multiple views showing the whole basket while being customized to address each of your internal customer’s Jobs to be Done will turbocharge your ability to get support and resources.

The CFO: What returns will we get and when?

The classic core/adjacent/transformational portfolio is your answer.  By examining each project based on where to play (markets and customers) and how to win (offerings, profit models, key resources and activities), you can quickly assess each project’s relative riskiness, potential return, time to ROI, and resource requirements.

The CEO: How does this support and accelerate our strategic priorities?

This is where the new innovation basket is most helpful.  By starting with the company’s strategic goals and asking, “What needs to change to achieve our strategy?” leadership teams immediately align innovation goals with corporate strategic priorities.  When projects and investments are placed at the intersection of the goal they support, and the mechanism of value creation (e.g., product, process, brand), the CEO can quickly see how investments align with strategic priorities and actively engage in reallocation decisions.

You: Will any of these ever see the light of day?

As much as you hope the answer is “Yes!”, you know the answer is “Some.  Maybe.  Hopefully.”  You also know that the “some” that survive might not be the biggest or the best of the basket.  They’ll be the most palatable.

Ignoring that fact won’t make it untrue. Instead, acknowledge it and use it to expand stakeholders’ palates.

Start by articulating your organization’s identity, the answers to “who we are” and “what we do.” 

Then place each innovation in one of three buckets based on its fit with the organization’s identity:

  • Identity-enhancing innovations that enhance or strengthen the identity
  • Identity-stretching innovations that “do not fit with the core of an organization’s identity, but are related enough that if the scope of organizational identity were expanded, the innovation would fit.”
  • Identity-challenging innovations that are “in direct conflict with the existing organizational identity.”

It probably won’t surprise you that identity-enhancing innovations are far more likely to receive internal support than identity-challenging innovations.  But what may surprise you is that core, adjacent, and transformational innovations can all be identity-enhancing.

For example, Luxxotica and Bausch & Lomb are both in the vision correction industry (eyeglasses and contact lenses, respectively) but have very different identities.  Luxxotica views itself as “an eyewear company,” while Bausch & Lomb sees itself as an “eye health company” (apologies for the puns). 

When laser-vision correction surgery became widely available, Bausch & Lomb was an early investor because, while the technology would be considered a breakthrough innovation, it was also identity-enhancing.  A decade later, Bausch & Lomb’s surgical solutions and ophthalmic pharmaceuticals businesses account for 38% of the company’s revenue and one-third of the growth.

One basket.  Multiple Views.  All the Answers.

Words are powerful, and using a new one, especially in writing,  can change your behavior and brain. But calling a portfolio a basket won’t change the results of your innovation efforts.  To do that, you need to understand why you have a basket and look at it in all the ways required to maximize creativity, measure results, and avoid stakeholder side-eye.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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Building a Psychologically Safe Team

Building a Psychologically Safe Team

GUEST POST from David Burkus

One of the most consistent findings in organizational behavior over the last decade has been just how significantly team performance is affected by psychological safety. A psychologically safe team is one where team members feel comfortable being themselves, expressing their ideas and opinions, and taking risks without fear of being punished or ostracized. Teams with high psychological safety learn faster, communicate better, and hence collaborate more effectively.

At its core, psychological safety is marked by a sense of mutual trust and respect. And these are two different things. Trust is how much teammates feel they can share their authentic selves with others. Respect is how much teammates feel the team will accept that self. If I trust you, then I will share honestly with you. If you respect me, then you will value what I’ve shared.

In this article, we’ll cover four ways to create a more psychologically safe team—with the first two focusing on trust and the second two on respect.

Be Vulnerable First

The first way to build a psychologically safe team is to be vulnerable first. This is a powerful way to build trust because trust on a team grows reciprocally. When someone makes themselves vulnerable, they signal to the team that they’re trusting the team. And teammates feel trusted and respond in a trustworthy manner (most of the time). This cycle repeats itself over time and trust grows alongside it. As a leader, that means it falls upon you to demonstrate trust first by being vulnerable first. You don’t need to share embarrassing secrets or your deepest fears, but a simple “I don’t know” when discussing a problem or a simple sharing of a few weaknesses can be an important moment in the development of trust on your team. Don’t make people earn your trust. Trust them and let them respond with trustworthiness.

Accept (but learn from) Failures

The second way to build a psychologically safe team is to accept (but learn from) the team’s failures. Failures on a team can’t be avoided—and they can’t be ignored. You’ll have to deal with repeated failures or performance issues, but often unexpected failures get overlooked (or worse). Projects sometimes run over budget, clients change their mind, global pandemics threaten the supply chain and force everyone to work at home in their pajamas. When failures happen, the human reaction is to deflect or excuse away failures. So, when teams face failures, they often fight over who is to blame. But psychologically safe teams recognize failure is a learning opportunity and see honest conversations about what happened and what can be changed in the future to prevent failures. As a leader, take your team through an after-action review when failures happen and celebrate any moments of honesty or responsibility you see. Doing so sends the message that failure is feedback—not something to be deflected.

Model Active Listening

The third way to build a psychologically safe team is to model active listening. This helps teammates feel respected, the other side of psychological safety. Leaders don’t have to accept every idea their team shares to build respect, but they do have to ensue every teammate feels listened to. And modelling active listening not only ensures you’re listening to the team—it also teaches the team by example how to listen better to each other. Make sure you’re actively focused on the person speaking, not looking at a phone or laptop. Nod your head and utter small “hmms” and “ahhs” to show you’re responding and processing what you hear. Follow up with questions based on what you heard that signal listening and encourage them to expound on their ideas. And before you offer your thoughts, summarize what you heard them say to confirm that you understand. Doing so will ensure the other person feels listened to—because you were actually listening.

Treat Conflict As Collaboration

The fourth way to build a psychologically safe team is to treat conflict as collaboration. It’s difficult to model active listening when the person speaking is sharing an idea or action in conflict with something you’ve previously said. It’s hard to actively listen when in conflict because you’re wanting to jump in and defend your original idea. But for building respect, it’s crucial to remember that task-focused conflict is a form of collaboration. People who disagree with their teammates aren’t (usually) saying their teammates are dumb, they’re saying they see the situation differently and care enough to share. Resist the urge to shoot down the conflicting idea, and use the questioning time during active listening to ask questions about the assumptions made or information that leads this person to a different conclusion. Meet conflict with curiosity about how they concluded something different than you. You’ll not only maintain respect, you’ll often find out that their way is a better solution anyway.

Looking at these actions collectively, it’s easier to notice the interplay between trust and respect that leads to a psychologically safe team. Trusting moments need to be met with respect, otherwise they might trigger distrust. But when teams develop both simultaneously, they start to share diverse perspectives and generate better ideas—and they gradually become a team where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on February 25, 2023.

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Why You Should Care About Service Design

Why You Should Care About Service Design

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

What if a tool had the power to delight your customers, cut your costs, increase your bottom line, and maybe double your stock price? You’d use it, right?

That’s precisely the power and impact of Service Design and service blueprints. Yet very few people, especially in the US, know, understand, or use them. Including me.

Thankfully, Leala Abbott, a strategist and researcher at the intersection of experience, innovation, and digital transformation and a lecturer at Parsons School of Design, clued me in.

What is Service Design?

RB: Hi, Leala, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

LA: My pleasure! I’m excited about this topic. I’ve managed teams with service designers, and I’ve always been impressed by the magical way they brought together experience strategy, UX, and operations.

RB: I felt the same way after you explained it to me. Before we get too geeked up about the topic, let’s go back to the beginning and define “service.”

LA: Service is something that helps someone accomplish a goal. As a result, every business needs service design because every business is in the service industry.

RB: I’ll be honest, I got a little agitated when I read that because that’s how I define “solution.” But then I saw your illustration explaining that service design moves us from seeing and problem-solving isolated moments to seeing an integrated process. And that’s when it clicked.

LA:  That illustration is from Lou Downe’s talk Design in Government Impact for All . Service Design helps us identify what customers want and how to deliver those services effectively by bringing together all the pieces within the organization. It moves us away from fragmented experiences created by different departments and teams within the same company to an integrated process that enables customers to achieve their goals.

Why You Need It

RB: It seems so obvious when you say it. Yet so often, the innovation team spends all their time focused on the customer only to develop the perfect solution that, when they toss it over the wall for colleagues to make, they’re told it’s not possible, and everything stops. Why aren’t we always considering both sides?

LA: One reason, I think, is people don’t want to add one more person to the team. Over the past two decades, the number of individuals required to build something has grown exponentially. It used to be that one person could build your whole website, but now you need user experience designers, researchers, product managers, and more. I think it’s just overwhelming for people to add another individual to the mix. We believe we have all the tools to fix the problem, so we don’t want to add another voice, even if that voice explains the huge disconnect between everything built and their operational failures.

RB: Speaking of operational failures, one of the most surprising things about Service Design is that it almost always results in cost savings. That’s not something most people think about when they hear “design.”

LA: The significant impact on the bottom line is one of the most persuasive aspects of service design. It shifts the focus from pretty pictures to the actual cost implications. Bringing in the operational side of the business is crucial. Building a great customer journey and experience is important, but it’s also important to tie it back to lost revenue and increased cost to serve

Proof It Works 

LA: One of the most compelling cases I recently read was about Autodesk’s transition to SaaS, they brought in a service design company called Future Proof. Autodesk wanted to transition from a software licensing model to a software-as-a-service model. It’s a significant transition not just in terms of the business model and pricing but also in how it affects customers.

If you’re a customer of Autodesk, you used to pay a one-time fee for your software, but now you are paying based on users and services. Budgeting becomes messy. The costs are no longer simple and predictable. Plus, it raises lots of questions about the transition, cost predictability, control over access, managing subscriptions, and flexibility. Notice that these issues are about people managing their money and increasing costs. These are the areas where service design can truly help. 

Future Proof conducted customer interviews, analyzed each stage of the customer journey, looked at pricing models and renewal protocols, and performed usability studies. When they audited support ticket data for the top five common customer issues, they realized that if Autodesk didn’t change their model, the cost of running software for every customer would increase by 40%, and profit margins would decrease by 15% to 20%.

Autodesk made the change, revenue increased significantly, and their stock price doubled. Service design allows for this kind of analysis and consideration of operational costs.

How to Learn More

RB: Wow, not many things can deliver better service, happier customers, and doubling a stock price. Solid proof that companies, and innovation teams in particular, need to get smart on service design. We’ve talked a lot about the What and Why of Service Design. How can people learn more about the How?

LA: Lou Downe’s book is a great place to start Good Services: How to Design Services That Work. So is Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight by Thomas A Stewart and Patricia O’Connell.  I also recommend people check out The Service Design Network for tools and case studies and TheyDo, which helps companies visualize and manage their service design.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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