Category Archives: culture

Time for Innovation Excellence

Time for Innovation Excellence

GUEST POST from Norbert Majerus and George Taninecz

Lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System started an industrial revolution (at least for those who adopted it). Transformative events that began in the automotive industry spread into many other sectors (including healthcare, finance, even innovation). However, the term “lean” may not have been the best description for what was occurring then or now.

Lean implies removing things, such as waste, which is an accurate description of a key lean tool. But lean but fails to address many other aspects of what we now know about this improvement method. Today the scope of most improvement transformations goes far beyond what was originally defined as “lean” and/or “continuous improvement.”

So, what should we call the current and future states of businesses that develop superior processes and a continuous improvement culture to become the best companies possible? I don’t know exactly who first introduced the term “excellence” but it’s all-encompassing nature of superiority certainly applies to what is going on in some — but not many — organizations.

For example, very few companies have attempted to apply excellence to innovation. Yet I started this transformation in the three Goodyear Innovation centers in 2006. In 2016, the Innovation Center in Akron, Ohio, received the AME Excellence Award, proving that innovation excellence works and that Goodyear got the right results from the transformation. The application of excellence to an innovation process delivers corporate results that go far beyond the cost savings traditionally achieved by focusing improvements on manufacturing. Innovation excellence moves both the top and bottom lines of companies as a larger number of new products and services are more quickly and efficiently delivered to customers, creating market advantages that are difficult for competitors to replicate.

So, what is “innovation excellence”? It is the implementation of a superior innovation system and the simultaneous creation of an innovation culture. The cultural part assures the continuous improvement of the system and its sustainability.

The innovation system includes processes and features like:

  • An agile risk management system that allows rigorous review of an abundance of new ideas at high speed and low cost
  • A superior knowledge management and technology development process
  • A cost-efficient mass design process
  • Lean principles to achieve perfect delivery, with much higher speed and lower costs

The characteristics of a culture of innovation are based on some well-known, lean people principles as well as change-management concepts that allow an organization to foster creativity and risk-taking:

  • Respect and care for people
  • Engagement and empowerment of all associates and stakeholders
  • Humble leadership
  • Change behaviors to change beliefs
  • The removal of fear at all levels
  • Allowing people to experiment effectively and efficiently
  • The right strategy and reward system

Although it is relatively easy to describe processes and systems, it’s hard to describe behaviors and cultural needs. Text definitions and bulleted lists often fail to describe the challenges of this type of work. I found that the most effective way to do that is by observation. Many executives think you must observe perfect behaviors at other companies and then try to apply them in their own; they forget that you can observe them (or the lack thereof) during gemba walks at their own company. First, you gain a technical understanding about your operations that isn’t possible from behind an office desk. By humbly watching and talking with the workforce, you also impart a sense of genuine interest and a willingness to support. Earnestly engaging individuals, asking sincere questions, and really listening to what’s said offers tremendous insight into a company’s culture and why — or why not — actions necessary to achieve excellence are being pursued.

I always devote significant time to “people transformation” in every presentation and workshop I teach on innovation excellence. I do this with stories and descriptions of real or invented characters, which I’ve learned are very popular with my audiences and tend to get the message across. They also give people enough of an understanding and motivation to change on their own.

Over the years I also learned to supplement the stories and descriptions with genuine emotions and feelings because they are at the core of change management. I’ve lived through all of this — the good and bad of cultural transformations — and I’ve felt the highs and lows that inevitably occur. That’s one of the reasons why George Taninecz and I wrote Winning Innovation as a business novel. The format has allowed us to show a cultural change coming alive and how the emotions, feelings, and actions of characters evolve along the way — eventually helping a company achieve innovation excellence.

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3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

3 Ways to Get Customer Insights without Talking to Customers

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Most of my advice to leaders who want to use innovation to grow their businesses boils down to two things*:

  1. Talk (and listen) to customers
  2. Do something

But what if you don’t want to talk to customers?

After all, talking to customers can be scary because you don’t know what they’ll say. It can be triggering if they say something mean about your product, your business, or even you as a person. It can be draining, especially if you’re an introvert.

Plus, there are so many ways to avoid talking to customers – Send a survey, hire a research firm to write a report, invoke the famous Steve Jobs quote about never doing customer research.

Isn’t it just better to stay tucked away in the office, read reports, state opinions as if they are facts (those opinions are based on experience, after all), and make decisions?

Nope.

It is not better. It is also not safer, easier, or more efficient.

To make the best decisions, you need the best data, which comes from your customers.

But that doesn’t mean you need to talk to them to get it.

The best data

The best data helps you understand why your customers do what they do. This is why Jobs to be Done is such a powerful tool – it uncovers the emotional and social Jobs to be Done that drive our behavior and choices (functional Jobs to be Done are usually used to justify our choices).

But discovering Jobs to be Done typically requires you to talk to people, build rapport and trust in a one-on-one conversation, and ask Why? dozens of times so surface emotional and social JTBD.

Luckily, there are other ways to find Jobs to be Done that don’t require you to become an unlicensed therapist.

Observe your customers

Go where your customers are (or could be) experiencing the problem you hope to solve and try to blend in. Watch what people are doing and what they’re not doing. Notice whether people are alone or with others (and who those others are – kids, partners, colleagues, etc.). Listen to the environment (is it loud or quiet? If there’s noise, what kind of noise?) and to what people are saying to each other.

Be curious. Write down everything you’re observing. Wonder why and write down your hypotheses. Share your observations with your colleagues. Ask them to go out, observe, wonder, and share. Together you may discover answers or work up the courage to have a conversation.

Quick note – Don’t be creepy about this. Don’t lurk behind clothing racks, follow people through stores, peep through windows, linger too long, or wear sunglasses, a trench coat, and a fedora on a 90-degree day, so you look inconspicuous. If people start giving you weird looks, find a new place to people-watch.

Observe yourself

Humans are fascinating, and because you are a human, you are fascinating. So, observe yourself when you’re experiencing the problem you’re hoping to solve. Notice where you are, who is with you, the environment, and how you feel. Watch what you do and don’t do. Wonder why you chose one solution over another (or none).

Be curious. Write down everything you did, saw, and felt and why. Ask your colleagues to do the same. Share your observations with your colleagues and find points of commonality and divergence, then get curious all over again.

Quick note – This only works if you have approximately the same demographic and psychographic profiles and important and unsatisfied Jobs to be Done of your target customers.

Be your customer

What if your business solves a problem that can’t be easily observed? What if you don’t have the problem that your business is trying to solve?

Become your customer (and observe yourself).

Several years ago, I worked with a client that made adult incontinence products. I couldn’t observe people using their products, and I do not have important (or unsatisfied) Jobs to be Done that the products can solve.

So, for one day, I became a customer. I went to Target and purchased their product. I went home, wore, and used the product. I developed a deep empathy for the customer and wrote down roughly 1 million ways to innovate the product and experience.

Quick note – Depending on what’s required to “be your customer,” you may need to give people a heads up. My husband was incredibly patient and understanding but also a little concerned on the day of the experiment.

It’s about what you learn, not how you learn it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is one best way to get insights. I’m 100% guilty (one-on-one conversations are a hill I have died on multiple times).

Ultimately, when it comes to innovation and decision-making, the more important thing is having, believing, and using insights into why customers do what they do and want what they want. How you get those insights is an important but secondary consideration.

* Each of those two things contains A TON of essential stuff that must be done the right way at the right time otherwise, they won’t work, but we’ll get into those things in another article

Image Credit: Pixabay

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6 Ways to Leverage Virtual Tools to Create an Innovation Culture

6 Ways to Leverage Virtual Tools to Create an Innovation Culture

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Culture is a key success factor for every team and organization. Shape it to get more innovation, even from your remote workforce.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Box, Slack, and Salesforce all say that employees can keep working remotely well into next year or even forever. We’re seeing a sea change toward remote work and how to make it more fun and effective. But what happens to the culture of teams and organizations in a virtual world?

In my book, The Invisible Advantage: How to Create a Culture of Innovation, I define culture as “the norms and values that shape behavior.” If you want to change culture to get more innovation, for example, you need to change norms and values toward things that inspire people to generate ideas, prioritize the best ones, test them out, and implement them using customer input. So how do you do that when you’re working remotely and it’s impossible to gather around the water cooler?

To change norms and values, you need to first change your own behavior, since our behavior is what ultimately communicates and reinforces what’s important. If you want more innovation, you need to do things that demonstrate you’re serious about soliciting ideas and doing something with them.

Here are six things you can do to get more innovation from your remote team in today’s virtual world:

1. Find Problems to Fuel Ideas

Innovation starts with problems. Ineffective leaders ignore problems and sweep them under the carpet. Innovative leaders love problems because they’re the basis for new ideas. Every month, ask your team to share the toughest problems they’re facing due to working remotely or in their work serving customers. Keep a running list that you can continually prioritize. The result: People see you’re serious about addressing real issues and they don’t hold back sharing problems that, if solved, will make a big different for the business.

2. Bring on Virtual Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a simple process that includes generating lots of ideas, prioritizing them, and the selection the best of the best to pursue. Get a tool specifically designed for online brainstorming, like Mural, Lucidchart, or Ideaboardz. The result: People learn the brainstorming process and your team will have online tools that are just as effective as stickies on a white board.

3. Tell Symbolic Stories

People remember stories. And stories contain messages about what’s important and why. Look for current or past examples of “innovation” from your team, other teams in your organization, or even outside your company. Find stories about how people overcame physical distance or used technology to innovate. Discuss what led to success and how you can do similar things as a team working remotely. The result: People internalize what’s important and why and will re-tell the same stories to others as part of reinforcing culture.

4. Pair Up to Show Up

Working remotely can feel isolating. Pair people to tackle a tough idea or problem. Give pairs time to work together and then report back progress. Use the larger team to provide feedback and support each pair’s efforts. Run virtual “innovation synch-ups,” where pairs share their ideas with the larger team and get feedback. The result: Pairing people up builds relationships infused with the values of innovation while ensuring more robust results.

5. Count It to Make It Count

You get what you measure. Set a target to collect some number of new ideas per month (like 15-20) and successfully implement 1-2 as a team. Track and report on progress regularly so everyone knows the targets are serious success measures. Create an online dashboard that you that you use to track progress from meeting to meeting. The result: People see the importance of quantifiable results and feel accountable to them.

6. Celebrate Wins to Create a Winning Team

Recognition of achievements and team celebrations are as important as ever. When someone delivers an innovation–whether creating a new product, service, process, or anything else–recognize them publicly. During virtual team meetings, set aside time for “virtual awards” to recognize those who have made valuable contributions. Email or snail mail a certificate or gift card in advance so recipients have real-world awards in their possession during the ceremony. The result: People understand the innovative behavior and results that are valued and will do what they can to deliver more of it themselves.

As I wrote in my last article, business should ideally keep going and growing, even in a pandemic or economic downturn. Innovation shouldn’t stop either. If you’re not innovating, it’s likely someone else is. And it’s likely your competition. In today’s world, everything eventually gets disrupted. Your culture is ultimately your only sustainable competitive advantage-even in a virtual world. Shape yours today.

If you want to see how you can build tools & resources to support your remote team, visit Praxie.com.

Image credits: Getty Images (acquired by Soren Kaplan)

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

Reset and Reconnect in a Chaotic World

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Meeting face to face, for a lovely lunch recently, with a coaching colleague, we were both shocked to discover how stressed and anxious we were feeling about being asked to deliver live workshops and face-to-face coaching to clients once again.

We shared how emotionally, mentally, and physically overwhelmed we felt, despite having decades of knowledge, experience, and skills in being able to deliver deep learning programs and face-to-face coaching sessions, about doing live gigs again! We also agreed, that despite the range of largely effective emotionally intelligent coping strategies we developed to help ourselves and our clients self-regulate, self-manage, to better adapt to the pandemic-imposed work-from-home restrictions that the past two and half years of working, alone, and in isolation, online, had taken its toll.

We acknowledged and accepted that we along with many of our clients were all suffering from elevated levels of stress, discomfort, and anxiety. We then agreed that it was time to focus on exploring how to better help ourselves and our clients reconnect and reset by enabling them to create states of well-being, emotional agility, and mental fitness, where they can feel good, can function well, and be effective and innovative in an increasingly chaotic world.

To seek new ways of enabling ourselves and our clients to deal effectively with a range of unresourceful feelings including helplessness, powerlessness, and fearfulness about an uncertain future. 

We noticed that these feelings often caused many of our clients to contract and freeze, and become immobilised as a result of what we describe as a “bubble” of self-induced silo-based behaviours. That often evolved into extreme self-centeredness, and unconscious selfishness, which ultimately increased their feelings of isolation and loneliness, and lack of belonging, resulting in defensive and avoidant behaviours, in what is becoming an increasingly chaotic world.

How are these ways of being and acting impacting organisations?

Partnering in a wide range of online global coaching sessions, we noticed that a number of common trends emerged as to how our client’s teams and organisations, are being impacted at the cultural level:

  • Immobilization – many people are unable to self-manage their work from home workloads and are quietly burning out, through being overly task-focused and busy, whilst others are preferring to work autonomously, and not waste hours commuting.
  • Lacking safety and trust – many organisations are freezing all of their change initiatives, learning programs, and projects, causing people to fear loss and overall job insecurity, where many people are contracting more deeply within their “bubbles” and become even more distrustful of leadership and even more passively defensive and avoidant.
  • Lacking clarity and foresight – many organisations have slipped into being so reactive, focussing only on delivering short-term results, and are not communicating a clear strategy for leading the way forwards.

Resulting in:

  • Increased resistance to change and going back to the office adds to people’s inertia, and to their sense of disconnection and lack of belonging.
  • Increased risk adversity and conventional (cost cutting), tactical and short-term focus, inhibits any investment in Research and Development or the skills development required in developing and executing a future innovation strategy.
  • People have become even more fearful of failure, and are not stretching themselves to adapt, grow, learn and innovate with disruption, and often choosing to merely change jobs, in a competitive job marketplace, driven by scarcity, as a perceived short term solution.

A unique moment in time

This has created an opportunity, in this unique moment in time, to focus on being kinder to ourselves and to others by helping and supporting each other, respectfully and compassionately, creatively and courageously, to reconnect and reset. Despite rising levels of economic, civic, and social uncertainty and unrest.

What made sense yesterday may not make so much sense today.

Many of the mental models we applied yesterday may not be relevant for tomorrow because corporate culture, civic and social structures have drastically changed and digitalization has become commonplace, noting that we are shifting from a VUCA to BANI world where:

  • Brittle has replaced Volatility.
  • Anxiety reflects Uncertainty.
  • Non-linearity is an addition to Complexity.
  • Incomprehensibility is ultimately the consequence of our non-linear world and goes one step further than Ambiguity.

Paradoxically, this has created new openings to genuinely explore and discover new thresholds to adapt, generate new mindsets, develop skill sets, and power up our toolkits to keep pace with the effects of the emerging BANI world and capture complex systems by asking a  key generative or catalytic question:

How might you support and enable others to think and act differently in such a world, where old patterns seem to crumble while new ideas and systems still need to be created, invented, innovated, and established?

As the world of work changes, so does the need for everyone to consider how to be more open-hearted, minded, and willed with one another.

A final word from Gallop CEO Jon Preston in the Gallop Global Emotions Report:

“All over the world, people are trying to understand the rise of violence, hatred, and increased radicalization. They will continue to argue over what the best policy responses should be and what role social media plays in fueling negative emotions.

However, policymakers must understand why so many more people are experiencing unprecedented negative emotions and focus on the drivers of a great life.

Our shared humanity and wellbeing depend on it”.

When we generously and kindly demonstrate care, respect, and appreciation for the value everyone brings, we can also demonstrate helpfulness and support, through our unconditional willingness to reconnect and reset.

Resulting in an ability to co-create a better sense of belonging and a more optimistic outlook, through enhancing our emotional intelligence.  To effectively self-regulation and self-manage the superpowers and strategies required to thrive, flourish and flow, and make transformational changes in the face of relentless uncertainty, disruption, and a chaotic world.

This is the first in a series of three blogs on the theme of reconnecting and resetting, to create, invent and innovate in an increasingly chaotic world. You can also register for our free 45-minute masterclass on Thursday, 25th August, to discover new ways of re-connecting through the complexity and chaos of dis-connection to create, invent and innovate in the future! Find out more.

Image credit: Pixabay

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This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Hiring good people is tough. Retaining your best talent can be equally challenging. In today’s disruptive world, competitive advantage relies as much on people as it does technology.

So, how do you objectively know which people are your all-stars, especially in a bigger organization? And not just the best talent today, but the best for the future?

I originally wrote this article for my Inc. Magazine column. My team at Praxie.com created an online 9-Box app and I was stunned at how much interest there was from across industries for this solution.

Keeping & Growing Talent is Today’s Name of the Game

Just as it’s easier and cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones, the same goes for employees. Knowing who your current and future all-stars are helps you keep them and gives you the opportunity to help them grow into more strategic roles.

The 9-box talent grid categorizes your people into nine categories. The grid contains two axes, performance and potential, each of which includes three levels each: low, moderate, and high. When you match up the categories on the axes, you get nine boxes that become classifications.

Categorizing people helps reveal who’s contributing the most now, and who will likely contribute the most in the future:

  1. Stars (High Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with high potential. Will likely become part of the future leadership team.
  2. High Potentials (High Potential, Moderate Performance): Solid performance overall with high potential to grow. Will most likely advance in current or future roles and may become part of the future leadership team.
  3. Enigmas (High Potential, Low Performance): While high potential, challenges exist in performance that may require additional support or training and development.
  4. High Performer (Moderate Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with solid potential to advance in current role and future positions with the right opportunity.
  5. Key Player (Moderate Potential, Moderate Performance): Overall good performance and potential with additional support and opportunities to grow.
  6. Inconsistent Player (Moderate Potential, Low Performance): Low performance and moderate potential require additional support and training to validate growth opportunity.
  7. Workhorses (Low Potential, High Performance): Highly effective performance yet may have peaked in terms of potential so coaching or training may help elevate potential.
  8. Backups (Low Potential, Moderate Performance): Decent performance and an asset but may not become a more significant contributor.
  9. Bad Hires (Low Potential, Low Performance): Low performance coupled with low potential means re-evaluating overall role in organization.

The team at Praxie.com has made the 9-Box application available to try to free.

9 Box Example

Shoot for the Stars

The easiest way is to assign people to the categories is based on your experience working with them. Or, if you’re in a larger organization, collect inputs from managers and aggregate the results.

Here’s how it works: The CEO of an organization works with their HR director to collect inputs from managers within the sales department. Twenty-five sales representatives are mapped into the nine boxes. The results are used to provide additional incentives, identify people for leadership development programs, and promote individual reps to managers for new territories.

The 9-box grid provides a snapshot in time. Use the tool to continually assess and reassess your talent. You’ll see some people move up and to the right while others may stay stagnant. Use these trends to help people grow. It won’t improve just your organizational culture. It will also improve your business.

Image credits: Praxie.com

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Having worked with innovation teams from global companies like Visa, Colgate-Palmolive, Kimberly-Clark, Disney, Medtronic and many others, there’s one consistent success factor when it comes to innovation, no matter what you’re doing: it all starts with the customer.

Companies spend oodles of time and money trying to understand customers. They conduct surveys, hire market researchers, run focus groups, analyze social media, and the list goes on. What’s often missed, however, are customers’ deeper needs and underlying pain points that really matter to them. Quantitative surveys, for example, might give you a sense of a market’s overall sentiment about a topic, but you won’t get to know someone’s personal struggles and underlying motivations from checkboxes on an online form.

Instead, you need to truly put yourself in the customer’s shoes. It’s not just about intellectually understanding their situation. It’s about tapping into the emotions they feel, and even feeling them yourself as part of the process of connecting to their experience.

Empathy Reveals New Opportunities

I recently led a leadership development program for a large health care provider with hundreds of hospitals. They wanted to understand their patients better, so they could come up with innovations to help them stay healthy and avoid costly visits to the doctor and hospital. Initially, the team had ideas to provide promotional materials on how to eat healthier and exercise.

As part of the process, a small team went to visit patients at their homes in rural areas. At one house, they discovered a giant water tank had been built by a company that towered over their patient’s home–and it was slowly dripping water on the roof, creating a whole variety of problems, including causing the beginnings of respiratory issues for the woman living in the house due to mold. The team was shocked.

The team realized that pamphlets about healthy eating and exercise wouldn’t do much to help. They also recognized that in certain cases they might need to provide radically different types of support to their patients as part of ensuring their overall health, beyond just providing traditional health care. They helped the woman contact the water tank company to fix the leak. They have also since expanded their approach around prevention to address various “social determinants of health” in communities like poor quality water, lack of healthy food, and other issues that lead to health issues long before someone shows symptoms of a formal medical issue.

Immersing yourself in the world of your customers through visits, observation, interviews, and other interactions can provide a new perspective around issues, problems, and assumptions.

Capture Concrete Observations

Empathy is a core element of “design thinking,” a common approach used for product and service innovation. It’s also a concept that can be hard to understand when it comes to translating what you might see and hear into something meaningful about the customer. Here’s a template for doing just that from Praxie.com.

Customer Empathy Map

The next time you connect with a customer, consider the following to help capture concrete observations:

  • Say: What does the customer explicitly say?
  • Feel: What are the customer’s emotions?
  • Think: What occupies the customer’s thoughts?
  • Do: What does the customer do in public?

By providing a structure for cataloguing your observations, you can turn what might seem as ambiguous into something tangible.

Turn Observations into Insight

It’s one thing to observe customers. It’s another to translate what you observe into real insights that help catalyze new ideas.

Once you’ve cataloged your observations, take a step back. Consider the ultimate “pain points” that your customer experiences. What are the customer’s top problems or frustrations? Also be sure to consider the “gain” the customer hopes to achieve. What does the customer hope to accomplish or achieve?

Answering these questions helps move general observations into insights that can be used as the basis for generating new ideas.

Give the World Your Empathy

Empathy is the currency of human connection. We all crave it. And when we give it to others, we build and deepen relationships. Try empathizing with others. You’ll see the returns in the form of a better world, and greater innovation.

Image credits: Praxie.com, Pexels

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Importance and Ethos of Empathy in Business

Importance and Ethos of Empathy in Business

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Why is empathy important in business? The reality is that though empathy focuses on identifying others’ emotions and connecting with your team in the workplace, true empathy has powerful results for every facet of an organization.

Organizational Ethos: Why is Empathy Important in Business?

Why is empathy important in business? The reality is that though empathy focuses on identifying others’ emotions and connecting with your team in the workplace, true empathy has powerful results for every facet of an organization.

Empathy makes it possible to center each other’s needs, desires, and emotions at the heart of what you do. From navigating your intuition to working to identify and meet the needs of clients, workplace empathy is essential to effective leadership and future success.

Below, we explore why is empathy important in business as we discuss:

  • Empathy in the Workplace
  • Empathy as Empowerment
  • The Ethos of Empathy
  • Why Empathy is Important for Business
  • Applications of Organizational Empathy

Empathy in the Workplace

Allowing empathy in the workplace encourages leading from the heart. By centering emotional intelligence in your organization, you’ll prioritize a people-first approach to leadership.

Empathy allows us to recognize others’ emotions and to understand their point of view in a situation. When employed in the workplace, empathy offers insight into how to understand and respond to others’ needs. While empathy can be confused with sympathy, the two aren’t the same. Empathy focuses on identifying and sharing the emotions and experiences of others.

By practicing emotional intelligence, organizations can use empathy to better navigate and support their employee’s well-being, while driving innovation and collaboration. As life constantly ebbs and flows, employees need empathetic leaders that understand the nuances of navigating life’s changes. This allows team members to craft the best work-life balance that lets them do their best work while maintaining a positive home life.

Empathy as Empowerment

Why is empathy important for business? The simple answer is that empathy empowers. As leaders and fellow team members extend empathy to each other, they are allowing one another to feel a sense of validation and respect. Considered to be an organizational superpower, empathy can positively impact employees’ engagement, motivation, and well-being.

The true power of empathy lies in your ability to envision yourself in a team member’s position, or a position of leadership. Once empathy becomes part of the organizational culture, it empowers employees to center their fellow members and work collaboratively.

From a leadership perspective, empathy invites employees into the decision-making process. This communicates that leaders value and trust the opinions and positions of their team members. As such, more employees feel a sense of validation and are driven to engage with their work and their teams’.

The Ethos of Empathy

Workplace empathy is part of a larger conversation about organizational ethics. The ethics of an organization refer to how the leadership and team members respond to their external environment. These ethics dictate the principles and guidelines that determine how the company and its employees conduct business in the workplace.

Leaders should work to translate empathy into their organizational ethos to ensure that every decision is guided by a commitment to uplifting and connecting with others. To make an impact with empathy and ingratiate it in your company culture, ensure that your organization has a clear code of ethics. By building empathy into your ethos, you’ll train your leaders and employees to constantly prioritize each other’s feelings and perspectives in the workplace.

Why Empathy is Important for Business

Empathy has a multifaceted impact on the workplace. From enhancing leaders’ capabilities and improving the way team members relate to one another to prioritizing clients’ needs and customer relations, empathy is undoubtedly an important part of any business.

Empathy benefits businesses in the following ways:

1. Empathy is your  leadership superpower.

  • Maintain Top Talent: Leaders that connect with their team in a genuine way are able to foster a sense of loyalty and retain the best people.
  • Boost Morale by Instilling Motivation: Empathetic leaders can successfully encourage their teams and motivate them to perform at their best.
  • Increase Sales and Productivity: Leaders with empathy can better understand customers’ needs and address their desires, pain points, and fears.

2. Empathy is essential for teams.

  • Develop a Community: Through empathy, team members can develop stronger bands and build trust in each other. This allows team members to become a true community both in and out of the workplace.
  • Increase innovation: Empathy is linked to innovation as it allows team members to practice curiosity, generosity, and equality towards their colleagues’ ideas. By entering another’s perspective, team members develop a sense of compassion that allows for creative thinking.
  • Create a safe environment for collaboration and learning: Teams that practice empathy are leading with their heart. This encourages a sense of psychological safety, allowing others to feel vulnerable and open to learning and collaborating.

3. Empathy is transformative for clients.

  • Forge connections with customers: Empathetic organizations put their clients first. This human-centered approach allows teams and leadership to build real bonds with their customers that can last a lifetime.
  • Prioritize clients’ wants and needs: Why is empathy important for business? Empathy makes it easy to identify and prioritize clients’ wants and needs. By walking a mile in their shoes, an organization will have a better understanding of customers’ expectations.

Applications of Organizational Empathy

Discovering why empathy is important for business is the first step in cultivating an empathic culture. The next challenge is learning to apply empathy in every facet of your organization.

Implement empathy in your workplace with the following practices:

1. Listen to Others

Listening to others is the first step in implementing empathy in the workplace. Listening goes beyond hearing what someone says; empathic listening requires one to actively listen and pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and similar nuances.

2. Use Empathy Maps 

Empathy maps allow organizations to take a human-centered approach to problem solving and ideation. Essentially, this helps one to get inside the user’s head. Organizations use empathy maps to determine what the user is thinking or feeling, and how they may experience the product.

3. Design User Personas

User personas identify the skills, goals, attitudes, background information, and behavioral patterns of your target audience. This allows your team to better explore how to relate to users and which solutions would benefit them the most.

4. Practice Empathy Immersion

Use an activity called empathy immersion to encourage your team to understand their perspective and opinion of others.

  • Change Your Perspective

Challenge your team to adopt another’s perspective.

  • Limit Yourself

A major part of having empathy for another person is understanding the challenges and struggles they face. By limiting yourself, you’ll be able to experience the same type of challenges as you empathize with their experience.

  • Do It Yourself

Oftentimes in the field, it makes the most sense to wait for management or a qualified leader. However, this shouldn’t limit one from problem-solving on their own. Under empathetic leadership, team members will feel a sense of self-motivation and confidence that allows them to take agency and create solutions of their own.

  • Similar Experience

Team members can empathize with each other and their clients by recreating an experience similar to what their colleagues or customers are going through.

  • Day-in-the-Life

A day-in-the-life activity allows team members to walk in another’s shoes and navigate the successes and pitfalls from another person’s perspective.

Want to adopt empathy in your organization? Connect with us at Voltage control to learn the ways you can implement empathy in your workplace. Our courses on Change Management and Master Facilitation will teach the art of leading with empathy as you learn how to shift your company culture to one that embraces an empathic ethos.

Article originally seen at VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Pexels

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Cultivate Innovation by Managing with Empathy

Cultivate Innovation by Managing with Empathy

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Managing with empathy is a leader’s superpower. Empathy opens the door to increased innovation, collaboration, and engagement.

Experts assert that empathy is the single most important skill in today’s workplace and the numbers don’t lie: 76% of workers with empathetic leaders are reportedly more motivated and engaged than those who experience leadership with less empathy.

Leaders can harness the power of empathy to create a more collaborative and engaged culture at work. In this article, we explore empathetic leadership in the following topics:

  • What is Workplace Empathy?
  • Becoming an Empathetic Leader
  • The Benefits of Managing a Team With Empathy
  • The Connection Between Empathy and innovation

What is Workplace Empathy?

Managing with empathy requires a keen understanding of the nuances of workplace empathy and empathetic leadership. Empathy allows one to understand another person’s emotions, actions, and thoughts. Our emotional or social intelligence helps us practice empathy and understand the mindsets and emotions of others.

Empathy belongs in the workplace. While work-related responsibilities should be top of mind, your team members won’t be able to do their best work if they feel as though their emotions and feelings are invalidated or ignored. It’s crucial that team members feel as though their feelings and emotions are prioritized both in their professional and personal lives. With the power of empathy, team leaders and managers can shift company culture for the better and motivate their team to be the best version of themselves.

Empathetic leaders understand the three types of empathy:

1. Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy relates to connecting to another person’s mentality and understanding how certain situations influence their thoughts. Cognitive empathy is related to “theory of mind” that explores how someone can think like another and predict what their future behavior may be.

2. Somatic Empathy

Somatic empathy occurs when one experiences a physical response to another’s feelings or experience.

3. Affective Empathy

Affective empathy involves understanding another’s emotions and responding most appropriately.

Becoming an Empathetic Leader

Managing with empathy is possible for all leaders and team members willing to start within. To connect emotionally with others, you have to first prioritize your connection with yourself. By cultivating your emotional intelligence and understanding your own emotions and feelings, you’ll be better equipped to lead with empathy.

In today’s ever-changing climate, workers have to navigate the likes of diverse workforces, virtualized teams, and global economic challenges. Being able to adapt and sympathize with the perspective and experiences of others will help you improve your empathetic leadership.

Consider the following steps to amplify your emotional intelligence and grow your leadership skills:

1. Listen

Listening to your team is one of the fastest ways to start managing with empathy. With every conversation comes the opportunity to build a better relationship and affirm your team member’s emotions. In each conversation, be sure to pay attention, avoid distractions, and wait for the person to finish before you speak.

In addition to letting your team members fully share their opinions, the art of listening requires you to fully understand the emotions that are behind each conversation. This includes understanding nonverbal cues, identifying the tone of voice, and paying attention to body language. If you’re working remotely, managing with empathy can be particularly challenging. Take advantage of voice notes, video chats, SMS messaging, and sending photos and videos to ensure you’re virtually communicating as comprehensively as possible.

2. Get Personal

Though personal bonds in the workplace are often discouraged, building healthy professional relationships is an effective way to start managing with empathy. By forming personal connections with your team members, you’ll encourage a culture of open communication and alignment. As you both connect, you’ll find commonalities in your shared vision and values.

3. Adopt their Point of View

As an empathetic leader, it’s essential to gain emotional insight into what your team is feeling and thinking by adopting their point of view. Whether your company is remote or in-person, it isn’t always easy to understand the perspective or emotional state of your team. While some leaders shy away from discussing emotions and feelings at work, the truth is that learning more about each employee’s emotional state will help you understand how they approach their work and why they work the way they do.

4. Get Leadership Training

Managing with empathy doesn’t always come naturally. Take the opportunity to invest in leadership training to learn how to better incorporate your emotional intelligence and empathy into your management style. With the help of professional leaders, you’ll learn how to emotionally connect with your team and manage the personal and professional challenges that come your way. Consider courses in facilitation and change management as you learn the ins and outs of empathetic leadership.

The Benefits of Managing a Team With Empathy

Don’t put empathy on the backburner. While it takes time and intention to cultivate a company culture rooted in empathy, making the journey to create an emotionally intelligent environment is worth it.

Consider the following benefits of managing with empathy:

1. Better Relationships

Better relationships are a direct benefit of managing with empathy. Empathy helps team members emotionally connect as they identify personal interests and can freely communicate with each other. Use empathy to deepen relationships by asking questions about how others feel and providing careful and thoughtful responses.

2. Enhanced Teamwork

Empathy is a key ingredient in designing stronger teams. Managing with empathy encourages a desire for team members to help each other and work together. As you learn more about the challenges your team faces, you’ll naturally want to assist them in finding solutions. This type of cooperation encourages a culture of camaraderie where team members feel as though they are a critical part of each other’s success.

3. A Stronger Work-Life Balance

Empathy is a natural part of a stronger work-life balance. At times, challenges from one’s personal life can affect the way team members approach work obligations. Understanding their challenges will help you shape a better work-life balance for your team. Whether they need more time off or want more remote work, listening to and understanding their needs will help them create a healthier balance between their personal and professional lives.

4. Increased Innovation

A workforce of engaged and emotionally aligned employees allows for increased innovation. A workplace culture of empathy helps to develop soft skills such as curiosity, generosity, and equality, which encourages team members to design new creative and collaborative solutions.

The Link Between Empathy and Innovation

The link between innovation and empathy is undeniable. Empathetic leadership allows us to understand and relate to each other in a deeply profound and authentic way. Empathy is an incredible tool for innovation as it works to encourage companies and teams to center the needs and feelings of others.

By encouraging team members to adopt another’s point of view, leaders can utilize empathy as a problem-solving framework. Empathy places the experience and satisfaction of others at the heart of the creative and collaborative process. These empathetic techniques and behaviors are undoubtedly linked to the most effective designs, products, and creative solutions.

In the workplace, empathy naturally reinforces a culture of innovation as it encourages and validates the feelings and opinions of others. Regardless of the problems at hand, human-centered thinking encourages organizations to empathetically eliminate their biases, reservations, and judgment to arrive at the solution that benefits the end-user and their fellow team members the most.

If innovation is at the heart of your company, it’s time to start managing with empathy. Voltage Control offers custom programs built around connection, psychological safety, community, and play. Connect with us today to learn how to use empathetic leadership for the greatest good.

Article originally published at VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Pexels

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How Networking Accelerates Growth

How Networking Accelerates Growth

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

As a leader, you’re likely aware that building a network takes time and work. Mentors and a network of peers are not easily established for jobs, professional growth, or business. The process of growing a network, and a community, is proportional to the thought you put towards it.

That said, not everyone takes the same steps to build a network. Leadership development programs are tools we highly recommend considering. They’re a step towards learning about yourself and expanding your understanding of how to work with people.

Now, how does a network contribute effectively to your role as a leader, and how can you unlock that network in a productive way?

The search for true leadership requires self-awareness, which networks play a key role in developing.

A true leader puts in the self-work before looking to others to change. They also view self-work as an ongoing experience of sustained learning rather than a short-term project.

Let’s dive deeper into networking, a concept that you’ll learn has positive connotations when framed correctly. This article addresses the following:

  • What is networking and why is it important?
  • How do we pursue true leadership?
  • How do we sustain learning as leaders?

What is networking?

Networking is intercommunication, exchanging ideas with those with shared interests or expertise. We view networking as a series of opportunities to learn and engage. Learning about yourself, others, and information. Most importantly to leadership development, it’s learning about yourself through others.

Networking doesn’t have to be insincere, corporate, or repulsive if you approach it with meaning and an intention to develop deeper relationships. Oftentimes, those relationships are a twofold source of wisdom and knowledge when you need it most.

Good networking involves a mutual understanding of the relationship and an environment conducive to it. The more work you put into a network, the more it resembles a community: a place you can go to for help or to help.

Why is networking important?

Networking is profound for connection and support. As you build yours, you’ll find that you can lean into your network for much more than professional development, and you begin to build a community.

It’s also a wonderful practice in self-awareness. By interacting with people outside of your usual environment, your creativity and self-image is challenged. It often feels uncomfortable for good reason. Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable and observe the environment around you serves as practice for what you should often do as a leader.

As we do this, we acquire perspective, which encourages growth. A healthy network focused on growth boosts:

  • Confidence and awareness of strengths
  • Understanding of opportunities for personal and professional growth
  • Creativity through exposure to other pools of knowledge and ways of thinking

The community you draw from networking often becomes a resource for your team. That includes resources for:

  • Hiring new teammates and identifying strong leaders
  • Industry information and trends
  • Future positions or opportunities for involvement

Dr. Peter Gray, who spent years studying professional networks, also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a tight-knit community, or as he phrases it, “building a collaboration network”. In our Control the Room podcast episode with Dr. Grey, he suggests that consistent, quality relationships with 15-20 close ties prove wildly beneficial to a work environment. Reframing teamwork as a collaborative effort makes the workplace exciting, and perspective within your network enhances your desire for innovation.

“Your ability to see the world really changes as a function of your network.”

Dr. Peter Gray

Are there people who are positive thinkers within your network? Do they support your ideas? Do you feel excited to present your ideas to them? Dr. Gray calls these traits of good leaders “energizer traits”.

As you grow within an organization, it becomes more important to have a solid network from which to pull when needed. That’s especially the case as teams become more collaborative with time. We built this assessment tool to help analyze involvement and existing relationships.

Spend time pursuing a network. Your future self will thank you for the time you save them and opportunities you bring them.

How do we pursue true leadership?

Self-awareness assessments can fall down when used without follow-through. We can use them to help us understand whose strengths in the team will help us prevail when faced with a new problem, product, or shift.

Such assessments should be used or followed up with for inner work and inner change. The self-assessment serves as a true mirror when you’re focused on self-discovery and self-improvement. Use the reflective moments to continually practice being the improved version of yourself.

When you practice looking at your true self, you can begin to ask questions. It can be powerful to see if you’re being perceived the way you see yourself. 

Are you being manipulative? Are you a true leader? Is the story in your head about yourself authentic? What can be done to fine-tune your tendencies and align the person in the mirror with the person in your head.

The leader should always start within, looking to the symptoms that need to be addressed within themselves.

It is necessary to lean into the things that can create change, empathy, psychological safety, and culture. These are often viewed by society as soft, squishy, and even scary to approach.

As you address these within yourself, you’ll learn how to better work with those around you, and you’ll see the value in advancing those skills. Inter-relational dynamics have to be discussed and addressed. People don’t often want to lean into that stuff, but that’s ultimately where the real work happens.

Learning and working through how to work with people and welcome collaboration advances innovation. Spawrks, the co-host of Space Pencils, stated the following in a recent conversation on our podcast:

“I feel like that’s the thing, that if you can have the patience for assuming positive intent all the time as much as possible, you can really find out and learn a lot more, even when you might be completely able to see around the corner. By validating it with that type of respect and in your communication, you can yourself learn more than you even knew about what you’re thinking about.”

Spawrks

Start with yourself, move to department health, and finally the full organization.

How do we sustain learning as leaders?

Practical steps must be taken to sustain learning and development. Oftentimes, this takes the form of programs, which can replace networking if done right.

There are systems and programs that offer some of the same benefits of networking. What’s key is finding the right cohort or program to suit your needs.

Programs offer support to those who are looking to build a network. At the end of a program, this question often arises: “Now that I’m trying to use these learnings, what do I do with them?” It’s vital to be able to bring it back to the cohort for support.

The most powerful programs offer quality content and provide an environment for connection. We believe that the right programs, ours included, are designed to create extended relationships as a long-term resource. That’s invaluable. Maximize your time by recognizing opportunities for connection. That comes in the form of connecting the content and training into the work you do and building relationships with others on site.

Ultimately, learning is sustained through consistent attention to self-work and upkeep with your network. Connection within programs allows a moment where we truly connect to the work we do.

We’re capable of both contributing towards and gleaning from our networks in a productive manner. The aim of “networking” should be to do both, developing connections into communal, mutually beneficial relationships.

Interested in growing your network through programs? Check out our Leadership Development Programs, which offer leadership consulting through self-work and connection with a cohort. The aim is to provide a clearer view of your leadership style and connect people with interests in innovating as leaders.

Article originally seen on VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Managing Cross-Cultural Remote Teams

Closing the Virtual and Cultural Gap

Managing Cross-Cultural Remote Teams

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Learning to connect a culturally diverse virtual workforce is an essential part of managing cross cultural remote teams. Faced with the challenge of virtual team building, remote team managers also have to unite their virtual teams across any cultural differences, time zones, and other unique elements.

Recent studies show that 62% of virtual teams are comprised of workers from three or more cultures. Surprisingly, only 15% of team leaders have successfully led cross cultural remote teams. Such statistics show the dire need for improving cross cultural remote teams management.

In the following article, we’ll discuss managing cross cultural remote teams as we cover topics such as:

  • What Are Cross Cultural Remote Teams?
  • The Challenges of Cross Culture Remote Work
  • Closing the Virtual Gap for Culturally Diverse Teams
  • Essential Skills for Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams
  • Improving Cross Cultural Leadership Skills

What Are Cross Cultural Remote Teams?

With the rise of remote work, it comes as no surprise that cross culture remote teams are the reality of today’s working world. Cross culture remote teams are teams made up of the global talent pool. Whether a company pulls freelancers from various parts of the world or hires remote team members within the same country, effectively working together requires a strategic approach to managing such a diverse group of workers.

Remote work experts suggest that culture is defined as the social expectations, customs, and achievements unique to a nation or region. One’s idea of culture frames the way they approach work, life events, and communication. While distributed teams composed of members from various cultures are an effective way to diversify the workforce, the difference in cultures and time zones can lead to collaborative and communication challenges.

The Challenges of Cross Culture Remote Work

Managing cross cultural remote teams come with unique benefits and challenges. Being able to fill your team with the world’s greatest minds is an incredibly powerful way to shore up your company’s talent pool. However, each team member will have their practices, preferences, and ideas of company culture, and as a result, may have trouble gelling with the rest of the team.

Moreover, team managers will experience the challenges of building a team in the virtual world. Without the face-to-face interaction of a shared workplace, cross-culture remote teams are more vulnerable to conflict and communication problems.

Remote team leaders face unique challenges such as:

1. Work Style

When managing cross cultural remote teams, be sure to address the individual work style of your team members. When working with team members from different cultures, it’s essential to acknowledge each person’s work style. This is especially true for team members that are of vastly different cultures. For example, certain work cultures prioritize individual opinions while others expect to follow a leader’s course of action.

2. Information Gaps

In the virtual world, information gaps are a huge threat when managing cross cultural remote teams. Any information gaps can negatively affect processes and data flows. All team members need access to the most appropriate resources to successfully collaborate.

3. Motivation Factors

Team leaders should do their best to analyze how each person’s culture may affect their motivations to better manage their team. Motivation factors for cross culture remote teams are vastly different than that of a traditional company. For example, while some team members may be motivated by a range of tangible benefits like bonuses, others focus on intangible benefits like encouragement and job satisfaction.

4. Influences

When managing cross cultural remote teams. Managers face the challenges of certain factions attempting to influence the rest of the group. If part of the team has the same cultural identity, they may use that to dominate a conversation or outcome, leading to conflict and contentious work environments.

Closing the Virtual Gap for Culturally Diverse Teams

Navigating virtual cross-cultural teams starts with first addressing virtual team building. While your team’s cultural background may play a role in the unique challenges you face, everything comes back to your ability to work together as a team. Level the playing field with an effective strategy to close the gaps and facilitate stronger personal relationships among team members.

By making an effort to strengthen connections between your team members, you’ll be able to bridge initial gaps created by remote work. Moreover, team members that share a common bond will be able to better navigate any cross-cultural challenges that may arise. Consider using intentionally designed games and activities like icebreakers to help strengthen connections between team members.

Essential Skills for Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams

In the virtual world, company culture is constantly changing. To effectively run a diverse group of remote workers, team leaders must be open to learning the most appropriate skills to bring the best out of their team.

Lead your remote team to success by honing skills such as:

1. Adaptability

Cross cultural management hinges upon the leader’s ability to understand each team member’s work style and make the necessary adjustments. While you shouldn’t completely abandon your leadership style, you will need to integrate other behaviors, worldviews, commonalities, and perspectives to find more relatable ways to manage your team.

2. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a key skill for leaders of cross-culture teams. Conflicts can arise quickly in a virtual workspace, so it’s important for you to regularly monitor and manage your own biases as you exercise patience and grace in your communications. Make an effort to frequently challenge your perspective and take a step back in your interactions with team members. This will help you navigate complex cultural challenges as you take note of where your perspective and behavior may require adjustment.

3. Articulation

When working with a virtual team from different cultural backgrounds, clear communication is essential. By prioritizing articulation and careful and deliberate conversation, team leaders will be better able to ensure that every member of their team understands what they’re saying. Similarly, if other team members tend to speak too quickly, don’t hesitate to ask them to repeat themselves or speak at a slower pace.

4. Writing Proficiency

In virtual meetings, calls, or voice notes, words can easily get lost in translation. Team leaders should develop the habit of communicating in writing to make sure all their team members have access to a document they can refer to at a later point in time.

Improving Cross-Cultural Leadership Skills

Remote work opens a world of possibilities in the way of team leadership. As your team expands to include a more culturally-diverse group, your leadership skills should improve as well. At Voltage Control, we offer facilitation courses, remote collaboration resources, and team-building workshops to help you navigate the pitfalls of managing remote teams and connecting culturally diverse groups.

Work with our team of expert facilitators to learn more about managing cross cultural remote teams. With the help of workshops and resources, you’ll learn to expertly lead a virtual session, unite a distributed team, and appreciate and highlight the cultural differences that make your team a well-oiled virtual machine. Contact us to learn more about our custom programs for leadership development, master facilitation certification, and change management.

Article originally posted at VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Pexels

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