Category Archives: Management

6 Ways to Create Trust with Your Employees

6 Ways to Create Trust with Your Employees

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Last week I wrote an article, 4 Ways to Create Trust with Your Customers. I don’t think anyone would argue (and the stats prove it) that a customer who trusts you is more likely to do more business with you. After all, why would they want to risk doing business elsewhere?

Well, it’s the same for employees. With so many employment issues today, it’s more important than ever to get and keep good employees. One of the crucial areas that can drive employee retention is trust. Just like customers, if employees don’t trust you, they may eventually leave for a competitor. And in the world of employee retention, a competitor is any other company that offers employment opportunities.

With that in mind, here are six ways to build trust with your employees.

1. Listen to your employees. Ask them for feedback. Frontline employees often have a better opportunity to know what customers think and say about you than anyone else in the company. Listen to them. And many employees have suggestions about processes and systems that can be improved. Creating an easy way for employees to share feedback and make suggestions can be a powerful way to improve the experience—for both customers and the employees themselves.

2. Act on the feedback and insights employees share with you. If you ask your employees for their feedback and insights and do nothing with it, employees eventually resent that they took the time to offer up their ideas and suggestions. And at some point, they will see it as a futile effort and waste of time, even if what they share with you is important. Employees often provide even more valuable feedback than customers. So, even if you choose not to use their suggestions, at least acknowledge their effort, express appreciation and let them know why.

3. Make sure leadership and management are accessible. If there is a metaphorical wall between employees and leadership, employees will always feel like they are on the outside. And if they feel like outsiders, any organization that may make them feel more included and appreciated could be the next place your employee—who you thought was happy—ends up working. There are different ways to go about this. An open-door policy is not always realistic. As an alternative, consider having “office hours”—a special time each week when employees can make an appointment. The point is that it needs to be easy for employees to connect with their managers, supervisors, and leadership.

4. Get out of the office and mingle with “the people.” If the only time employees see management or leadership is when there are problems, then the sight of them will create a level of fear and tension. Years ago, I read Tom Peter’s strategy he referred to as MBWA, Management by Wandering Around. The idea is that employees would not fear the sight of management, because they become used to seeing their bosses and leaders walking around. If a manager shows up just to point out problems or criticize, employees will always have concern whenever they see a manager or leader walking anywhere near them. The goal is to achieve trust, not fear.

5. Trust employees to do the jobs you hired them to do. If you hire good people and train them well, let them do their jobs. If employees feel like they are always being watched, scrutinized for their work and not being allowed to make the decisions you hired them to make, they will feel unfulfilled and frustrated. This is “Empowerment 101.”

6. Treat employees the way you want the customer to be treated. I refer to this as The Employee Golden Rule. You can’t expect employees to behave toward customers and each other in a way that’s different—as in better—than the way they are treated by their managers and leaders. Your actions and attitude toward your employees must be congruent with how you want them to treat your customers. You can’t invite them to your office, yell at them and then them, “Now go out there and be nice to our customers.”

What’s happening on the inside of the organization is felt on the outside by customers. To create the best customer experience, you must create a similar employee experience, if not even better. While there are many components that go into creating a great culture for an organization, trust is one of the essentials. Without it, you can’t expect to get and keep your best employees.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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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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‘Fail Fast’ is BS. Do This Instead

'Fail Fast' is BS. Do This Instead

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

“Fail Fast”

It’s an innovation mantra uttered by everyone, from an entry-level programmer at a start-up to a Fortune 100 CEO.

But let’s be honest.

NO ONE WANTS TO FAIL!

(at any speed)

The reality is that we work in companies that reward success and relentlessly encourage us to become great at a specific skill, role, or function. As a result, our natural and rational aversion to failure is amplified, and most of us won’t even start something if there’s a chance that we won’t be great at it right away.

It’s why, despite your best efforts to encourage your team to take risks and embrace “failure,” nothing changes.

A Story of Failure?

A few weeks ago, while on vacation, I dusted off an old copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. As a kid, I was reasonably good at drawing, so I wasn’t worried about being bad, just rusty.

Then I read the first exercise: Before beginning instruction, draw each of the following:

  • “A Person, Drawn from Memory”
  • “Self-Portrait”
  • “My Hand”

I stared at the page. Thoughts raced through my head:

  • You have to be kidding me! These are the three most challenging things to draw. Even for a professional!
  • How am I supposed to do this without instructions?
  • Maybe I’ll skip this step, read the rest of the book to get the instructions I need, then come back and try this once I have all the information.
  • Forget it. I’m not doing this.

Confronted by not one but THREE things to be bad at, I was ready to quit.

Then I took a deep breath, picked up my trusty #2 pencil, and started to draw.

The results were terrible.

A Story of Success

It would be easy to look at my drawings and declare them a failure – my husband is missing his upper lip, I look like a witch straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the thumb on my left hand is the same length as my index finger.

But I didn’t fail*.

I started

I did my best

I learned a lot

I did better the next time.

By these standards, my first attempts were a success**

Ask for what you want

Isn’t that what you want your team to do?

To stop analyzing and posturing and start doing.

To do their best with what they have and know now, instead of worrying about all the possibilities.

To admit their mistakes and share their learnings.

To respond to what they learned, even if it means shutting down a project, and keep growing.

Ask them to do those things.

Ask them to “Learn fast.”

Your people want to learn. They want to get smarter and do better. Encourage that.

Ask them to keep learning.

Your team will forget that their first attempt will be uncomfortable and their first result terrible. That’s how learning starts. It’s called “growing pains,” not “growing tickles,” for a reason.

Ask them to share what they learned.

Your team will want to hide their mistakes, but that doesn’t make anyone better or wiser. Sharing what they did and what they learned makes everyone better. Reward them for it.

Ask the team what’s next

It’s not enough to learn one thing quickly. You need to keep learning. Your team is in the trenches, and they know what works, what doesn’t, and why. Ask for their opinions, listen carefully, discuss, and decide together what to learn next.

You don’t want your team to fail.

You want them to succeed.

Ask them to do what’s necessary to achieve that

“Act Now. Learn Fast.”

*Achieving perfect (or even realistic) results on my first attempt is impossible. You can’t fail at something impossible

** To be clear, I’m not making a case for “participation trophies.”  You gotta do more than just show up (or read the book). You gotta do the work. But remember, sometimes success is simply starting.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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How To Attract, Grow and Retain Your Best Employees

How To Attract, Grow and Retain Your Best Employees

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

In a recent article, Why Employees Stay, I shared seven reasons why employees would want to continue working for a company. No. 5 on the list was that the company offers career growth and promotes from within. Let’s unpack that one, as it seems to be a top reason some companies are able to attract and keep good employees.

There are two parts to this idea. Growth and promotions. They don’t always go together.

1. Growth

Growth comes from training and on-the-job experience. Employees like to grow their skills, knowledge and capabilities. Even though good employees may come to the job with certain skills, they are often onboarded with training. In some cases, the training takes weeks—even months.

Zappos.com, the online retailer known for its stellar customer service, puts new employees through four weeks of training. “The whole point of the four weeks is to build relationships and make sure you’re comfortable in your role,” says corporate trainer Stephanie Hudec.

That’s four weeks before the employee is actually ready to do the job. That’s a hefty investment of time, energy and dollars, just to get someone “game ready” for their job. Or is it?

Zappos built its reputation with an emphasis on customer service. Putting someone in a customer-facing role who isn’t properly trained and ready could diminish the brand’s reputation.

But the training isn’t a one-and-done effort during the onboarding process. Employees are looking to grow. A few weeks in the beginning gets them to a level of proficiency for their current role, but many want more. They want to add to existing capabilities.

2. Promotions

Promotions are career opportunities within the company. It’s obvious that someone who has been at their job for months will be far better than the first day they started. They have to learn the system and processes, adapt their skills and abilities to their responsibilities, and more. Day one is the beginning of “ramping up” to a place where the employee is meeting the employer’s expectations. And then they go beyond.

Often, growth occurs due to training and education. Employees are trained, and the result is that they get better, smarter and more capable. But it takes something more, and that comes from the employee. The employee who is intent on growing must also take initiative and push themselves to grow to the next level.

Employers need to recognize this growth in both capabilities and initiative and take advantage of it, moving that employee through the ranks. Companies that are known for “promoting from within” are very appealing to employees. They attract good people and are better at getting them to stay.

Starting At the Bottom

We’ve all heard of “rags to riches” type stories of employees starting at the bottom in the mailroom and ending up in the boardroom. Some executives who started in the mailroom of their respective companies:

  • George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN
  • Dick Grasso, former New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) chairman
  • Krista Bourne, COO of Verizon

Maybe all three of these executives had ambitions to be successful from the beginning, but did any of them ever think they would be in the boardroom after starting their careers in the mailroom? Maybe, maybe not. But they didn’t get to those positions on their own. It’s important to recognize that employees who went to work in the mailroom and grew into important roles in their organizations didn’t get there on their own. They had training, great managers, caring coaches and helpful mentors.

There are plenty of stories of successful executives starting at the bottom. Many of them move and grow from company to company. Recognize that a chance to grow is important to today’s employees. A company that invests in the continuous growth of skills (customer service, leadership, technical, etc.) is better at recruiting new employees and keeping existing employees, but not always forever. Yes, in the perfect world, this growth would coincide with promotion opportunities inside the company, but it doesn’t have to. Just know you may be “growing” the employee to move on if you don’t move them up.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

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Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

Why Data-Based Decisions Will Lead You Straight to Hell

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Many years ago, Clay Christensen visited his firm where I was a partner and told us a story*.

“I imagine the day I die and present myself at the entrance to Heaven,” he said. “The Lord will show me around, and the beauty and majesty will overcome me. Eventually, I will notice that there are no numbers or data in Heaven, and I will ask the Lord why that is.”

“Data lies,” the Lord will respond. “Nothing that lies can be in Heaven. So, if people want data, I tell them to go to Hell.”

We all chuckled at the punchline and at the strength of the language Clay used (if you ever met him, you know that he was an incredibly gentle and soft-spoken man, so using the phrase “go to Hell” was the equivalent of your parents unleashing a five-minute long expletive-laden rant).

“If you want data, go to Hell.”

Clay’s statement seems absolutely blasphemous, especially in a society that views quantitative data as the ultimate source of truth:

  • “In God we trust. All others bring data.” W. Edward Deming, founding Father of Total Quality Management (TQM)
  •  “Above all else, show the data.” – Edward R. Tufte, a pioneer in the field of data visualization
  • “What gets measured gets managed” – Peter Drucker, father of modern management studies

But it’s not entirely wrong.

Quantitative Data’s blessing: A sense of safety

As humans, we crave certainty and safety. This was true millennia ago when we needed to know whether the rustling in the leaves was the wind or a hungry predator preparing to leap and tear us limb from lime. And it’s true today when we must make billion-dollar decisions about buying companies, launching products, and expanding into new geographies.

We rely on data about company valuation and cash flow, market size and growth, and competitor size and strategy to make big decisions, trusting that it is accurate and will continue to be true for the foreseeable future.

Quantitative Data’s curse: The past does not predict the future

As leaders navigating an increasingly VUCA world, we know we must prepare for multiple scenarios, operate with agility, and be willing to pivot when change happens.

Yet we rely on data that describes the past.

We can extrapolate it, build forecasts, and create models, but the data will never tell us with certainty what will happen in the future. It can’t even tell us the Why (drivers, causal mechanisms) behind the What it describes.

The Answer: And not Or

Quantitative data Is useful. It gives us the sense of safety we need to operate in a world of uncertainty and a starting point from which to imagine the future(s).

But, it is not enough to give the clarity or confidence we need to make decisions leading to future growth and lasting competitive advantage.

To make those decisions, we need quantitative data AND qualitative insights.

We need numbers and humans.

Qualitative Insight’s blessing: A view into the future

Humans are the source of data. Our beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions are tracked and measured, and turned into numbers that describe what we believed, wanted, and did in the past.

By understanding human beliefs, motivations, and aspirations (and capturing them as qualitative insights), we gain insight into why we believed, wanted, and did those things and, as a result, how those beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and actions could change and be changed. With these insights, we can develop strategies and plans to change or maintain beliefs and motivations and anticipate and prepare for events that could accelerate or hinder our goals. And yes, these insights can be quantified.

Qualitative Insight’s curse: We must be brave

When discussing the merit of pursuing or applying qualitative research, it’s not uncommon for someone to trot out the saying (erroneously attributed to Henry Ford), “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a horse that goes twice as fast and eats half as much.”

Pushing against that assertion requires you to be brave. To let go of your desire for certainty and safety, take a risk, and be intellectually brave.

Being brave is hard. Staying safe is easy. It’s rational. It’s what any reasonable person would do. But safe, rational, and reasonable people rarely change the world.

One more story

In 1980, McKinsey predicted that the worldwide market for cell phones would max out at 900,000 subscribers. They based this prediction on solid data, analyzed by some of the most intelligent people in business. The data and resulting recommendations made sense when presented to AT&T, McKinsey’s client.

Five years later, there were 340,213 subscribers, and McKinsey looked pretty smart. In 1990, there were 5.3 million subscribers, almost 6x McKinsey’s prediction.   In 1994, there were 24.1M subscribers in the US alone (27x McKinsey’s global forecast), and AT&T was forced to pay $12.6B to acquire McCaw Cellular.

Should AT&T have told McKinsey to “go to Hell?”  No.

Should AT&T have thanked McKinsey for going to (and through) Hell to get the data, then asked whether they swung by earth to talk to humans and understand their Jobs to be Done around communication? Yes.

Because, as Box founder Aaron Levie reminds us,

“Sizing the market for a disruptor based on an incumbent’s market is like sizing a car industry off how many horses there were in 1910.”

* Except for the last line, these probably (definitely) weren’t his exact words, but they are an accurate representation of what I remember him saying

Image Credit: Pixabay

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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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What Latest Research Reveals About Innovation Management Software

What Latest Research Reveals About Innovation Management Software

GUEST POST from Jesse Nieminen

Our industry of innovation management software is quite an interesting one. It’s been around for a while, but it’s still not a mainstay that every organization would use, at least not in the same way as CRM and team communication software are.

Hence, there’s quite little independent research available out there to prove its efficacy, or even for determining which parts of it are the most valuable.

So, when I saw a new study, conducted jointly by a few German universities, come out on the topic, I was naturally curious to learn more.

In this article, I’ll share the key findings of the study with you, as well as some personal thoughts on the how and why behind these findings. We’ll also wrap up the discussion by considering how these findings relate to the wider trends within innovation management.

About the Study

Before we get to the results, let’s first briefly cover what the study was actually about and how it was conducted.

First, the focus of the study was to analyze the role of Innovation Management Software (IMS) adoption for New Product Development (NPD) effectiveness and efficiency, as well as the factors (software functionality and offered services) that actually led to successful adoption of said innovation management software.

The data was collected with an online questionnaire that was answered by innovation managers from 199 German firms of varying sizes, 45% of which used an Innovation Management Software, and 55% of which didn’t.

While this is the largest independent piece of research I’ve yet seen on innovation management software, we should remember that all research comes with certain limitations and caveats, and it’s important to understand and keep these in mind.

You can read the paper for a more detailed list, but in my opinion, this boils down to a few key things:

  • First, the study uses NPD performance as a proxy for innovation outcomes. This is an understandable choice to make the research practical, but in reality, innovation is much more than just NPD.
  • Second, while the sample size of companies is respectable, the demographic is quite homogenous as they are all German companies that employ an innovation manager, which obviously isn’t representative of every organization out there.
  • Third, the results are analyzed with regression analyses, which always brings up the age-old dilemma: correlation doesn’t imply causation. In other words, the study can tell us the “what”, not the “why” or “how”.
  • And finally, while the chosen variables are based on validated prior research, the questions still require subjective analysis from the respondent, which can introduce some bias to the results.

So, let’s keep these in mind and move on to the actual findings.

The Main Findings of the Study

The authors have done a great job in summarizing the hypothesis and respective results in a table, which you’ll also find reproduced below.

Innovation Management Software Research Results

Let’s break the results down by hypothesis and cover the main takeaways for each.

Innovation Management Software Adoption Leads to Better NPD Performance

The first hypothesis was that using an Innovation Management Software would lead to better New Product Development performance. This can further be broken down into two parts: efficiency and effectiveness.

The results show that IMS adoption does indeed improve NPD efficiency, but the impact on NPD effectiveness wasn’t significant.

Innovation Management Software improves New Product Development efficiency, but the impact on effectiveness isn’t significant.

Intuitively, this makes sense and is also well in line with our experience. Innovation, especially in terms of NPD, is hard and requires a lot of work and difficult decisions, usually in the face of significant uncertainty. No software can magically do that job for you, but a good tool can help keep track of the process and do some of the heavy lifting for you.

This naturally helps with efficiency which allows innovators to focus more of their efforts on things that will lead to better results, but those results still aren’t a given.

Functionality That Leads to Higher IMS Adoption

The second hypothesis is focused on the functionality provided by the innovation management software, and the impact of said functionality on overall IMS adoption.

To be more specific, the respondents were asked how important they considered each functionality to be for their firm.

Here, Idea Management was the only functionality that had an impact for these firms.

Idea Management was the only functionality that had a significant positive impact for the surveyed firms.

Again, that intuitively makes sense and is well in line with our experience. Idea management is the part that you embed in the organization’s daily processes and use across the organization to make ideation and innovation systematic. And as mentioned, it’s the part that does a lot of the heavy lifting, such as increasing transparency, communication and collecting and analyzing data, that would otherwise take up a lot of time from people running innovation, which naturally helps with efficiency.

So, while Strategy and Product Management capabilities do have their uses, they are not nearly as essential to IMS adoption, or innovation success for that matter.

In our experience, this primarily comes down to the fact that most companies can manage those capabilities just fine even without an IMS. The value-add provided by the software just isn’t nearly as high for most organizations there.

Services That Lead to Higher IMS Adoption

The third and final hypothesis focused on the importance of the services offered by IMS vendors for the respective firms.

Here the spectrum covered consulting, training, customer support, customizations, as well as software updates and upgrades.

Here, the only factor that made a positive difference for the respondents was software updated and upgrades. This category includes both minor improvements as well as new functionality for the software.

Interestingly enough, for consulting that relationship was negative. Or as the authors put it, adopters more alienate than appreciate such services.

Software updates and upgrades were the only service with a positive impact, whereas consulting actually had a negative one.

Let’s first cover the updates and upgrades as that is probably something everyone agrees on.

Good software obviously evolved quickly and as most companies have embraced the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, they’ve come to expect frequent bug fixes, usability and performance improvements, and even new features for free. Over the lifetime of the product, these make a huge difference.

Thus, most understand that you should choose a vendor that is committed and capable of delivering a frequent stream of updates and new capabilities.

Let’s then move on to consulting and discuss why it is detrimental to adoption.

While we’ve always kept professional services to a minimum at Viima, this still came as a bit of a surprise for me. As I’ve raised this point up in discussions with a couple of people in the industry, that do offer such services, they seem to respond with varying degrees of denial, dismissal, and perhaps even a hint of outrage. When such emotions are at play, it’s always a good time for an innovator to lean in and dig a bit deeper, so let’s do that!

Looking at this from the point of view of the customer, there are a few obvious problems:

  • Misaligned incentives
  • … which leads to focusing on the wrong issues
  • Lack of ownership

Each of these could be discussed in length, but let’s focus on covering the keys here.

First, it’s important to understand that every software company makes most of their profits from software licenses. Thus, while generally speaking modern SaaS models do incentivize the vendor to make you successful, that isn’t the whole picture. The focus is actually on keeping the customer using the software. With the right product, that will lead to good outcomes, but that isn’t necessarily always the case.

However, when you add consulting to the mix, it’s only natural that it focuses primarily on the usage of the software because that’s what they know best, and what’s also in their best interest.

And, while making the most out of the software is important, it’s usually not the biggest challenge organizations have with their innovation efforts. In our experience, these are usually in topics such as organizational structure, resource allocation, talent, culture, as well as leadership buy-in and understanding.

And, even if the vendor would focus more on some of these real challenges the customer has, they rarely are the best experts in these matters due to their experience coming from matters related to the product.

Advice on Innovation Management

Now, once you have a consultant come in, you of course want to listen to them. However, a consultant’s job is to give advice, it isn’t to get to the outcomes you want or need, and there’s a big difference there. That is one of the fundamental challenges in using consultants in general, and a big reason for why many don’t like to use them for long-term issues that are core to your future success, such as innovation.

Having said that, if you do use consultants, you can’t lose track of the fact you still need to take ownership for delivering those results. The consultant might be able to help you with that, or they might not. It’s still your job to make the decisions and execute on the chosen plan.

Put together, these reasons are also why we have been reluctant to do much consulting for our customers. We simply think the customer is best served by taking ownership of these matters themselves. We do, on the other hand, seek to provide them with the information, materials and advice they might need in navigating some of these decisions – with no additional cost through channels such as this blog and our online coaching program.

How do these findings relate to wider IMS trends?

Now that we’ve covered the key findings, let’s discuss how these are present in the wider trends within the Innovation Management Software industry.

In addition to what we hear in our discussions with customers and prospects, we’ve also discussed the topic quite extensively with industry analysts and would break these down into a few main trends.

Focus on enterprise-wide innovation

One of the big trends we see is that more and more companies are following in the footsteps of the giants like Tesla, Amazon, Apple and Google, and are moving innovation from separate silos to become more of a decentralized organization-wide effort.

This isn’t always necessary for pure NPD performance, which is what the study was focused on, but it is certainly key for scaling innovation in general, and one where efficient idea management can play a key role.

Once you embark on that journey, you’ll realize that your innovation team will initially be spread very thin. In that situation, it’s especially important to have easy-to-use tools that can empower people across the organization and improve efficiency.

Simultaneous need for ease of use and flexibility

That enterprise-wide innovation trend is also a big driver for the importance of intuitiveness, ease of use, and flexibility becoming more important.

In the past, you could have an innovation management software that is configured to match your stage-gate process for NPD. You might still need that, but it’s no longer enough. You probably want more agile processes for some of your innovation efforts, and more lightweight ones for some of the more incremental innovation many business units need to focus on.

If people across the organization don’t know how to use the software, or require extensive training to do so, you’ll face an uphill battle. What’s more, if you need to call the vendor whenever you need to make a change to the system, you’re in trouble. Top innovators often run dozens or even hundreds of different simultaneous innovation processes in different parts of the organization, so that quickly becomes very tedious and expensive.

Reducing operational complexity and costs

A big consideration for many is the operational complexity and running costs associated in running and managing their infrastructure and operations.

Extensive configuration work and on-premises installations significantly add to both of these, so even though they can be tempting for some organizations, the costs do pile up a lot over time, especially since it requires a lot more attention from your support functions like IT to manage.

What’s more, if you want to make changes or integrate these systems with new ones you may introduce, typically you only have one option: you need to turn to your IMS vendor.

As IMS tools have matured and off-the-shelf SaaS services have become much more capable, the compromises in increased rigidity, complexity and running costs, as well as less frequent updates are no longer worth it and off-the-shelf SaaS is now the way to go for almost everyone. With SaaS, you benefit immensely from economies of scale, and you are no longer held captive by the sunk cost fallacy of up-front license payments and extensive configuration and training work.

Commoditization in Idea Management

As the study pointed out, idea management is at the core of most innovation management software. However, in the last decade, the competition in the space has increased a lot.

There are now native SaaS platforms, like Viima, that are able to offer extremely competitive pricing due to efficient operations and a lean organizational structure. This has put a lot of pressure on many vendors to try to differentiate themselves and justify their higher price tags with additional professional services, as well as adjacent products and capabilities.

In our experience, while these might sound good on paper, they aren’t often leading to more value in real life, and the respondents of this study would seem to concur.

Conclusion

So, to conclude, what did we learn from the research?

In a nutshell, no innovation management software or vendor will miraculously turn you into a successful innovator. A good software, however, will help you become more efficient with your innovation efforts, as well as lead to softer benefits such as improvements in communication, knowledge transfer and culture. Put together, these can make your life a lot easier so that you can focus on actually driving results with innovation.

What then should you consider when choosing your innovation management vendor?

Well, the evidence shows that you should focus on idea management, as that’s where the biggest impact on the factors mentioned above come from. And therein, you should focus on vendors that continuously update and evolve their software with the help of modern technology and that has made all the above so easy and intuitive that they don’t need to sell you consulting.

And of course, ask them the tough questions. Ask to test the software in real life. If you can’t, that is a red flag in and of itself. See how flexible and easy-to-use their software really is. Does it require consulting or configuration by the vendor?

This article was originally published in Viima’s blog.

Image credits: Unsplash, Viima

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An Innovation Action Plan for the New CTO

Finding and Growing Innovation Islands Inside a Large Company

An Innovation Action Plan for the New CTO

GUEST POST from Steve Blank

How does a newly hired Chief Technology Officer (CTO) find and grow the islands of innovation inside a large company?

How not to waste your first six months as a new CTO thinking you’re making progress when the status quo is working to keep you at bay?

I just had coffee with Anthony, a friend who was just hired as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of a large company (30,000+ people.) He previously cofounded several enterprise software startups, and his previous job was building a new innovation organization from scratch inside another large company. But this is the first time he was the CTO of a company this size.

Good News and Bad

His good news was that his new company provides essential services and regardless of how much they stumbled they were going to be in business for a long time. But the bad news was that the company wasn’t keeping up with new technologies and new competitors who were moving faster. And the fact that they were an essential service made the internal cultural obstacles for change and innovation that much harder.

We both laughed when he shared that the senior execs told him that all the existing processes and policies were working just fine. It was clear that at least two of the four divisions didn’t really want him there. Some groups think he’s going to muck with their empires. Some of the groups are dysfunctional. Some are, as he said, “world-class people and organizations for a world that no longer exists.”

So, the question we were pondering was, how do you quickly infiltrate a large, complex company of that size? How do you put wins on the board and get a coalition working? Perhaps by getting people to agree to common problems and strategies? And/or finding the existing organizational islands of innovation that were already delivering and help them scale?

The Journey Begins

In his first week the exec staff had pointed him to the existing corporate incubator. Anthony had long come to the same conclusion I had, that highly visible corporate incubators do a good job of shaping culture and getting great press, but most often their biggest products were demos that never get deployed to the field. Anthony concluded that the incubator in his new company was no exception. Successful organizations recognize that innovation isn’t a single activity (incubators, accelerators, hackathons); it is a strategically organized end-to-end process from idea to deployment.

In addition, he was already discovering that almost every division and function was building groups for innovation, incubation and technology scouting. Yet no one had a single road map for who was doing what across the enterprise. And more importantly it wasn’t clear which, if any, of those groups were actually continuously delivering products and services at high speed. His first job was to build a map of all those activities.

Innovation Heroes are Not Repeatable or Scalable

Over coffee Anthony offered that in a company this size he knew he would find “innovation heroes” – the individuals others in the company point to who single-handedly fought the system and got a new product, project or service delivered (see article here.) But if that was all his company had, his work was going to be much tougher than he thought, as innovation heroics as the sole source of deployment of new capabilities are a sign of a dysfunctional organization.

Anthony believed one of his roles as CTO was to:

  • Map and evaluate all the innovation, incubation and technology scouting activities
  • Help the company understand they need innovation and execution to occur simultaneously. (This is the concept of an ambidextrous organization (see this HBR article).)
  • Educate the company that innovation and execution have different processes, people, and culture. They need each other – and need to respect and depend on each other
  • Create an innovation pipeline – from problem to deployment – and get it adopted at scale

Anthony was hoping that somewhere three, four or five levels down the organization were the real centers of innovation, where existing departments/groups – not individuals – were already accelerating mission/delivering innovative products/services at high speed. His challenge was to find these islands of innovation and who was running them and understand if/how they:

  • Leveraged existing company competencies and assets
  • Understand if/how they co-opted/bypassed existing processes and procedures
  • Had a continuous customer discovery to create products that customers need and want
  • Figured out how to deliver with speed and urgency
  • And if they somehow had made this a repeatable process

If these groups existed, his job as CTO was to take their learning and:

  • Figure out what barriers the innovation groups were running into and help build innovation processes in parallel to those for execution
  • Use their work to create a common language and tools for innovation around rapid acceleration of existing mission and delivery
  • Make permanent delivering products and services at speed with a written innovation doctrine and policy
  • Instrument the process with metrics and diagnostics

Get Out of the Office

So, with another cup of coffee the question we were trying to answer was, how does a newly hired CTO find the real islands of innovation in a company his size?

A first place to start was with the innovation heroes/rebels. They often know where all the innovation bodies were buried. But Anthony’s insight was he needed to get out of his 8th floor office and spend time where his company’s products and services were being developed and delivered.

It was likely that most innovative groups were not simply talking about innovation, but were the ones who rapidly delivering innovative solutions to customer’s needs.

One Last Thing

As we were finishing my coffee Anthony said, “I’m going to let a few of the execs know I’m not out for turf because I only intend to be here for a few years.” I almost spit out the rest of my coffee. I asked how many years the division C-level staff has been at the company. “Some of them for decades” he replied. I pointed out that in a large organization saying you’re just “visiting” will set you up for failure, as the executives who have made the company their career will simply wait you out.

As he left, he looked at a bit more concerned than we started. “Looks like I have my work cut out for me.”

Lessons Learned

  1. Large companies often have divisions and functions with innovation, incubation and technology scouting all operating independently with no common language or tools
  2. Innovation heroics as the sole source of deployment of new capabilities are a sign of a dysfunctional organization
  3. Innovation isn’t a single activity (incubators, accelerators, hackathons); it is a strategically organized end-to-end process from idea to deployment
  4. Somewhere three, four or five levels down the organization are the real centers of innovation – accelerating mission/delivering innovative products/services at high speed
  5. The CTO’s job is to:
    • create a common process, language and tools for innovation
    • make them permanent with a written innovation doctrine and policy

  6. And don’t ever tell anyone you’re a “short timer”

This article originally appeared in Fast Company

Image credit: Unsplash

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Leading a Culture of Innovation from Any Seat

3 Ways to Leverage Human-Centered Design at Your Organization

Leading a Culture of Innovation from Any Seat

GUEST POST from Patricia Salamone

In a world where business challenges are increasingly complex, identifying your objective and framing your problem correctly is an integral way to demonstrate leadership and ensure teams don’t inadvertently solve the wrong problem. This is where a Human-Centered Design (HCD) mindset comes in—providing a groundbreaking way to define and ensure teams are focused on the right objective.

First, consider the challenge and objectives.

Not all business challenges need to be completely reimagined. Before jumping back to the drawing board, ask yourself, is there an obvious answer? Is there a clear approach to finding a solution? Can the team define what isn’t right? If you can’t say yes to these questions, then your business can benefit from the application of HCD principles. While teams understand they need to align and reframe challenges, having the proper tools in place is where many teams can fall short.

Move past traditional methods and be inspired to see challenges by taking a step back to reframe the problem:

  • Align the team. Often, internal teams will have differing viewpoints on a business problem. Rather than seeing this as a barrier, cross-functional alignment can open the door for creativity and new ideas.
  • Keep the focus on the issue. It’s often tempting to jump from “we have a problem” to, “here’s what we should do.” Instead, keep digging deeper. For every apparent problem definition, ask, “why does that matter?” multiple times, enabling yourself to get to the root cause and ensure you’re focusing on the “problem” rather than a “symptom of the problem.”
  • Use different words to reframe. Next time your team states a problem, challenge everyone to restate it using different words. Each iteration can reveal new facets of the problem, bringing clarity to the challenge at hand.
  • Zoom out. Rather than using a microscope to see details that aren’t immediately visible, approach the problem from a broader, more abstract perspective. Look at the customer’s “job to be done,” rather than what they may say their challenge is. This enables a more holistic and pragmatic view.

By making problem-reframing a habit, you are opening your organization up to greater flexibility and new pathways for innovation. This method also has the added benefit of clarifying gaps in knowledge and revealing where additional customer insight is needed.

Make empathy a daily habit.

A core principle of HCD is that empathy must permeate every aspect of traditional research initiatives. Simply seeking customer feedback to develop strategies often leads to insular thinking. While a research project-driven mindset is very much the norm, empathy in an HCD context is much more than that, it must permeate every aspect of the work.

Similar to reframing challenges, it is imperative to listen and learn from customer stories and perspectives. Here are some ways to establish daily habits and build stronger relationships with your customers.

  • Advocate for the customer’s voice in team meetings. Always begin by asking questions like, “how would our customers feel about this?”
  • Socialize existing wisdom within an HCD team on a weekly basis. This could look like emails containing important insights or bringing in a small group of clients together for “speed dating” with stakeholders to gain a human understanding of your customers’ experiences, wishes, and pain points.
  • Obtain real-time feedback. Online research communities can enable on-demand responses to explore fuzzy, front-end ideas, rapidly iterate on new product concepts, or gather deep insights into how your customers use a product post-launch.

Apply an agile mindset.

One of the hallmarks of HCD is agility. But being agile isn’t just about being “fast,” it’s about delivering value as efficiently as possible. In practice, an agile mindset means thinking differently about how your work gets done and the ways in which a team can break through functional silos.

Not sure where to begin? Here are some tactics to get you started:

  • Break up the work of the team into two-week sprints. Define what can be done in those two weeks and create measurable goals to work toward them (even if those outcomes are only intermediate steps toward a bigger goal).
  • Commit to short and frequent stand-ups with your team to share commitments and highlight possible hurdles to accomplishing the goals of the current sprint.
  • Portion out deliverables. Rather than focusing on your next big presentation as your deliverable, think about how you can break your work down and deliver portions of that content to your stakeholders sooner in a more informal way.

While the above suggestions are purely jumping-off points, they serve as solid examples of practical ways you can begin to transition from understanding HCD as a concept to it becoming an enabler of rethinking both your own work, as well as becoming a catalyst to higher-performing teams.

At the end of the day, embracing the principles of HCD is a long-term journey. These proven steps will help you lead and inspire teams to begin developing new habits that quickly demonstrate the strong potential HCD has in creating a new way to see innovation through the eyes of your customers.

Image credit: Pixabay

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