Tag Archives: organizational culture

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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Impact of Cultural Differences on Innovation

Innovation and Impact of Cultural Differences

GUEST POST from Jesse Nieminen

The effects of cultural differences for innovation are an interesting and extremely multifaceted topic.

For most of us, it probably goes without saying that cross-cultural and multicultural capabilities are crucial in today’s globalized and hyperconnected world, and innovation is no exception. These capabilities are especially important if you’re working on it in a large international organization, as many of our customers are.

Such an organization must obviously think about how to adapt new innovative products and services to the cultures and unique characteristics of different markets and regions. But, in addition to that, they also need to manage the cultural differences within their organization while trying to innovate. Given that we have customers all over the world, it’s a theme we often get asked about.

And, of course, there’s also the age-old debate about the cultures of certain regions or countries being better suited to innovation to begin with.

So, in this today’s article, we’ll dive deeper on this nuanced topic and each of those three themes around cultural differences in innovation. We’ll also end by providing you with practical advice on how to look at and take these into account in your innovation work.

How can cultural differences be observed?

However, before we dive deeper, let’s first take a step back and consider the question of how to observe cultural differences in the first place.

I’m sure we all agree that there are significant cultural and behavioral differences between people coming from different backgrounds, be it based on geographical, ethnic, religious, or just the past corporate cultures people have been a part of.

As these differences are often hard to pin down, people usually have an innate urge to try to group people into specific buckets to make sense of those differences. There are significant challenges in doing that as it can lead to putting people into predefined boxes and reinforcing stereotypes, and then treating people based on those stereotypes instead of the individuals they really are. That is why these kinds of approaches shouldn’t be considered universal truths or used as recipes for making decisions even from a purely pragmatic point-of-view, let alone from an ethical one.

Still, with that major caveat, there are also benefits in using such frameworks since they can help us make sense of the world in a more structured way. They can help everyone get a better understanding of the big picture and can serve as a starting point for creating a shared understanding, as well as debating the practical implications of cultural differences.

There are many such methods available, but the general approach is always the same: to break a culture down into several behavioral and/or value-based dimensions ranging from one extreme to another, and then rating each culture on each of these dimensions to form an overview of their respective cultures.

The most popular and widely researched of these are probably the GLOBE project, and the Hofstede cultural dimensions model, but there are also other popular ones like the Culture Map. Each of these frameworks uses the above described approach, and most of the research on them is primarily focused on the differences between individual nations. Having said that, the same approaches have also been applied to other levels, such as gender, organizational, etc. often just with slightly different dimensions.

Next, we’ll briefly explain the Hofstede cultural dimensions model because it’s one of the earliest, and by far the most popular model in the field. If you’re already familiar with the model, you can skip the next paragraph and jump right into the takeaways.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Geert Hofstede worked at IBM back in the 60’s when it was one of the first true global, multinational corporations. As part of his work on improving cross-cultural communication, he ran the same survey on values for more than 100,000 employees from different countries and analyzed the differences, which then led to the creation of his model some years later.

Initially the model consisted of four dimensions, but upon additional research, has since been expanded to six. I’ll briefly explain each of these next, and then share a few examples to illustrate how that works.

Power Distance Index (PDI) determines how equally power is distributed and how hierarchical a society is. High scores indicate a structured and hierarchical society, whereas low values indicate a more distributed power structure and willingness to question authority.

Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV) looks at how heavily individuals are integrated into groups. This is mostly self-explanatory, but it’s worthy pointing out that collectivist cultures are highly loyal to the close-knit groups they belong to.

Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) determines how much ambiguity and uncertainty a society is comfortable with. High scores indicate that a society values clear, often strict, rules and guidelines and believes in there being a “singular truth”. Low scores mean that a society is more willing to explore new ideas and divergent thoughts and is less structured overall.

Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS) is of a dimension that’s subject to some controversy, but here refers to values associated with traditional gender roles. A masculine society values achievement, assertiveness, and material rewards for success, whereas a more feminine one values cooperation, modesty, care, and quality of life.

Long-term orientation vs. Short-term orientation (LTO) is pretty self-evident. Long-term oriented societies tend to think more about the future and view adaptation and pragmatic problem-solving as important, whereas more short-term oriented one tends to value traditions and the current state and be less willing to change.

Indulgence vs. Restraint (IND) in turn refers to how much a society indulges and encourages freedom for individuals to “just have fun and enjoy life”. More restrained societies tend to have stricter social norms regarding such behavior as they see these indulgences as counter-beneficial for bigger, longer-term ambitions.

There’s been some research on how these tendencies affect innovation, and as you can probably guess, some tend to be more favorable for high innovation performance than others. Which brings us to the big question: are some cultures intrinsically better at innovation than others?

Are some cultures better than others at innovation?

Well, in short, the answer is yes. At least to some extent. As mentioned, there’s research that shows a relatively strong correlation between certain cultural characteristics and innovation performance.

However, here it’s worth pointing out that almost all of the research done on the topic would seem to focus on country level data as that is widely and freely available thanks to studies like the Global Innovation Index (GII).

While certainly useful, we should take these findings with a grain of salt due to a number of factors, such as the studies again being high-level generalizations based on correlations, and the indices like GII being predominantly focused on inputs for innovation such as education and R&D spending. Even the output focused parts tend to be a bit biased towards activity metrics, such as number research papers and patents, instead of the real value and economic impact of innovation.

What’s more, I think it’s important to point out that most natural cultures evolve much slower than the GII rankings change, so it should be quite evident that there are also many other factors than culture that affect these scores.

But with that out of the way, let’s now look at the actual findings.

Characteristics of top innovation cultures

Based on the available studies, there would seem to be a pretty good consensus on the ideal innovation cultures having the following characteristics on the Hofstede model, in rough order of importance:

  • Low power-distance
  • High levels of long-term orientation and pragmatism
  • High levels of individualism
  • High levels of indulgence
  • Low levels of uncertainty avoidance
  • Lower levels of masculinity

These findings are obviously mostly in line with what most of us think of as a pro-innovation culture, so there aren’t really that many surprises here.

If people can question authority, are comfortable with ambiguous and uncertain environments, and can think about the long-term instead of just the next quarterly results, innovation is a lot more likely to happen.

While there’s more to innovation performance than culture, certain characteristics are likely to lead to a culture being better at innovation.

In most studies, the level of masculinity seemed to make the least amount of difference of any of the variables for innovation performance. Some studies found no correlation, but some did find a preference for a feminine, more collaborative culture instead of the more competitive and assertive, masculine one.

However, in my opinion, the most interesting findings are that high levels of individualism and indulgence are favorable for innovation, when intuitively we might think that a culture that is more collaborative and favors restraint and delayed gratification would be preferable.

This can be explained with the way that the Hofstede dimensions are constructed.

A more collaborative culture is one where certain in-groups, typically your own family, come first, and where loyalty and obedience are absolute values. So, collaboration according to the Hofstede model isn’t so much for the “greater good”, but more about the benefit of that specific “inner circle” ahead of your own interests. More individualist societies, on the other hand, tend to be more comfortable disagreeing, exploring, and “letting the best ideas win”, which is what likely led to these cultures over-performing.

A similar explanation also applies for the preference for indulgence. According to the authors of the study linked above, people in indulgent cultures have a greater drive for improving things and making life more enjoyable, and are generally more optimistic, which they viewed as the primary factors driving innovation here, perhaps alongside a general willingness to just try new things.

So, in that context, I do think the findings make sense, but I think it’s also a good example of some of the challenges associated with more nuanced sides of these cultural frameworks.

Takeaways from country level innovation performance

Looking at the GII study, and the mapping of the top countries from that to the Hofstede model, there are a couple of points worth noting out.

Viima Hofsted Insights GII study of cultural dimensions

First, the top countries in the GII are pretty much what most people would probably expect. The top 15 consists primarily of the US, the Nordics, as well as some Western European and East Asian countries.

However, the interesting part is that when we map these out to the Hofstede model, it’s immediately obvious that even the top performing countries are essentially all over the spectrum. Once we look a bit closer, it’s also evident that no individual country has the perfect innovation culture, as defined above.

To elaborate further, I think there are a few key takeaways from all of this:

  1. There’s more than just one way to be a great innovator
  2. While there are a few distinct types of cultures that generally do better, every culture has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to innovation
  3. You can improve your odds of succeeding at innovation by quite a bit if you recognize the biases of your culture that are likely holding you back

Top performing organizations should thus take these biases and cultural differences into account, and purposefully shape an organizational culture that is distinct from the average of any individual country and instead designed to drive more innovation. Here, diversity can be a real asset, but that’s another massive topic on its own.

Every culture has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to innovation. You can improve your odds of succeeding at it by recognising the biases that are holding yours back.

Having said that, there’s quite a bit more to creating this kind of an innovation culture than just what the Hofstede model captures, and we’ve written about that in detail in this earlier article.

However, one aspect that I’d like to highlight here is that innovation is requires a strong combination of both exploration and execution, so your culture should have a good mix of capabilities in both extremes.

If you’d like to start shaping your culture in practice, you can download our free Innovation Culture Toolkit for actionable tools that can help you do just that.

With that said, let’s now move on to the more practical implications of cultural differences for innovation work.

Multi and cross-cultural innovation capabilities

Let’s start from the first and most obvious challenge innovators in a globalized world face: how can their products and services, as well as sales and marketing efforts be relevant when doing international business, especially in different, highly culturally diverse regions?

In certain situations, and for certain products, it can be completely fine to just do minor localizations like translations, and primarily use the same channels, models, and messaging across the world. This will keep things much simpler and there are situations where these benefits can outweigh the costs for both your customers and your business. For example, this is the route we’ve so far decided to take with Viima.

Having said that, if you don’t adapt your offering and operations to different cultural and market preferences, you often can’t reach your full potential. In some situations, it might even take a completely different approach to reach the same goal in different cultures.

P&G is these days often cited as an example of a multinational company that has been able to successfully grow in emerging markets, but one of the lessons they learned the hard way was that just operating with the same products and models as they did back home wouldn’t work.

For example, according to ex-CEO Lafley, when P&G decided to focus on the baby-care market in Asia, the initial approach was to just cut away material from the diapers sold in Western markets. The problem was that to get to a cost-level that was acceptable, they had to cut out so much that the products no longer worked as intended. Once they went back to the drawing board and created an entirely new product with a completely different design focused primarily on costs instead of the latest technology, they succeeded in creating an attractive product and eventually became the market leader in China.

Pampers Cultural Tailoring

However, in most cases, either extreme isn’t the way to go. You need to look for a solution that allows you to build on your strengths, but still cater to the different cultural preferences of those whom you choose to serve – and usually that isn’t everyone.

Of course, for most of us who are innovators, that isn’t really that different from what we do anyway: we know that whatever great ideas we have, many will never survive first contact with the real world.

Cultural differences and local preferences of different markets are just another variable that we’ll need to take into account in our innovation work. Still, if you’re aiming for international business, it is a topic that you’d be wise to consider during your development process as it can save you a lot of trouble down the road.

Now, if you already have team members that are intimately familiar with these different cultures, it’s just common sense that the whole process is likely to be quite a bit smoother. And the evidence backs it up: this is one of the reasons for diversity being an asset for innovation.

But with that, let’s finally cover the practical considerations of what all of the above means for our organization before we wrap up.

Managing cultural differences within the organization

This is of course another massive topic, so we’ll keep things focused and will seek to provide you with the three key principles we’ve generally found to work well for getting great innovation outcomes in an international, multicultural organization in our work with such organizations.

While many of these are quite practical, depending on your role, you might not be able to put all of them into practice right away. Still, I’d recommend thinking about ways you can apply the same core ideas within the scope of your innovation work.

Cultural Differences for Innovation

Communicate about cultural biases and expectations openly

To illustrate this, I’ll share a story from No Rules Rules, which is a great book that I’d warmly recommend if you’ve made it this far into the post.

Before Netflix expanded internationally, it had a somewhat stereotypical US style task-oriented culture. It was quite common for employees to have lunch while working on their computers. However, as they expanded to Brazil, it quickly became obvious that this was a bit of a problem as, in general, Brazilians really value the relationships built over shared meals. As a result, early employees didn’t exactly feel welcome.

After some time, this came up in discussions, and while it was a trivial thing to fix, it still made a huge impact on morale. And not only did that help them adapt to local habits, but the changes also enriched the culture of the organization globally.

Netflix is known for its company culture

So, the takeaway here is that it’s important to pay attention to cultural differences and discuss them openly. Usually, the issues are easy enough to fix, but when they aren’t discussed, you easily miss them, and that’s what leads to many challenges down the road. The reality is that most people won’t be familiar with everyone else’s culture by default and expecting that to be the case just isn’t realistic.

Have core values and some norms, be flexible on the rest

Each organization’s culture is a result of its background. A sum of its parts, if you will. Be it the nationality of the company, past strategic and hiring decisions, and even simple practices and ways of working that have stuck around for one reason or another.

A few of these factors are core for the identity and competitiveness of the organization, and it’s these core values that you should hold on to. However, most of these factors are simple habits that are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Making the difference between the two is key.

The core values and norms are something you simply need to succeed as an organization, and those you simply can’t compromise on. New employees, whatever their background or experience, do need to adhere to these few essentials. And for that to happen, you need to train them on these values and principles and tell why that is so important for your organization.

You should be adamant about upholding your core values, but be flexible and willing to give up or change the more inconsequential parts of your culture so that it can evolve and improve

On the other hand, the rest of inconsequential norms and habits you should be willing to give up or change when needed so that everyone can feel welcome and be the best version of themselves. Everybody doesn’t have to be a carbon copy of one another.

But there’s more to it than just that. The right changes can, in fact, make your culture better. This is essentially what “hire for culture add, not culture fit” means in practice.

Let’s again use the Netflix lunch example. Was it crucial for the company to have employees to eat at their desks? Of course not. It was just an inconsequential habit. However, it was vital to have the new Brazilian employees feel welcome, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it improved the company’s performance. Plus, introducing this conscious habit globally helped have a positive impact elsewhere too!

Shared Lunch Brazil

The same can be applied even within the scope of your innovation work. For example, if you’re working on a new medical device, quality and safety are much more important than absolute speed to market. On the other hand, for a consumer web app, it’s probably the other way around. The exact values mentioned here aren’t important, it’s that they should support your strategy and innovation capabilities.

Figure out what the true core values and norms are for your innovation efforts, and make sure to reinforce these – and then be flexible on the rest.

Push decision-making down whenever possible

We’re a strong advocate for decentralized innovation. I won’t recap the whole topic here, but in a nutshell, it’s people who are closest to the market and the real work that often come up with the best ideas. Also, a decentralized approach allows you to dramatically scale your innovation work, which is key for long-term results.

While we’d argue that this is usually the preferable approach, it’s even more important when you’re operating in a multicultural and international environment, as we pointed out earlier.

Not only is this likely to lead to better decisions, but it’s guaranteed to improve the accountability and motivation of the employees making those decisions, which will lead to better results.

This is a key characteristics of the Netflix culture, and CEO Hastings prides himself in doing as few decisions as possible. And, at large, it’s seemed to work really well for them.

However, a market where they are struggling is India. And, at least on the surface, it looks like the problem has been that they’ve tried to adapt the same success formula to India as most other markets: using local top talent to produce new hit TV shows. The problem is that apparently Indians value sports and movies much more than they do TV shows, which has led to competitors focused on those areas dominating the market and a big commercial disappointment for Netflix. From the outside, it’s hard to say if they didn’t really live up to their values here, or if the mistake happened regardless of that. Still, I’m sure there were people on the ground in India that knew of these cultural preferences beforehand.

India Cricket

In practical terms, there are naturally some opportunities and capabilities that make sense to work on centrally, but in an international organization there are also plenty that would be best tackled by empowering people further down the organization to make decisions that best drive the key interests of the organization.

For example, some of our customers have launched big international innovation campaigns or other initiatives and struggled. They might find it difficult to engage people in the field because the centralized effort just doesn’t feel relevant for many of these people, or they might not be able to implement enough good ideas with that same centralized approach.

While there are others that have succeeded in similar centralized efforts, our most successful and advanced customers have nearly without exception evolved the way they work to really embrace innovation at the scale of the organization at large.

…and make sure innovators have the support they need

However, for that decentralized approach to work, you need to guide and support the people innovating across the organization. This is of course not specific to just an environment where there are cultural differences, but for innovation in general.

You likely have plenty of smart and capable people working for you who’d be more than capable of driving innovation, but if they don’t have the right resources, tools, and mindset, they might struggle.

So, in practice, you should:

  • share strategic priorities, and make sure people continue to work towards those
  • provide tools and resources that help people with the innovation process
  • communicate and oversee the above-mentioned core cultural values and norms of the organization
  • help people with challenges in being heard, understood, or taken seriously by others
  • help facilitate discussions and share innovation best practices between different parts of the organization

Often, the most convenient way to accomplish the above goals is to make these efforts a priority of your centralized innovation team, instead of having that small team try to drive innovation themselves.

The right approach and specific methods, tools, and frameworks obviously depend on the situation, but the point is that with the right support, you’ll find that people will often surprise you with the innovations that they’re able to create. The key to success with this model is to proactively invest in improving capabilities and supporting innovators across the organization.

Anyway, with this kind of an approach, you can move from just trying to manage cultural differences, to embracing and using them to drive value for your organization.

Conclusion

The topic of cultural differences is such a complex and nuanced topic that  we’ve barely scratched the surface on here, even though this has been a pretty long article.

But to summarize, if ignored, cultural differences can become a big challenge for innovators. Yet, if embraced and properly managed, it can turn out to be a real advantage for you.

The first step is to understand that these differences exist in the first place, and that teams and people from different backgrounds are likely to have certain strengths, but also certain weaknesses, when it comes to innovation.

Then, reflect on what the ideal culture for innovation looks like in your specific business, and discuss these differences openly with your team.

And finally, try to approach the whole process systematically, with the help of tools like our Innovation Culture Scorecard, one by one addressing challenges that are holding your team back from reaching its true innovation potential.

As mentioned, when embraced and properly managed, cultural differences can turn out to be a real competitive advantage for an innovator.

This article was originally published in Viima’s blog.

Image credits: Viima, Pixabay, Unsplash, Pexels

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Breaking the Iceberg of Company Culture

Company Culture is key to the success of a business. Voltage Control works with enterprises to help them discover ways to sustain innovation and create lasting cultural change.

Breaking the Iceberg of Company Culture

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Company culture is like an iceberg. Organizational icebergs dictate how a company operates from the bottom up. Just as the tip of an iceberg is visible above the water’s surface, much of company culture goes beyond what is “visible” to most.

For example, most people judge a company’s culture based on attributes like productivity and performance, though these elements represent a small percentage of what lies at the company’s core. If the tip of such organizational icebergs is 10%, several other factors contribute to the underlying 90% of a company’s culture.

Paying attention to what lies below the surface of your organizational icebergs is the key to making lasting changes.

In this article we’ll explore how to make a shift in your company and meeting culture with the following topics:

  • The Core of Company Culture
  • The Organizational Iceberg Analogy
  • Breaking the Ice
  • Meeting Systems Change Your Company Culture
  • Best Practices for Selecting Meeting Systems
  • Making Meetings Magical

The Core of Company Culture

Organizational culture or company culture is the secret behind business success. Companies that have a healthy organizational culture are 1.5 times more likely to see a 15% growth in revenue in 3 years and 2.5 times more likely to enjoy significant stock growth in three years.

While growth is inextricably linked to having a healthy company culture, 85% of companies reportedly fail in making necessary shifts. If you hope to make a change to your company’s culture, you’ll need to start transforming the core of how your company operates.

The Organizational Iceberg Analogy

The organizational iceberg analogy comes from Edward T. Hall’s “Iceberg Model of Culture.” In this analogy, Hall explains how organizational culture is similar to an iceberg at sea. While one can see 10% of the iceberg above the surface, a majority of the iceberg is below the water.

The analogy of organizational icebergs highlights the potential difficulties a company faces in assessing the wellness of their organization outside of typical metrics and other visible elements of culture. Companies that are only paying attention to the visible attributes may miss what lies underneath the surface. Likewise, companies that hope to make a change must alter underlying values and principles to see visible results.

In the iceberg analogy, visible indications of company culture can include:

  • Processes
  • Shared values
  • Structures
  • Policies
  • Strategy
  • Goals

Breaking the Ice

While organizational icebergs aren’t inherently dangerous, failing to see below the surface poses a threat for any company. This type of imbalance in your company culture may result in low employee engagement, high turnover rates, and poor performance across the board. These symptoms are an indicator of misaligned strategy and culture and a company that doesn’t fully understand or embody its values.

Voltage Control Meeting Culture Redesign

The iceberg model can help you create a permanent fix for short- or long-term issues. Breaking the ice begins with finding the “why” in each action, diving deeper, and making a shift in structure and processes. Having a clear understanding of organizational icebergs will help you make the necessary changes to your company.

The iceberg model can be broken down into four levels:

  • Event 

Consider “what is happening” within the company culture and how it presents in behavior and quality of work.

  • Trends/Patterns

Understand what patterns exist within the company as you analyze the trends over time.

  • Structure

Determine what is influencing the repetitive behavior to analyze the habits and structure behind the actions.

  • Mental Models

Mental models are at the heart of every action and shape the underlying beliefs that motivate your team.

As you carefully consider your company’s organizational icebergs, you’ll be able to create a holistic shift in your company culture.

The iceberg model teaches that change begins at the bottom of the pyramid with beliefs and patterns. Consider the following example in which a company identifies a need for change and potential solutions:

Example: 

  • Event: People aren’t engaged at meetings.
  • Pattern: People aren’t participating in meetings and deliverables aren’t being met.
  • Structure: Team members don’t feel meetings are an efficient way to spend time and they believe the meetings are boring, unproductive, and stressful.

Management level: The company is used to daily 1-hour meetings, failing to consider that more dynamic models will lead to an improvement in performance. 

  • Mental Models: Employees are disengaged as they are forced to sit in daily meetings. Moreover, team members may not want to participate if they feel their voices aren’t heard.

Whether your meetings are mismanaged or you are hoping to take your gatherings to another level, it all begins with your meeting systems.

Meeting Systems Change Your Company Culture

Company culture is ever-changing. Company culture includes the beliefs, habits, assumptions, values, and visions that are at the core of your company. Your meeting culture is intrinsically tied to your company culture and the way you manage meetings will set the tone for your company culture as a whole.

Remember, your meeting culture should always embody your company culture, but if you have a troubled organizational culture, it will translate to your meetings as well. Breaking the ice is essential if you want to run successful meetings, promote collaboration and discourse, and allow for true vulnerability amongst participants. To experience a change in company culture, start by changing your meeting systems.

Voltage Control Concentric Consensus

Meeting systems ensure that all meetings strategically align with your needs and company culture. These systems help to establish which operating models, performance criteria, and employee support are essential to running successful meetings. Upgrading your meeting systems will result in a shift in mental models, improved structure, and transformed patterns.

The most functional meeting systems offer support with the following:

  • Continuous improvement and system maintenance to improve a meeting’s operating system as the company evolves
  • Performance monitoring that ensures the meeting model results in the expected deliverables
  • Appropriate meeting supplies, equipment, and facilities
  • Technology that supports the execution and administration of all meetings
  • Training in the skills and processes required for successful meetings

Best Practices for Selecting Meeting Systems

Breaking down your organizational icebergs starts with identifying best practices for running successful meetings and selecting a meeting system.

Meeting systems should take the following into consideration:

  • Defining the Work

Appropriate meeting systems define the work that needs to be done, focusing on any items that require team input.

  • Tailoring Meetings to Content

Effective meeting systems require focus. Facilitators should choose a single topic to focus on in each meeting.

  • Determining the Meeting Frequency

Meeting frequency plays an important role in structuring sessions. Urgent topics and problems should be discussed regularly while less urgent topics may be discussed on a less frequent basis.

  • Choosing the Length of Each Meeting

No two meetings need to feel the same. While some topics require more in-depth discussions, shorter meetings help to keep the energy in a session alive. Longer meetings should be reserved for topics that require more discussion and exploration.

  • Planning for Overflow

Meetings that flow seamlessly rarely allow for extraneous discussion. Planning for overflow is an important strategy to ensure all meetings are as efficient as possible. An overflow session allows for additional discussion on topics that aren’t appropriate for other meetings.

Voltage Control Magical Meetings Story Spine

Making Meetings Magical

There are countless meeting systems available for organizations to effectively facilitate any type of meeting. Finding the best meeting system for your organization will improve your meeting culture while streamlining the process.

Not sure how to go about selecting the proper meeting system for your organization? Let our expert facilitators lead you through a meeting systems workshop. You’ll learn tips and tricks to improve your facilitation as you discover the best ways to incorporate organizational icebergs into a winning facilitation strategy.

Sign up with Voltage Control to learn more about our meeting systems workshop and how you can fast-track your meeting culture transformation.

This article was originally posted at VoltageControl.com

Image credits: Pixabay, Voltage Control

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Catalysing Change Through Innovation Teams

Catalysing Change Through Innovation Teams

Guest Post from Janet Sernack

What makes Israel so innovative? And what has this got to do with teaming? One of the key discoveries, we made, almost ten years ago, when we relocated to Israel, was the power of its innovation eco-system – the result of a collaboration between the state, venture capital firms, successful entrepreneurs, educational system, business system, incubators, and accelerators. Reinforcing and validating the importance and role of collaboration, where a range of new, inspirational, and adaptive models that lean into complexity and catalyze and embed innovative workplace culture changes, have emerged. Where some organizations have strategically and systemically, courageously invested in applying these new models internally, in catalyzing change through innovation teams.

Transform creative discoveries

Innovation teams transform creative discoveries and ideas into new platforms and business models in timely, agile, and disciplined ways that bring significant value to the market and organization. Who, according to Nick Udall, CEO and co-founder of nowhere, effectively deliver the desired step-changes, breakthrough innovations, and organizational transformation, in ways that “move beyond what we know and step into the unknown, where the relationship between cause and effect is more ambiguous, hidden, subtle and multi-dimensional.”

New collaborative models

The range of new collaborative models, include teams and teaming, tribes, collectives, and eco-systems, are all designed to help organizations innovate in turbulent times.

Where they empower and enable everyone to be involved in innovating, and in responding to the diverse assortment of complex challenges emerging from the Covid-19 crises. They also empower and enable people to co-sense and co-create inventive solutions to the range of “complex” challenges, in ways that potentially engineer 21st-century adaptability, growth, success, and sustainability, in countries, communities, and organizations.

Capacity to change

Groups, teams, and teaming are now the “DNA of cultures of innovation”, who fuel organizations, with an “evolutionary advantage – the capacity to change as fast as change itself.” As we transition from our pre-Covid-19 conventional business-as-usual “normals”, organizations have the opportunity to adapt to the high levels of ambiguity by leveraging their peoples’ collective genius.

Utilizing innovation teams to multiply their value and co-create innovation cultures that catalyze growth, in the post-Covid-19 world through:

  • Emerging and exploring possibilities
  • Discovering creative opportunities
  • Making strategic decisions
  • Incubating and accelerating new ideas.

Realm of the creative team

According to Dr. Nick Udall in “Riding the Creativity Roller-Coaster” – creative teams embrace and work with the unknown, intangible, invisible, the unconscious and the implicate, that their key challenges are “to wander with wonder into the unknown.”

Through cultivating a 21st-century skill set, including – attending and observing, questioning, listening and differing, risk-taking and experimenting, and teaming and networking that enables them to be, think and act differently.

Catalyzing change through innovation teams involves creating a culture of innovation, which according to the authors of “Eat, Sleep, Innovate” – is one in which (mindsets) and behaviors that drive innovation come naturally.

Where creative teams are formed around a Passionate Purpose, that propels them into the unknown, in an unpredictable world, where they connect and stretch with cognitive dissonance and creative tension, through developing discomfort resilience. To co-create collective breakthroughs that shift them beyond managing the probable, toward leading what’s possible.

Role of collective mindsets and behaviors

One of the key elements that we can intentionally cultivate is our ability to develop habits that build our mental toughness and emotional agility to cope with stress and adversity, at the same time, paradoxically, create, invent and innovate.

The one thing that we can all control, and is controllable, are our individual and collective mindsets – how we think, feel and choose to act, in solving complex problems, performing and innovating, to dance on the edges of our comfort zones, in the face of the kinds of uncertainties we confront today.

Challenges in creating a culture of innovation 

Our research at ImagineNation™ has found that many organizations are disappointed and disillusioned with many of the conventional approaches to effecting culture change, largely because of variables including:

  • Confusion between the role of climate, culture, and engagement assessments and processes, knowing which one aligns to their purpose, strategy, and goals and delivers the greatest and most relevant value.
  • The typically large financial investment that is required to fund them.
  • The time it takes to design or customize, and implement them.
  • The complexity of tools and processes available that are involved in contextualizing and measuring desired changes.
  • Designating responsibility and accountability for role modeling, leading, and implementing the desired changes.
  • Building peoples’ readiness and receptivity to the desired change.
  • Efforts are required in removing the systemic blockers to change.
  • Designing and delivering the most appropriate change and learning interventions.
  • The false promises of “innovation theatre”.
  • The time it takes to reap desired results, often years.

In response to our client’s need for speedy, cost-effective, and simple, internal and collaborative culture change initiatives, we developed an integrated, simple, yet profoundly effective approach that integrates three powerful streams for catalyzing change through innovation teams:

  1. Team development and teaming skills
  2. Education and learning interventions
  3. Coaching and mentoring initiatives

By taking these variables into account, focussing on building the internal capability, and offering a different and fresh perspective towards catalyzing change through innovation teams.

Creating a culture of innovation – the innovation team 

We took inspiration from our 32 years of collective knowledge, wisdom, and experience across the domains of change management, culture, leadership, and team development as well as from our 8 years of iterating and pivoting our approach to the People Side of Innovation.

Coupling this with our extensive research sources, we developed and customized a team-based action and blended learning and coaching methodology for innovation teams, described as:

  • Change catalysts who operate with senior leadership sponsorship, empowered and equipped to trigger internal change management, engagement, and learning initiatives.
  • Teachers, coaches, and mentors who provide coaching and mentoring support to educate people in innovation principles and processes that cultivate sustainable innovation through co-creating learning programs and events.
  • A small effective and cohesive team, of evangelists, agitators, coaches, and guides and enables the whole organization to participate through partnering and collaborating on potentially ground-breaking (Moonshot) projects, aligned to the organization’s vision, purpose, and strategy.
  • Amazing networkers and influencers who work both within and outside of silos to inspire and motivate people to co-operate and collaborate by taking a systemic perspective, leveraging organizational independencies, to co-sense and co-create groundbreaking (Moonshot) prototypes that they pitch to senior leaders.
  • Being customer-obsessed and equipped with the innovation agility – capacity, competence, and confidence to adapt, transform, and constantly innovate to maximize the impact of innovation across the organization to affect growth, and deliver improved value by making innovation everyone’s job, every day, to make innovation a habit and way of life.

Developing the future fit future-facing company

Involves a commitment toward catalyzing change through innovation teams, leveraging teams, tribes, collectives as internal growth engines, who collaborate quickly to respond to ambiguity, turbulence, and rapid developments. By being nimble and agile, leading with open minds, hearts, and will to be present and compassionate to emerging human needs, courageously experiment with different business models, and creatively contribute to an improved future, for everyone.

This is the first in a series of three blogs about catalyzing change through innovation teams, why innovation teams are important in catalyzing culture change, and what an innovation team does.

Check out our second blog which describes how an innovation team operates and our final blog which includes an evidence-based case study of an effective and successful innovation team in a client organization.

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centered approach and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more

Image credit: Unsplash.com

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Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos

Amazon's Innovation PhilosophyIt is not too often that the leader of a Fortune 500 gives you an insight into how their company achieves competitive advantage in the marketplace in a letter to shareholders, instead of launching into a page or two of flowery prose written by the Public Relations (PR) team that works for them. The former is what Jeff Bezos tends to deliver year after year. This year’s letter is particularly interesting.

The two key insights in this year’s letter were that:

#1 – Amazon strives to view itself as a startup champion riding to the rescue of customers
#2 – Amazon chooses to be customer-obsessed, not customer-focused or customer-centric, but customer-obsessed

Both of these are crucial to sustaining innovation, and are supported by Jeff’s other main pieces of advice:

– Resisting proxies
– Embracing external trends
– Practicing high velocity decision making

But, I won’t steal Jeff’s thunder. I encourage you to read Jeff’s letter to shareholders in its entirety, check out the bonus video interview at the end, and add comments to share what you find particularly interesting in the letter.

Keep innovating!

—————————————————————-
2016 Letter to Amazon Shareholders
April 12, 2017

“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”

That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.

I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?

Such a question can’t have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don’t know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.

True Customer Obsession

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.

Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.

Resist Proxies

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2.

A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.

Another example: market research and customer surveys can become proxies for customers – something that’s especially dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products. “Fifty-five percent of beta testers report being satisfied with this feature. That is up from 47% in the first survey.” That’s hard to interpret and could unintentionally mislead.

Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.

I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.

Embrace External Trends

The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.
These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Over the past decades computers have broadly automated tasks that programmers could describe with clear rules and algorithms. Modern machine learning techniques now allow us to do the same for tasks where describing the precise rules is much harder.

At Amazon, we’ve been engaged in the practical application of machine learning for many years now. Some of this work is highly visible: our autonomous Prime Air delivery drones; the Amazon Go convenience store that uses machine vision to eliminate checkout lines; and Alexa, our cloud-based AI assistant. (We still struggle to keep Echo in stock, despite our best efforts. A high-quality problem, but a problem. We’re working on it.)

But much of what we do with machine learning happens beneath the surface. Machine learning drives our algorithms for demand forecasting, product search ranking, product and deals recommendations, merchandising placements, fraud detection, translations, and much more. Though less visible, much of the impact of machine learning will be of this type – quietly but meaningfully improving core operations.

Inside AWS, we’re excited to lower the costs and barriers to machine learning and AI so organizations of all sizes can take advantage of these advanced techniques.

Using our pre-packaged versions of popular deep learning frameworks running on P2 compute instances (optimized for this workload), customers are already developing powerful systems ranging everywhere from early disease detection to increasing crop yields. And we’ve also made Amazon’s higher level services available in a convenient form. Amazon Lex (what’s inside Alexa), Amazon Polly, and Amazon Rekognition remove the heavy lifting from natural language understanding, speech generation, and image analysis. They can be accessed with simple API calls – no machine learning expertise required. Watch this space. Much more to come.

High-Velocity Decision Making

Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations. The senior team at Amazon is determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business – plus a high-velocity decision making environment is more fun too. We don’t know all the answers, but here are some thoughts.

First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you’re wrong? I wrote about this in more detail in last year’s letter.

Second, most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.

Note what this example is not: it’s not me thinking to myself “well, these guys are wrong and missing the point, but this isn’t worth me chasing.” It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!

Fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.

I’ve seen many examples of sincere misalignment at Amazon over the years. When we decided to invite third party sellers to compete directly against us on our own product detail pages – that was a big one. Many smart, well-intentioned Amazonians were simply not at all aligned with the direction. The big decision set up hundreds of smaller decisions, many of which needed to be escalated to the senior team.

“You’ve worn me down” is an awful decision-making process. It’s slow and de-energizing. Go for quick escalation instead – it’s better.

So, have you settled only for decision quality, or are you mindful of decision velocity too? Are the world’s trends tailwinds for you? Are you falling prey to proxies, or do they serve you? And most important of all, are you delighting customers? We can have the scope and capabilities of a large company and the spirit and heart of a small one. But we have to choose it.

A huge thank you to each and every customer for allowing us to serve you, to our shareowners for your support, and to Amazonians everywhere for your hard work, your ingenuity, and your passion.

As always, I attach a copy of our original 1997 letter. It remains Day 1.

Sincerely,

Jeff

———————————

If you’d like dive deeper into the mind of Jeff Bezos, then check out this interview with him conducted by Walt Mossberg of The Verge last year at Code Conference 2016:

And here is another fascinating peek inside the mind of Jeff Bezos from 1997:


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