May 24, 2012

The Direct Relationship of Fun to Innovation

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

Most companies fail at innovation because everyone is paid to maintain the status quo.

Everyone wants to be innovative, yet why do so many companies fail?

A recent report on innovation produced by global consulting firm Booz & CompanyGlobal Innovation 1000argues that organizational culture is the culprit. The report states that research and development are not enough to drive results. The crucial factors are strategic alignment and a culture that actually supports innovation.

The report observed only about half of all companies say that their corporate culture robustly supports their innovation strategy. About the same proportion say their innovation strategy is not adequately aligned with their overall corporate strategy.

Most organizations devote considerable time and energy to innovation, yet innovative ideas all too often die on the vine.

Aaron Shapiro, writing in Fast Company, a magazine dedicated to reporting on entrepreneurs and companies on the move, asserts most companies fail at innovation because everyone is “paid to maintain the status quo.”

In his blog, Stop Blabbing About Innovation And Start Actually Doing It, Shapiro explains it this way: “Everyone is maxed out making sure the company is doing what it’s supposed to do; innovation is what the weekends are for. Change is discouraged by time constraints and the stifling number of approvals needed.”

If you have worked in a large company or corporation, you likely can relate to Shapiro’s observation … unless, that is, you work at Google – the Internet and software giant.

Google’s corporate culture often is credited with driving that company’s innovative spirit. What makes Google so great?  First and foremost, it takes very good care of its employees, which the company considers to be its most important resource. The company encourages employees to propose creative, nonstandard and innovative solutions, and it fosters work environments that are collaborative, friendly and fun.

For example, Google offers its corporate staff a number of stunning no-cost, onsite amenities and services including gourmet meals, doctor visits, pool tables, swimming pool, spa, cafes and massage chairs.  The company also encourages individual creativity, preserving 20 percent of engineers’ time to work on independent projects.

Beyond amenities, the company maintains an “open” culture, the type often associated with startups, where everyone is regarded as a hands-on contributor and is encouraged to share ideas and opinions. Google hosts weekly TGIF meetings virtually and in person for employees to direct questions to senior leaders on any company issues.

No wonder Google gets hundreds of résumés a day!

Employees at DreamWorks Animation, which created Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, also are treated with free breakfast and lunch, movie screenings, afternoon yoga, on-site art classes and monthly parties, all encouraged by the chief executive officer, Jeffrey Katzenberg.

DreamWorks employees are encouraged to pitch movie ideas to the company’s leaders and take the company-sponsored Life’s A Pitch workshop to learn how best to do it by honing presentation skills.

Can innovation really be enhanced with playfulness and a sense of fun? Zappos thinks so, especially when it comes to delivering superior customer service. In fact, one of the company’s core values is Create Fun and A Little Weirdness. The idea is that unconventional behavior will help the company sustain its unique and memorable personality.

Zappos employees want to be able to laugh at themselves and look for both fun and humor in their daily jobs. Thanks to that philosophy, the company laughs all the way to the bank. The online shoe retailer reports over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales every year.

In Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion, And Purpose, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh suggests making customer service a responsibility of the entire company, not just a department. He says his number-one priority is the care and development of the company culture.

In a article, Do you Dare to Fail, writer Margaret Heffernan says innovation doesn’t just require risk-taking; it requires failure – something that companies typically discourage and punish, frequently with termination.

Intuit, the maker of bestselling financial management and tax software including TurboTax, asks employees to spend 10 percent of their time thinking about ways to “better the company or themselves.”

Jason Ryan Dorsey, keynote speaker and author of Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business writes about one young Intuit employee who took advantage of this “thinking time” to come up with an idea that improved the actual process of innovation within the company.

Working many weekends and hundreds of unpaid hours, Tad Milbourn and his coworkers released Intuit Brainstorm, an online tool that revolutionized innovation at Intuit by allowing all employees to submit innovation ideas and move them forward.

In the six months after the new technology was released, ideation at Intuit — meaning the rate of idea creation and advancement within the company —increased 1,000 percent. Participation by employees in innovation increased 500 percent — exceptional for a company as large as Intuit.

Even more impressive, other companies now are licensing Intuit Brainstorm for their own innovation processes, “all because a 25-year-old Gen Yer wasn’t satisfied with something that was a cornerstone of his company for years.”

Some common themes in these organizations are a commitment to help employees grow both personally and professionally; hiring a mix of talented but diverse employees; taking risks and accepting that failure is okay; and last but not least, having fun.

Many large companies are realizing that creativity plays a critical role in the innovation process and allowing some fun and freedom to get the creative juices flowing can bring surprising results. Fostering a culture that supports entrepreneurial creativity and innovation can really drive performance and change.

May 3, 2012

Adjusting Management Style to Fit a New Generation of Employees

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog

This generational divide can turn the workplace into a psychological battlefield.

You may remember – if you are old enough – when there were two rules of thumb that prevailed in the workplace: be on time and do what you were asked.  Younger employees followed established norms and took direction from older bosses, no questions asked.

In that hazy past, there were definite rules and protocols. No more. Today, roles are all over the place, and rules are being rewritten on a daily basis.

An interesting dynamic is at play in the workforce. Several generations including Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y are working side-by-side: Sixty-year-olds working next to 22-year-olds and recent college grads supervising employees old enough to be their parents.

This generational divide can turn the workplace into a psychological battlefield.

Each new generation that enters the workforce draws criticism from the generations already employed. How often have you heard seasoned managers and executives say the younger “kids” need to “pay their dues,” just as they did?  Each group thinks the other “just doesn’t get it.”

Anyone who has spent 10 minutes working alongside “Gen Y” employees, for example, knows they bring different personalities and priorities to the workplace. They’re young, smart, ambitious and demanding, and they question everything. They rely on technology more than any generation before them and surround themselves with the latest gadgets. You might also recognize them by their constant multitasking, texting and instant messaging, occasional backpack and ear buds dangling from their purses or pockets.

Almost 80 million strong, Gen Y – also known as Millennials – is the fastest growing segment in the U.S. workforce, according to Jason Ryan Dorsey, a member of that generation himself as well as a noted keynote speaker and author of Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business.

Dorsey describes his Gen Y cohorts as “an opportunity masquerading as a problem.”

With companies feeling pressure to do more with less, Gen Y is a solution, he said.  If managed correctly, this demographic is eager to make an impact and tends to be a less-expensive employee, especially when benefits are considered.

In his book, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, author Bruce Tulgan contends Generation Y represents the “highest-maintenance workforce in history” but that it also has the potential to be the most high-performing workforce, if managed correctly by strong, highly engaged leaders.

Gen Yers value work-life balance and flexibility, just as the Gen Xers who preceded them, but to a much greater degree, Tulgan said. “They’re like Generation X on steroids.”

Employment analysts, generation experts and researchers have identified unique attributes of Gen Y to help employers better understand workers in this age group. First and foremost, they seek freedom, have a speak-your-mind philosophy and want to be treated as equals from their first day on the job.

A “one-size-fits-all” management approach won’t work across generations. Managers who are all about gaining power through authority, commanding respect and instilling fear will not get favorable reactions from this generation.

In 6 Ways to Retain Your Generation Y Future Leaders, author and generation-relations researcher Lisa Orrell offers six tips to manage and develop Gen Y talent:

1) Constant Contact: Millennials want regular feedback and to hear from their managers at least once a day.

2) Praise Culture: We all enjoy praise, but Millennials tend to need it more often than older generations. They grew up in a culture of praise, where effort was rewarded. If they are not feeling valued on a regular basis, they will leave.

3) Rapid Advancement Alternatives: Gen Yers have high expectations for themselves and for their employers and expect respect, a decent salary and professional development in return. Orrell suggests finding creative ways to give them more responsibility, such as asking them to write for the company blog or set up a company fan page on Facebook.

4) Cubicle Shackles: Millennials don’t understand the need to sit in a cubicle eight hours a day. They want the flexibility to work anytime and from anywhere.  Many companies are offering flexible schedules, or “flex time,” as a perquisite to attract Millennials to their workforce.

5) Mentor Programs: Because Millennials have grown up with a lot of guidance from their families, society and teachers, they expect extra guidance at work. Orrell suggests offering a mentorship program for additional personal development.

6) Leadership Training: This group values leadership and management training programs to stay challenged and engaged.

A recent Fortune Magazine article, How to Groom Gen Y to Take the Company Reins, spotlights companies including Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson and Enterprise Rent-a-Car that initiated programs to help younger employees learn the corporate ropes. To bridge the communication gap between senior executives and the next generation of leaders, Deloitte runs regional Gen Y Councils that provide feedback to senior leadership and increased networking opportunities.

To make work tasks more engaging, business giants including IBM have gone to great extents to connect with their younger workforce, including incorporating elements of video games into the workplace.

According to The Wall Street Journal article, Latest Game Theory: Mixing Work and Play a growing number of firms are “deploying reward and competitive tactics commonly found in the gaming world to make tasks such as management training, data entry and brainstorming seem less like work.” Employees receive points or virtual badges for completing jobs or meeting time deadlines.

In today’s economy, maximizing the performance of every employee is crucial to business growth. Companies that do not embrace Gen Yers may compromise effectiveness, morale and, ultimately, profit. If companies successfully navigate the delicate nuances of a multigenerational workforce – in particular Gen Y’s role in the workplace – they can discover tremendous potential, performance and loyalty.

As company cultures evolve with each generation, all employees can benefit from a diversity of perspectives, attitudes and work styles.

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