Business Planning

Management Principle: Innovation in the Workplace

Business leaders know and believe that innovation is the secret sauce for company growth. It inspires product development, facilitates strong employee satisfaction, drives efficiencies and provides a sound culture making it desirable for one to work and invest their time and talent. Yet, the greatest impediment to innovation is the organizational leader and the resulting culture. No-one would intentionally thwart other’s contributions, but most organizational leaders unknowingly extinguish the flames of creativity through amateur managerial practices.

Imagine telling an artist what she must paint, and exactly how it should be done. What if, when putting paint on her brush, she’s directed on how to make each stroke and then corrected when she paints in a style or direction that’s unconventional? What’s the likelihood that the end product will be a true masterpiece of great value? Too many cooks in the kitchen. One may be able to sell such a picture in the marketplace, but it’s not likely it will ever make it to the Louvre. For an artist to truly innovate, she must be free to use her own imagination, while connecting the thoughts and images in her mind, and in her surroundings, to the brush that’s in her hand.

It’s true that effective leadership requires a level of control, but there are wholesome and unwholesome ways to govern-ones that inspire and promote individual contribution and creativity, and others that strike a deadly blow to the heart of innovation.? Consider the following principles to create a sanctuary for innovation in the workplace:

The first and most important principle is to stop doing other’s thinking for them. It’s impossible to cultivate innovation under the direction of a micromanager. Micromanagement is a corporate evil that robs others of originality and creativity, and ultimately truncates managerial leverage. From a human incentive standpoint, those who are denied the opportunity to use their own faculties to create and innovate will lose heart, bringing employee engagement to a grinding halt. People will retreat to vicious compliance–a condition where one turns off his or her own judgment and does exactly what the boss says, even though there are known negative consequences. The best source of good judgment in decision-making usually comes from those who are closest to the work. In contrast, professional managers lead with discovery-based questions rather than simply telling people what to do. They maintain control by assigning discreet levels of freedom.

Second, innovation has to be minded out of staff members which can only occur in a safe environment. Professional managerial leaders provide laboratories for their people to experiment and refine their thinking. They will look at mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than sins to avoid. New ideas must be treated with deliberate and intense curiosity rather than viewing them as anomalies to current conventions or norms. Yet, this way of “seeing” is very different than the ordinary, corporate way of life. Absent this foundational view, innovation is unlikely, leaving us to some form of process improvement that helps us to get better, but never allows us to be great.

Professional principles and techniques are rarely intuitive in nature, even though they make sense in the mind. Converting beliefs to actual behaviors is the hallmark of a true professional, yet few make this leap. Here’s how you can tell, at a quick glance, if your organization is poised for innovation.

Are your people happy, and do they love working at your firm?

Are new ideas welcomed and celebrated, even if they go against conventional norms?

Do you celebrate advances in innovations and truly incentivize people to take risks?

Is curiosity (the opposite of being judgmental) an operating, cultural value?

When things go wrong, do you work to solve problems or resort to finding culprits?

Coaching questions: How would you rate yourself at promoting innovation? What steps can you take to improve, maximizing human incentives, to foster needed creativity? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Management Principle: Thinking and Staff Development

In today’s world we’re not really encouraged to think, and by that I mean to wrestle long and hard over issues that involve different mindsets, considering tradeoffs, and then arriving at specific well thought out conclusions. Rather, we are asked to adopt and accept certain belief systems and simply conform. Since Pavlov’s famous experiment with man’s best friend, humanity has become the target of social conditioning, where like food shopping, we pick our favorite brand off the shelf–a concoction that if we could only see how it was made, we would likely decide to raise it and cook it ourselves. As the late Dr. Glenn Martin, professor at Indiana Wesleyan University would say, “Ideas have consequences.” What this means for organizational leaders is that developing today’s staff will present a very different challenge compared to other eras. Applying time-tested professional techniques are going to feel foreign, strange and even unsettling, particularly with the emerging generation.

Thinking and Staff Development, business planning, business management, employee engagementIf we want to effectively mentor and develop others then we must get them to think. Why? Good thinking yields good judgment; good judgment yields good decision-making; good decision-making yields win-win scenarios for all parties involved. It produces an owner mindset if we are careful to create a culture that supports risk-taking and innovation. Yet in juxtaposition to thinking cultures are many of today’s business environments, where we’ve followed the same protocol as the rest of society, engaging in telling platforms, communicating conformity rather than encouraging the originality and creativity that come from contemplation and having our conclusions tested by the questions and thinking of others.

If we really want to develop staff into people that can ultimately take our place, we have to engage in a more radical approach. I remember becoming aware of this truth when my boss walked into my office one day as I was standing in front of my window, staring at the outside world. He snuck up behind me and said in a pronounced voice, “Caught you!” I was so embarrassed–I knew I wasn’t really “working.” I’ll never forget his next statement… “I caught you thinking, and just so you know, that’s what I pay you to do.” He then walked out. This boss of mine is the reason I am who I am today, thanks to his ability to know the right and professional thing to do to make me a better man and a more professional manager.

Below are some keys steps to develop thinking in your staff:

  • Ask Questions. A professional manager will ask discovery-based questions rather than provide answers when employees approach them with problem-solving needs. This can feel uncomfortable for staff, since it exposes their current (and usually inadequate) thinking and makes them feel vulnerable. A safe culture is a prerequisite. In school, when taking tests, we are presented with questions for which we must provide answers. We study because we know we are going to be asked difficult questions. And if we’ve studied hard enough, we’ll give the right answer. Telling bosses stunt the growth and development of their staff.
  • Next Steps. To ensure an employee fully owns their job, all next steps must be placed on them. If we say to our staff, “Let me think it over and I’ll get back with you,” we’ve stumbled in our professional role. What we are really saying when this happens is, “I don’t trust your thinking, so I’m going to use my thinking until I come up with the right answer.” One of the key principles when training a soldier how to shoot is to keep the instructor’s finger off the trigger. If we hope to increase our employees’ competency over time, we need to push the thinking down, keep the problem-solving on them, and avoid doing their work.
  • Insure Decision-making. It would be a disaster if, by only asking questions and assigning next steps, our employees went out like the old cartoon character Tennessee Tuxedo and acted on their half-baked ideas. We’d spend much of our time accounting to our boss, making excuses for the actions of our employees and our inability to lead. This is why I like Bill Oncken’s Freedom Scale. Depending on our anxiety level, there are certain levels of freedom we assign to employee decisions to insure sound actions. If we don’t like their ideas, rather than give them the answer, we find the next best question to ask to help them see the bigger picture.

I know what you are thinking. All this sounds great but it takes too much time. And, time it does take. But, like a good financial investment, it means delaying current gratification for long-term gain. The truth is, for a telling boss, he or she will spend most of their time answering the same questions over and over again, which is a waste of time. By applying these principles on the front end of staff development, we’ll produce people who will ultimately think and judge the same way we do. If you want your staff to improve in their judgments and decision-making, then you must cultivate your thinking in them. This same process works well with teenage children, by the way.

Coaching questions: When your employees seek your direction or some version of problem-solving, how do you usually respond? How can you take steps to make sure your thinking is being developed in them, so that they can ultimately replace you in a succession process? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Management Principle: True Leaders

What are the beliefs and the behaviors of true leaders? With so many people articulating different views, it’s hard to decipher a universal model upon which everyone would agree.

Some people believe in the “end-justifies-the-means” approach suggested by the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of “The Prince,” while others relate to the more servant-leader approach articulated by Jim Collins’ in his book, “Good to Great.” We could easily move to a debate about what’s ethical versus effective, and totally miss the fact that all leaders work with human beings who possess the facilities of mind, will and emotions, rather than the hoped-for robots that respond to commands with precise execution and blind obedience.

The bottom line is this: those leaders who focus on winning the active support of those they lead, utilizing wholesome influence skills, historically have better results than those who use the coercive, stern discipline approach, supported by shame and humiliation, to get people to act. Anyone I know, if asked to choose between William Wallace and Adolph Hitler to be their leader, would align with William Wallace based on his ability to lead from the front and inspire his people, and, whose dedication and love for his men were clearly known and demonstrated. So what guidance does this provide for us in our quest to become true leaders?

True and good leaders are those who have the ability and energy to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves, while focusing on the welfare of those under their charge, leaving their own personal concerns and desires for last. This choice and lifestyle is professional behavior, and not something one arrives at easily–anything less than this is something other than true leadership. If our motive for becoming a leader is rooted in a desire for power and/or money (cast as “career growth”), we will likely harm our people and the overall cause, doing ourselves no good in the end. The proper motivation for leadership is rooted in the discipline of service. And, while we may fool ourselves regarding our true motives and desires, they will be crystal clear to everyone else.

Here is a good prescription to follow, to make sure we are walking down the right path.

1- Do justice. Do right by the company and its clients, as well as your staff. When there are tensions between any of these constituencies, ask yourself the question: What creates a fair, win-win for all concerned? Don’t be satisfied with anything less. If someone is misbehaving in some way, violating the principle of justice, move toward them in a spirit of wholesome conflict and stand strong. Follow the principles of justice and fairness.True Leaders

2- Love mercy. The way to get people to act as a volunteers, and serve with a whole heart, is to adopt a development mindset and avoid being accusational or judgmental. Being judgmental harms people, regardless of your intention. Most people are eager to learn when given a true opportunity in a safe environment. Just because someone can’t read your mind doesn’t mean they are intentionally trying to make your life hard.

3- Walk humbly. The egotistical leader is a total turnoff to almost all followers. For those who embrace the narcissistic model, people will bemoan their leadership. Don’t assume that you are exempt from this pitfall. We can’t see pride in the mirror. If you’ve made it about you (put yourself in the center) and fail to truly serve your people with whatever degree of power you have, you’ll never have the respect and therefore the sacrificial volunteerism of your people. If you make it about them, versus making it about you, they’ll follow you forever.

Coaching questions: Where might you need to grow in your own motivations and therefore in your leadership skill? Who can help you to manage that growth and provide accountabilities for your success? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Leadership Resolutions for 2013

When leading through change, the most effective method is to focus on one thing to change and celebrate the incremental small changes that will lead to the big change in the end.

We all hear the list of resolutions that individuals as well as leaders make as a part of tradition to start a new year. I just recently read a blog post that listed 11 resolutions for leaders. The author must have written this suggestion after one too many spiked eggnogs!

Resolutions need to be limited as change is incremental and your brain can’t keep track of too many changes at one time. So if you need to narrow your list down to 2-3 changes here are my suggestions to narrowing your list.

  1. Make sure that the resolution is a SMART one. Just like goals,? resolutions need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. If the resolution doesn’t meet these five criteria, then eliminate it! And remember to state in the positive, “I will” is much more powerful than “I won’t”
  2. Secondly, can you use your strengths to achieve your resolution?? Read more…

Read more on the Executive Velocity website.

10 Behavioral Strategies for a Successful Year-End

With the end of the year?approaching, it’s time for a review of your business performance in 2012.

What were your favorite strategies for improving personal and business performance this year? What did you accomplish and what are your goals for 2013?

The following 10 behavioral strategies?will?lead you through to a successful year-end and help you plan for the new year.

  1. Demonstrate customer appreciation based on knowing what motivates each customer.
  2. Complete an organizational talent review to determine whether each of your employees is using their unique talents.
  3. Review your team members’ communication styles as well as the strengths and blockages within your team.
  4. Evaluate current levels of customer engagement in your services.
  5. Know what motivates each employee to implement a non-financial employee rewards program.
  6. Build customer workflows that manage each customers expectations and meet their service needs.
  7. Review your leadership legacy.
  8. Learn how each of your family members likes to be communicated with.
  9. Address the amount of risk you are currently taking in your investment portfolios.
  10. Reflect on your Quality Life goals.

To learn more about our DNA Behavior solutions for addressing these areas, contact us at

Management Principle: System Irrationality

Today’s management term is geared toward team and corporate outcomes but imagine if we applied the principle below to our communities and to government at large? How would it change life around us?

The truth is most of the topics we discuss in this blog also apply to our families, neighborhoods, and most all other contexts of life. I hope you think beyond corporate as you contemplate today’s principle.

System Irrationality. System irrationalities reveal themselves when we think, plan and build processes one way, then get unexpected outcomes as a result. One clear and predictable example is the way in which we incentivize people. If we hope, for example, to engage directors who will develop next generation leaders through a deliberate mentoring approach as part of a succession process, but only incentivize them with financial reward for increasing business, then we shouldn’t be surprised when no leaders emerge to replace them. It’s human nature. We will reap what we reward. Imagine Navy Seals who are trained to guard and protect themselves only, when under attack. How effective will they be at achieving complex missions? They are rather shaped with engrained thinking to protect their companions first and worry about themselves last. They accomplish almost superhuman feats as a result.

As professional leaders, we can have access to similar results by utilizing the appropriate human incentives. When organizational leaders understand and employ the secrets of selflessness, true teamwork will occur that will have lasting, sustainable corporate impact.

Coaching questions: Where are you experiencing system irrationalities and getting less than desirable results? What inspirationally-based human incentives can you apply to cultivate hoped-for outcomes?

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.