Sorry, but we are different!

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

‘Yes but… we are different’ is an excuse I hear quite often when managers are confronted with the challenge of making radical changes. (or sometimes even not so radical ones)

A typical conversation about focusing on increasing collaboration and lowering barriers revolves around these lines:

Yes, we know collaboration is key to innovation, but…

– We are different

– We are unique

– Our teams work differently

– We are in a different marketplace. In fact we are the market creators there is no-one else

– We recruit only the very best and you know they all have egos so they won’t collaborate.

– We are so large that anything remotely transformational is difficult to execute.

And the list goes on.

In my book there are three types of organizations when it comes to getting their employees working with each other: the ones that don’t know what works, those who know and don’t do anything about it, and then there are the IBM’s of the world.

IBM is large (huge actually), they hire some really smart people (arguably smart is an understatement) and they ‘get it’. With Employee engagement being the critical area of focus, IBM isn’t letting its size come in the way of building ‘a more egalitarian workplace where employees feel they have more control over decisions’.

The company’s “Corporate Crowdfunding” system is an excellent platform to stimulate innovation and get small impactful projects off the ground without having to deal with permissions and approvals. The platform is all about collaborative innovation, which lets its 430k+ workforce spread over 170 countries connect and collaborate on small projects.  (Read more about the project at the BBC Capital Story: Sparking Innovation from the Bottom Up)

For all the “Yes…But…” managers who feel they need a CEO approved grand strategy and mega budget to get collaboration and innovation going, it’s time for a re-think.

The amplifying effect of peer-networks

LM741CN AmpYou hate the slow tedious testing process your company has for its blockbuster product. Surely there is a better way to do things. You get onto the company’s new collaboration platform and connect with like minded people across various departments in the company. Discussions around topics of mutual interest start. Ideas for some new software tools to improve product testing get thrown around. One of them really attracts attention. Someone suggests that you collaborate to build a prototype. Others in the company take notice and join in. The concept gets refined continuously. The conversation spreads. Quite a few people are hearing about it. The energy is electric. Everyone is checking their message feed to see what the latest update is.

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Employee engagement strategies you learnt on your mother’s knee

I was down at the local supermarket today morning. As usual I was loitering in the candy and cookies section (a section that is supposedly off-limits for me) when a little girl ran into me and nearly knocked me over. She was so focused on some candies on a shelf way beyond her reach that she just didn’t see me standing there. A couple of hops and a full body stretch but she still couldn’t reach them.  I decided to help her and handed her a few. She gave the collection in my palm a very detailed check and nodded her head. She wanted the one with a bright yellow wrapper. And as soon I handed it over, she was off like a rocket. I shrugged and turned to get on with my grocery shopping. Seconds later she was back, a little out of breath. “Mommy says I have to say Thank you. Thank Youuu!”  A big impish smile and she was off again.

Be sure the next time I meet that girl in the store; I will sort through the entire rack to pick out as many yellow wrapper candies she wants me to.  The payoff: An impish smile and a thank you.

On my way back, I started thinking about all the stuff mothers teach kids. A whole lot of it sounds like best practices in employee engagement strategies. Here’s a quick refresher of stuff your mom already taught you (but then you forgot as you grew up in the big bad world)

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Annual Appraisals: It’s time to move on!

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To martyr yourself to caution/ is not going to help at all / because there’ll be no safety in numbers / when the right one walks out of the door

[Lost for Words, Pink Floyd]

Every year, around March-April there is a flurry of mails from HR reminding people to complete their appraisal inputs. Team members are exhorted to fill in their self ratings by the deadline, and then managers are hounded by HR to complete their ratings of their teams. A few days later all the managers are invited to a day-long meeting to do the dreaded ‘curve fitting’- since the logic goes that ratings of individuals on teams no matter how good or small should fit a normal distribution. (Those meetings can sometimes turn violent too when the fitting doesn’t go too well) Weeks later the ratings are communicated to the employees and that’s when the resignations start. A popular joke goes that moving companies record their maximum revenue for the year in the weeks right after annual appraisals are completed in companies.

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