Fostering innovation


innovationInnovation. Most businesses strive for it…well, sort of…

Basically there are 2 phases to everything. In life, business, relationships, education, anything at all, you’re either growing or you’re dying. For this instance, let’s talk about organizations.

Most business leaders and would agree that it’s crucial for an organization to be innovative, however, few know how to make that happen. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic bullet, but you can create conditions to make the environment ripe for innovation.

Regarding one source of innovation, Nancy Perkins wrote this about Gen Y workers in her blog How to think different and encourage innovation:

Some managers are seemingly threatened by the usually Gen Y’s employee’s outspoken suggestions, dismissing them as youthful and misguided egotistical aggressiveness or as sneaky ways to look better than the boss.

Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t be the bleach killing all traces of innovation DNA in your organization. Leaders are intently focused on the well being of the organization, even at the expense of themselves.
I’ll add a 3 other keys:

1. Don’t allow people to squash ideas before they’re explored. This takes many forms but one common squasher is “It’s not that bad.”

2. Find time to talk with the people closest to the people you serve. It should scare you to death that the Continue reading

CEO Gripe Session?

ImageRecently, I had a conversation with a CEO of a local organization and he was sharing with me that one of his ideas to spark innovation had really fallen short. Several years ago, he started a once-a-month meeting that was open to anyone in the organization where they could come bring issues/concerns for making their jobs better to him directly.

Over time, it has evolved into a gripe session where people complain about everything from parking to the TP selection in the restroom.

How did this happen?  How is it that the CEO is now fielding questions about toilet paper? What seems like a great approach to innovation has somehow morphed into dealing with petty issues that regular management should have been dealing with all along.

Here are a 3 ideas to make sure your innovation meetings don’t turn into Gripe Sessions: Continue reading

Go to the $1.00 store!!!

It’s Friday afternoon and the world of government is grinding to a close.  Today was a good day.  Where I work, our 3 member training department is really kind of an anomaly in that we’re all very extroverted (surprise) in an otherwise introverted organization.

Being the group that’s “out there” certainly has its benefits.  Today, at lunch, the 3 of us decided to go toImage the $1.00 store and buy a bunch of really cheesy stuff to make our office more festive.  Summer is fast approaching and since we can’t go to the beach, we thought we’d bring it here to our little slice of…

Government buildings are drab, gray, tan, blah, and we often think it’s best not to be flashy with our tax dollars so we really make everything look quite depressing.  I’m not talking about the castles we build in the Federal Government, but those “prison-school-office-wow this place is depressing” local government type buildings.

I say we should be making the buildings look better and more inviting. After all, studies have shown that productivity goes way up when the environment is more conducive to productivity.  One study even goes as far as saying:

It is therefore imperative for governments at the federal and state levels to explore ways of improving and updating infrastructural facilities in order to make work environment more conducive for enhancement of labour productivity.

People are all thinking we should be cutting back on government. I say we should be getting more out of the people we’re already paying and that will let us do more with less.  And don’t give me that crap about they should just be happy to have a job!


So, I ask you: What are you doing about the employee environment to be more productive?  Are you putting out sodas? Putting art up on the walls?  Heaven forbid…painting a non gray/taupe color? (gasp!!!)

Find something to do that peps up your office a little.

Our team here might just be on to something…

Pick it up, you’re falling behind…

Quick story. I walked several blocks today to lunch and on my way back, I was walking down a sidewalk and there were newspaper sheets lying all over the sidewalk. The perplexing thing was there was a garbage can right next to them.Image

As I walked toward them, I saw it was 2-3 newspapers worth of pages flying about so I started to pick them up. You see, it was in front of a high rise building that’s been vacant since 2 banks merged in my city 5 years ago, so there wasn’t much foot traffic.

Sure, the city has a Public Works department that cleans the streets. If I pick it up, I’m taking away from their job, right? Heck, a homeless guy might have come by and needed that paper for…Anyway, I picked it up.

One-by-one, I chased the papers blowing in the wind down the sidewalk like a nut job until I got every last one. All the while, I was wondering if someone was going to see me doing it and think I was crazy…

That’s my point.  When did we go from picking up trashbeing normal, to it being someone else’s job and I’m crazy if someone sees me doing it?

When’s the last time you picked up the trash, rather than stepping over it?

Do you step over the bug in the carpet by your elevator?  Do you walk past the scraps of paper towel that have fallen from the receptacle at church? Do you throw that left over napkin away with your stuff at MacDonald’s or just leave it there for someone of lesser status to get them?

Even the Bible tells us to live “in honor, preferring one another.”  Turns out, that preferring one another part means to live life knowing there is someone else behind you.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about “preferring”:

    • grab a cart from the lot, that’s one less for the poor grocery guy to bring in
    • if you have a kid in a restaurant, pick up after them (or at least triple the tip)
    • return the item you don’t need back to it’s home, rather than on the shelf in the checkout line

When you read these, if you thought “that’s not my job,” you failed.  I’m guessing you’re an absolute joy to be around and WOW would I like to work for you…(note: SARCASM)

If you thought “man, that’s what I do,” you are awesome!!!

If you thought “man, hadn’t thought of that,” Congrats!  You are in my boat. Bad news is that we both have some rowing to do.

Got anymore for my list?  I’d love to hear them!!!

You’re not going to believe this…

I live in Homewood, AL.  It’s a small suburb just south of Birmingham. I often call it Mayberry.  Everyone walks with their dogs, kids, spouses, etc., and it’s a really wonderful place to live.

This week I saw something that completely blew me away…and that’s hard to do.

Early in the morning, I walked past my window and noticed that my neighbor across the street had put his trash out and a cat/raccoon had strewn it all over his front lawn.  “That sucks,” I said to myself, “when he wakes up, the garbage truck will already have come and he’ll have to pick all that up.”

A couple of minutes later, I noticed that the garbage truck was parked outside on the street for longer than usual.  I went to the window and was shocked at what I saw.

Sure, you’ve figured it out…they picked up all the trash for him.  The driver of the truck (the head honcho of the garbage truck crew) had even crawled down out of the truck to help pick it up as well!!!

Yes, you heard that right. The crew had picked up the trash. The homeowner didn’t know it, their boss didn’t know it, they didn’t even know that ANYONE knew it…but they did it anyway.

This is a nice example of some of the great employees in government that you don’t ever hear about.

Stereotype: Lazy, bare minimum, not in my job description people.

Actuality: People who do the right thing ONLY because it’s the right thing to do.

Now what?  What would you do? If these were your employees, how would you handle it?

If they were my employees, I’d throw a party…take them to dinner…give them an award…anything to recognize their efforts and signal to everyone else who worked for me that this behavior got noticed.

Have you ever seen this type of unexpected service? I’d love to hear about it.


What are these kids now a days thinking?

Really want to know?

If your organization is planning on being in business in a few years, you’d better to learn how to deal with Millennials.  That’s the group born after 1978 and basically under 30 in the workforce.

Teaching leadership and management in the local government, I hear tons of grumbling about the new workforce and how they don’t make any sense.  After all, why wouldn’t they expect to spend 15 years taking their lumps like the Gen X and Baby Boomers did before getting the promotion?  Why wouldn’t they expect to be rewarded based on how long they’ve been breathing rather than how they perform?

Turns out, motivation for Millennials looks a little different than the current management generation (Gen X) thinks.

In a PricewaterhouseCoopers 2011 Global CEO Survey, it turns out they value Training and Mentoring in their careers more so than say…money.

What does that mean? I’m glad you asked.

What’s important to you, isn’t necessarily important to everyone.  I know, shocking! Turns out, motivationis a very specific thing to specific people and a one-size-fits-all strategy won’t work. Even though working for a promotion means something to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything to a Millennial.

Key takeaway: Set up a mentoring program, train the new people, and teach them how they can develop in a broader sense than just “you’ll be a manager in 10 years.”

We have to evolve…even in the government.

Customer Care ≠ Customer Service?

Do you see it as customer service or customer care?

In today’s world of increasing consumer choice, it seems the pendulum is swinging once again to individualized service.  The interesting thing is that even the big guys are catching on.  American Express has been working on a shift in thinking since 2005 when the new leadership decided that customer service wasn’t that at all.

Customer Service is a cost of doing business. Customer Care, however, is an amazing opportunity to connect with the customer.  As a matter of fact, AMEX doesn’t use a script if you call in.  They take some info about you and your spending patterns and empower their reps to have a conversation.  In interview by Fortune, an executive talks about this:

7% of customers…feel that they’re getting good service, 93% are not getting the service they expect.  It’s an enormous void in terms of how customers are treated.  What’s interesting, it’s a simple concept; it’s the golden rule…but that simplicity is often overlooked by other businesses.  The influence of a customer is at the center here, and we need to appreciate customer interests and the value it creates.

Wow! Is that how you see customer interaction?  Do you have the kind of people who would just have a “conversation” with the customer rather than reading a script?

Do your front-line people recognize the interaction with a customer as an opportunity for 93% or do they see the 93% of customers as unreasonable?

What actions are you taking to teach Customer Care? How do you get people to see every interaction as a proverbial “moment of truth?”  We’d love to hear about it.

Millennials: what’s wrong with these kids?

As I’m coaching and teaching managers and leaders in the government, I consistently hear the same question come up again and again: “What’s wrong with these kids coming into the workforce now?”

Good question.  What’s wrong with them?

“Why do they expect to be promoted and rewarded based on their performance rather than seniority?”

“Why don’t they want to ‘take their lumps like I did’ before moving on to the next job?”

“Why don’t they care about being promoted?  Why isn’t it enough just to get a paycheck rather than hearing about how great they are doing from me?”

Why, Why, Why… indeed.  Much has been written about this sort of Millennial generation label and I won’t bore you to death with it now.  If you want to read up a little, search Google for Millennials in the workplace and read away.

I simply want to make 2 quick points:

1. You raised them.  Like it or not, it’s your fault.

2. Your parents (and the people in their generation) thought the same about your generation.  Remember comments about “hippies” and “kids who don’t want a real job?” I thought you might.

3. (I’m not charging you for this one) They’re just as frustrated with you.  They are tired of using the Encyclopedia minded workforce to achieve their goals when they’re used to making things happen quickly.  In their mind, you’re clogging up the workforce bottleneck and although they’re okay with you being there if you contribute, they have little empathy for people just sucking up the job supply if they’re operating the same way they did back in ancient history (1980’s-1990’s).

Just remember, at some point, you had the same drive they do.  You just had to send out 3,000 emails, strike that, letters and trek to the front desk of city hall and fill out applications for 6 weeks to get a job.  They just did all that in 20 minutes on from Starbucks.

When is the last time you got a letter?

How is your customer service?  Do you have the right people on the bus?  Do they do the right things?  A letter like this might be a good indicator for you.  See if you can recognize the supermarket…


I wanted you to know that I notice when a company hires the best people. On Saturday, 4/14/12, I was shopping with my 17 month old and we were in the aisle by the seafood dept. He dropped the pacifier out of the cart and when I picked it up, Dave (in the seafood dept) asked “sir, can I wash that for you?” I can tell you this is one of the outliers in the customer service world. He took the pacifier, washed it and dried it for me and said “I understand. I’ve been there.”

Please, never forget that your people are the reason “shopping is a pleasure.” I spend about $1k/month at this store but he had no idea. That’s why it’s so impressive. Great people make all the difference! I wonder how that would have looked if I’d been at Walmart…


A VERY satisfied customer

What are your stories like this?  Do your customers rave about your people? We’d love to hear about it.  Share your comments and let us know the other good stories.

Just a chance…it’s FREE!!!

Things are tight right? I mean, if the economy is in the proverbial toilet and we’re cutting costs everywhere, you can’t possibly think you’re getting a raise, can you? Of course not! It wouldn’t be fiscally responsible.

office space“By the way, we’ve got your mid-year evaluations due by the end of the month so make sure you’re working with your managers to complete these. They are an important tool for our company and your professional development…but we aren’t giving merit increases/bonuses this year.”
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it.  Where’s the incentive for stellar performance? Why should your star employees live up to their potential?  How can they remain innovative and keep giving all they have to their jobs?
I’ll tell you: they will remain innovative, live up to their potential, and give all they have to their jobs…somewhere else.  Certainly it’s a tough market.  The star performers, however, know when you’re giving lip-service to people development and when you’re actually practicing it.

Let’s roleplay.  Suppose you, as a manager, were told that your career was very important to your company and that your manager was going to help you get to the next level.  Then, nothing.  Nada. Nil.  Nothing happens because things get tight… and the phone rings.
On the other end of the line is a former coworker telling you how theyobamaarelooking for someone who does exactly what you’re doing for your company now.  It’s not an advancement, but there’s a chance it might lead to it.  Your old company has all but promised for you to be stuck in this dead end job until the next President makes 1,000 promises of changing the economy so why wait it out here?  At least there, there’s a chance.
LloydThat’s all I’m saying.  Blanket policies about advancement, hiring freezes, raises, performance evaluations, etc., just don’t work.  All an employee wants to know is that there’s a chance.  As Lloyd says, “SO YOUR SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE!!!
It doesn’t have to be spending thousands on lavish trips, training seminars, and huge bonuses; however, for those who are top performers, reward them.  Unfortunately, it seems some managers would rather not reward a top performer and have a blanket policy, than to have to deal with those who are not top performers.
Keep evaluating, keep moving, KEEP THINKING!