One of the most common questions I get when I facilitate conversations at events is: how do I convince my manager and IT group to work with me? What can I say that will help me win them over to support my initiative?
The risk component of the "what if" has stilted many an innovation inside organizations. And not just in my experience. It is well known that smart marketers enroll agencies and analysts in support of those kinds of initiatives.
Because the assumption is that these groups have direct and indirect experience with how to manage risks that are inherent with launching something new. They can offer examples of what other companies have done to make things more concrete.
Innovation is executionOf course, the difference needs to be in execution. There are plenty of "templates" out there in social media that spell out what other organizations, or individuals, have done. We need to move beyond that, please.
While copying feels safe, it won't set you apart. In fact, it may set you up for diminished results and returns. I'm a big fan of creating frameworks around why something is important, what you need to think about, and only then, how to go about it.
Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler wrote an excellent thought starter.
In Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business (Amazon affiliate link), they explain the role of HEROs (high empowered and resourceful operatives) in modern organizations and what compact or pact these individuals should make with two other groups that are important to making things happen: IT and management.
Personal technology in the workplace
If you're in IT on the corporate side, you know you are competing with an avalanche of easy-to-use and familiar personal technology, some of it in the cloud. Employees are armed with smart phones, apps, and have all kinds of personal habits with tools that help them be productive.
This phenomenon is so diffuse, that progressive companies are running pilots by allowing some groups to requisition the systems and applications individuals deem most useful to get the job done. I spoke with an IT manager as recently as last week who shared they were engaging in such a pilot.
How do you handle technology in your organization? Are you exploring ways to allow employees to collaborate on the inside with tools such as Yammer, Jive Software, and Telligent, Microsoft SharePoint, etc?
The way we were
The third group of people in the book's conversation is managers. Their support is needed to help bake innovation in new processes. My mentor used to say that it is tempting to become very good at what used to work in organizations.
Indeed, the group that feels most threatened by grassroots innovation got to where it is by embracing the way things were.
As Bernoff and Schadler confirm, it's not easy to create a culture that tolerates experimentation. In my career, I have encountered it only twice.
The first time, it was driven by a very progressive CEO in a risk management consulting firm; an the reason why I loved working there, despite the more than three-hour round trip daily commute.
The second time is very recent, on the agency side. What I observed is that people give their best when they're not told what to do, and especially what they cannot do. Management guidance and support is critical in keeping especially less experienced employees out of trouble.
I worked with a SVP of sales who used to start meetings with "in conclusion". Having the end in mind and figuring out how to back into it is a great way of going about innovation. Why do all this? Because the world has changed. People are empowered. That means your customers are communicating more like your HERO employees. And smart competitors are already connecting with them that way.
Put customers at the center, buy this book for your team. When you regroup on what people got out of it, you will:
- use its graphics as guides with the rest of the organization
- love the many examples and illustrations from companies like yours, some of which known, many I read for the first time - Aflac, Chubb, the NHL, Genzyme, and many more
- learn how to go about building and staffing an internal council
- help support innovation in your organization and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace
And much more. Since you'll probably ask, let me answer that question -- this book is even more useful than Groundswell (Amazon affiliate link), although you may want to grab several ideas out of that, if you have not read it, yet.
[Disclosure: I received a copy of Empowered from Forrester's own Jon Symons who didn't need to beg, borrow, or steal to be welcome in my inbox. I enjoyed our conversations on travels to Italy, and other topics over time. Jon doesn't follow up four times on the same email, because he understands and values relationships, and for that alone, I am grateful. This review and recommendation is based upon the quality of the material -- and not on how I obtained it.]