Donna Rae Smith

Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:00

Donna Rae Smith; Originality factor

When my great grandparents immigrated toAmericafromItalyin the late 19th century, they sought to assimilate. Like many newcomers, their goal was to work hard and blend in with their American neighbors.

A lot has changed since then. We’re a far more diverse nation than we were 100 years ago and technology has made the world a much smaller place. Success still requires hard work, but it no longer hinges on blending in. In fact, the opposite is largely true: In order to compete and thrive, individuals increasingly need to identify and magnify what it is that makes them different.

The same holds true for organizations: They must stake a claim to what separates them from the rest and create environments where employees’ diversity is an asset and an advantage.

It’s obvious to me that this is the wave of the future. Yet, I still encounter a surprising amount of resistance to embracing differences on a personal level. Many work environments continue to be characterized by an atmosphere of conformity. I can only assume that this is because people find differences to be threatening and uncomfortable. In this setting, employees are stifled rather than encouraged when they think or behave differently from the norm.

Working exclusively alongside people who share similar skill sets and worldviews is like trying to comprise a winning football team with 11 quarterbacks: You’ll be great at passing, but the rest of your game will be lacking. Or like trying to win a game with only two plays: It doesn’t matter how brilliant those plays are, you need greater versatility.

Today’s pioneering businesses know that thriving in a complex, ever-changing market requires being nimble and well-rounded. They know they must respond quickly and creatively to challenges and barriers. They do that by leveraging their “originality factor” — getting the most from the distinct skills and talents of each member of their workforce.

How do you maximize the benefit of your employees’ different skills, talents and views? By fostering a work environment that supports limitless, non-conformist thinking. The way work is produced dramatically influences what work is produced. You can’t separate process from outcomes. Here are a few proven ideas:

Cross-train. We can deepen our strengths when we actively seek to develop new, boundary-spanning skills and knowledge, like athletes who work their muscles through a variety of exercise routines. In the process we make ourselves more well-rounded and bring greater value to our businesses.

Limitless idea-making. Provide employees with an innovation room — a dedicated physical space where free-thinking is not only encouraged but expected. The space should inspire creativity. Its design is hemmed in only by your imagination. Think large work tables or no tables at all, pedestals, chairs in uncommon configurations, writing tablets, colorful pens or even crayons.

This space shouldn’t be reserved for special-occasions, but accessible at all times with the understanding that it’s for generating innovative and creative ideas.

Boost morale. A strong sense of team membership fosters feelings of inclusion. Once each team member believes that they are a valued member of the team, they’ll feel much more comfortable to offer creative solutions to problems.

Promote teambuilding through an emphasis on open and honest communication; encourage broad input during meetings, making sure that the stage isn’t monopolized by a few; publicly applaud team successes; and create opportunities for team members to develop relationships.

Push your boundaries. Most people have strong notions of what they are and are not good at doing. They tend to play to their strengths and quickly dismiss the time and energy required to learn a new skill, cutting off opportunities for growth. Push yourself and others to go beyond current strengths by experimenting with new and different skills and behaviors.

Businesses and people that embrace differences and actively experiment with them will overcome barriers and gridlock in an accelerated way and reach their targets more rapidly. Those who resist will be left behind.

As a leader, what are you doing to create an environment where differences are encouraged and valued? You can start by modeling what you value and desire: If you’re not afraid to be an individual and go against the grain, it frees others to do the same. Leaders who demonstrate a willingness to be different and set themselves apart will prompt others to follow suit.

But it doesn’t stop there. The work environment has to be one where different skills and strengths are valued equally.

Are you making the most of your originality factor?

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

“Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress, which is a thousand times greater than the 20th century.” — author and futurist Ray Kurzweil

The accelerated rate of change in our world is staggering and yet undeniable. We all ask about it, but what does the astounding rate of change really mean for our daily lives? One of the implications is that leaders must be able to adapt to increasingly complex, interdependent and ever-changing environments. Adaptability is no longer a desirable skill but a necessary one.

Leaders and their organizations won’t survive without it. Here I share the building blocks that every adaptive leader must master.

Be open to learning

Often when we say someone is “open to learning,” we mean they’re open to learning new information. Certainly this is an admirable and desirable trait. There is another form of being open to learning that is critical, yet more uncomfortable and often neglected: openness to learning about our own personal behaviors.

This openness to learning requires that we look inward and examine how we continue to apply old behaviors to new challenges.

Consider a project team with a goal to deliver a product by a certain deadline. The deadline is not met. In assessing what went wrong, the project manager blames a host of external factors: the client, the supply chain and individual team members.

An adaptive leader considers these same factors but also turns the microscope inward on himself. He observes his own behaviors, evaluates their effectiveness, learns what worked and what didn’t, and then takes action to visibly modify his personal leadership behaviors so that the next time he encounters a similar situation, he can move himself and those around him closer to the desired goal.

Practice openness to learning by asking yourself: What is the business impact I desire to have in this situation? What’s the discrepancy between my desired impact and what’s really taking place? How do my behaviors and habits contribute to this discrepancy and what can I do differently?

Embrace the truth

Embracing the truth requires being truthful in the moment — truthful about ourselves, about our business environment and about the impact we are having on performance. An adaptive leader constantly seeks to understand the impact she is having on others — as opposed to what she wants to see — and embraces the truth no matter how unpleasant it is. She is not mechanically repeating rote behaviors that might have worked for her in the past.

Instead she is consciously experimenting with new and different behaviors with the intent to have an improved impact on her performance and the performance of others.

Increasingly, there’s a lack of transparent and honest behavior within many companies. I meet many men and women who are hungry for greater transparency and honesty within their companies and don’t know how to lead the charge. Adaptive leaders that embrace the truth can set the tone for this change through their behaviors of transparency, authenticity and truthfulness.

Have a broad range of leadership habits

There’s a well-known Bruce Barton quote that says, “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” An adaptive leader is never through changing. He continually seeks opportunities to develop new skills and more productive and effective habits. He acknowledges when he doesn’t have the necessary tools/skills to handle a situation and seeks to build new skills and create new habits.

The adaptive leader also actively seeks to expand his palette of already exiting healthy behaviors and strengths by applying them in new and different situations. Leaders need to identify a healthy behavior that would benefit from being expanded, or a new behavior that needs to be added to the palette. Like an underused muscle, it needs to be exercised. How can you slowly begin to use it in new situations?

Continue personal improvement

Continuous personal improvement is the bedrock of the other three traits. It’s the consistent discipline of and commitment to constant personal improvement. It requires moving from awareness of your behaviors to intentional, observable action. Awareness only matters insofar as it affects action.

A leader may know that he’s a bad listener, but only when he starts visibly demonstrating better listening skills does that self-knowledge become useful.

An adaptive leader is continually looking at the results of his actions and asking if they were what he intended. If the results were not intended, he asks what he can do differently in the future in order to achieve his desired impact. He does this every time, no matter what. No excuses. No exceptions.

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com. 

“Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress, which is a thousand times greater than the 20th century.” — author and futurist Ray Kurzweil

The accelerated rate of change in our world is staggering and yet undeniable. We all ask about it, but what does the astounding rate of change really mean for our daily lives? One of the implications is that leaders must be able to adapt to increasingly complex, interdependent and ever-changing environments. Adaptability is no longer a desirable skill but a necessary one.

Leaders and their organizations won’t survive without it. Here I share the building blocks that every adaptive leader must master.

Be open to learning

Often when we say someone is “open to learning,” we mean they’re open to learning new information. Certainly this is an admirable and desirable trait. There is another form of being open to learning that is critical, yet more uncomfortable and often neglected: openness to learning about our own personal behaviors.

This openness to learning requires that we look inward and examine how we continue to apply old behaviors to new challenges.

Consider a project team with a goal to deliver a product by a certain deadline. The deadline is not met. In assessing what went wrong, the project manager blames a host of external factors: the client, the supply chain and individual team members.

An adaptive leader considers these same factors but also turns the microscope inward on himself. He observes his own behaviors, evaluates their effectiveness, learns what worked and what didn’t, and then takes action to visibly modify his personal leadership behaviors so that the next time he encounters a similar situation, he can move himself and those around him closer to the desired goal.

Practice openness to learning by asking yourself: What is the business impact I desire to have in this situation? What’s the discrepancy between my desired impact and what’s really taking place? How do my behaviors and habits contribute to this discrepancy and what can I do differently?

Embrace the truth

Embracing the truth requires being truthful in the moment — truthful about ourselves, about our business environment and about the impact we are having on performance. An adaptive leader constantly seeks to understand the impact she is having on others — as opposed to what she wants to see — and embraces the truth no matter how unpleasant it is. She is not mechanically repeating rote behaviors that might have worked for her in the past.

Instead she is consciously experimenting with new and different behaviors with the intent to have an improved impact on her performance and the performance of others.

Increasingly, there’s a lack of transparent and honest behavior within many companies. I meet many men and women who are hungry for greater transparency and honesty within their companies and don’t know how to lead the charge. Adaptive leaders that embrace the truth can set the tone for this change through their behaviors of transparency, authenticity and truthfulness.

Have a broad range of leadership habits

There’s a well-known Bruce Barton quote that says, “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” An adaptive leader is never through changing. He continually seeks opportunities to develop new skills and more productive and effective habits. He acknowledges when he doesn’t have the necessary tools/skills to handle a situation and seeks to build new skills and create new habits.

The adaptive leader also actively seeks to expand his palette of already exiting healthy behaviors and strengths by applying them in new and different situations. Leaders need to identify a healthy behavior that would benefit from being expanded, or a new behavior that needs to be added to the palette. Like an underused muscle, it needs to be exercised. How can you slowly begin to use it in new situations?

Continue personal improvement

Continuous personal improvement is the bedrock of the other three traits. It’s the consistent discipline of and commitment to constant personal improvement. It requires moving from awareness of your behaviors to intentional, observable action. Awareness only matters insofar as it affects action.

A leader may know that he’s a bad listener, but only when he starts visibly demonstrating better listening skills does that self-knowledge become useful.

An adaptive leader is continually looking at the results of his actions and asking if they were what he intended. If the results were not intended, he asks what he can do differently in the future in order to achieve his desired impact. He does this every time, no matter what. No excuses. No exceptions. <<

 

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Deborah, an executive in the consumer products industry, was asked by her boss to conduct an internal assessment of one of the company’s programs. She uncovered some potentially serious issues and was careful to address each one in the report she prepared. A few days after she submitted it, her boss called her into his office. He had red-lined page after page.

To Deborah’s surprise, he wasn’t interested in discussing her findings. “Look at the language you use,” he said. “You’re qualifying all of your observations. You don’t sound sure of yourself. You’re minimizing your entire assessment.”

As Deborah flipped through the report, she found instance after instance where she had diluted the impact of her observations. She realized that if she didn’t convey herself confidently, her message risked being lost. How could she present herself more confidently in the future?

There are plenty of ways we unintentionally undermine ourselves, whether it’s in our written words, our conversations, presentations or the way we carry ourselves.

Deborah’s problem — of softening her language to avoid ruffling feathers — is one way that a lack of confidence inhibits direct communication. Another way is when people intentionally distort, manipulate or hide the facts in order to present themselves in a more flattering light. People take credit for work they didn’t do, try to make others look bad or inflate their successes to get ahead. Lack of confidence is often at its root, as people aren’t comfortable or content to present themselves as they truly are.

If you struggle with one of these problems, either personally or with your staff, there is no quick fix. The good news is you don’t have to wait to feel fully confident. Start communicating directly and honestly and your confidence will improve.

Here are a few good strategies for communicating directly and honestly for maximum impact.

Delivery goes a long way. For one week, pay attention to how you convey your opinions and ideas to others. Does your language — written or verbal — command attention? Or do you instead soften your delivery so as not to seem too assertive? If you find yourself struggling with this, chances are you’re severely minimizing the impact of your message.

Create a safe climate. Leaders have a responsibility to create a climate where direct communication is valued and encouraged. Deborah’s boss did just that by speaking frankly with her. By doing so, he demonstrated his commitment to her and his belief that she can grow and become a stronger member of the team.

By helping her see how she was undermining her impact, he was telling her that her insights and opinions are valuable and encouraging her to be her own best advocate. If he had used a less direct approach, he likely would have found himself repeatedly frustrated with her work.

Stop qualifying. Next time you want to start a sentence with “I think that” or “I believe that …,” drop off the introductory phrase. Contrast the impact of “I think it would be beneficial to revise the marketing strategy” with “It would be beneficial to revise the marketing strategy,” or better yet, “I am confident that the marketing strategy must be revised.”

Don’t give in to fear. It’s a tough market out there, and there’s temptation in not rocking the boat. But in the long run, no one is well-served when you or your employees turn a blind eye to important but unpleasant information. Not only can this result in bad ethical decisions but in dangerous ones too.

One of our clients experienced this: Plant workers hid safety issues from management because they were afraid to tarnish the company’s strong safety record. It wasn’t until multiple workplace injuries occurred that the safety issues came to light.

Learn from others. Identify a colleague or two whom you perceive as being confident. How do they communicate? How do you know by their speech that they are confident? What additional small steps can you take to deliver your ideas with more assurance and conviction?

Ultimately, it’s important to remember this: If you don’t sound convinced about what you’re saying, it’s hard to convince others.

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae at donnarae@bright-side.com.

A client called me in a heightened state of frustration. Her business group recently made major decisions regarding strategy and future direction. While she was enthusiastic about what lay ahead, her team members weren’t. They were exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction and sowing the seeds of subversion. She needed to act quickly, but she didn’t know how.

Without knowing anything more, I could already guess the root of the problem: the team hadn’t felt included in the strategy-level decision-making. As I dug deeper, my suspicions were confirmed. Leadership had a history of asking for input and then stifling open and honest dialogue.

Another client recently went through a major restructuring. In the process, the company left employees in the dark by failing to communicate what was happening and why. By the time the client called Bright Side, it was facing a debilitating backlash.

Whether it’s leadership consistently disregarding (or failing to solicit) employee feedback or neglecting to communicate significant changes — the result is always the same: Employees end up feeling disrespected and devalued. Resentment simmers and eventually boils over.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that not every decision can be subject to employee feedback. But, all too often, leadership loses sight of the organization’s most valued asset: its people. With a single-minded focus on the bottom line, leaders make the mistake of treating employees like automatons rather than people.

In the rush of getting the job done, leaders must remember these core truths: All people want to feel valued and respected for the work they do, to know that their contributions matter and to feel heard. When we overlook these principles, employees become disheartened, discouraged and disengaged. One way or another, the discontent manifests itself and everyone suffers.

The solution is to stay connected. Stay connected to your employees daily by cultivating honest person-to-person (rather than person-to-object) relationships, where respect and communication are the cornerstones. Demonstrate through your words and your actions that you value their work, that their input matters and that you believe in transparency. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t at times make decisions that they don’t agree with. It means that the conversation will have happened — they’ll have spoken, you’ll have listened, and no one will be in the dark.

Create opportunities daily to demonstrate that employee feedback is valued. How? For starters, listen more and talk less. A good way to do that is to ask more questions. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t get defensive. A defensive reaction will only shut the conversation down and signal that you aren’t really interested in what others have to say. Instead, ask more questions to clarify and don’t take disagreement personally.

Intentionally seek out viewpoints that are different than your own. If you only talk to people who agree with you or tell you what you want to hear, then you’ll create a false sense of reality.

Lastly, be transparent. I can’t emphasize this enough. So many problems arise when leaders fail to be transparent in their decision-making. Don’t leave people guessing about important matters that impact them.

Resolve to actively practice these behaviors in meetings and routine interactions. Ask team members to follow suit. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate your willingness to learn and to be engaged. Morale will improve and you’ll head off unnecessary revolts and insurrections.

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:00

Donna Rae Smith: Reading the signals

A client called me in a heightened state of frustration. Her business group recently made major decisions regarding strategy and future direction. While she was enthusiastic about what lay ahead, her team members weren’t. They were exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction and sowing the seeds of subversion. She needed to act quickly, but she didn’t know how.

Without knowing anything more, I could already guess the root of the problem: the team hadn’t felt included in the strategy-level decision-making. As I dug deeper, my suspicions were confirmed. Leadership had a history of asking for input and then stifling open and honest dialogue.

Another client recently went through a major restructuring. In the process, the company left employees in the dark by failing to communicate what was happening and why. By the time the client called Bright Side, it was facing a debilitating backlash. 

Whether it’s leadership consistently disregarding (or failing to solicit) employee feedback or neglecting to communicate significant changes — the result is always the same: Employees end up feeling disrespected and devalued. Resentment simmers and eventually boils over.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that not every decision can be subject to employee feedback. But, all too often, leadership loses sight of the organization’s most valued asset: its people. With a single-minded focus on the bottom line, leaders make the mistake of treating employees like automatons rather than people.

In the rush of getting the job done, leaders must remember these core truths: All people want to feel valued and respected for the work they do, to know that their contributions matter and to feel heard. When we overlook these principles, employees become disheartened, discouraged and disengaged. One way or another, the discontent manifests itself and everyone suffers.

The solution is to stay connected. Stay connected to your employees daily by cultivating honest person-to-person (rather than person-to-object) relationships, where respect and communication are the cornerstones. Demonstrate through your words and your actions that you value their work, that their input matters and that you believe in transparency. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t at times make decisions that they don’t agree with. It means that the conversation will have happened — they’ll have spoken, you’ll have listened, and no one will be in the dark.   

Create opportunities daily to demonstrate that employee feedback is valued. How? For starters, listen more and talk less. A good way to do that is to ask more questions. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t get defensive. A defensive reaction will only shut the conversation down and signal that you aren’t really interested in what others have to say. Instead, ask more questions to clarify and don’t take disagreement personally.

Intentionally seek out viewpoints that are different than your own. If you only talk to people who agree with you or tell you what you want to hear, then you’ll create a false sense of reality.

Lastly, be transparent. I can’t emphasize this enough. So many problems arise when leaders fail to be transparent in their decision-making. Don’t leave people guessing about important matters that impact them.

Resolve to actively practice these behaviors in meetings and routine interactions. Ask team members to follow suit. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate your willingness to learn and to be engaged. Morale will improve and you’ll head off unnecessary revolts and insurrections. <<

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com

Friday, 31 August 2012 20:00

Donna Rae Smith: Authentic Leadership

Can you recognize an authentic Picasso painting from a really good reproduction? Unless you’re an art expert, probably not. Fortunately, authentic people are easier to spot.

We know authentic leaders because their words and actions are aligned, and we know them by the way they make us feel — inspired, motivated, and ready to jump on board in support of their vision. Truly authentic leaders have a way of leveraging their authenticity to positively impact the lives of others.

What are some of the key traits of authentic leaders?

Authentic leaders know and accept themselves. At the core of authenticity is self-knowledge and acceptance. They aren’t trying to be someone else. They are genuine. They lead in the truest sense, rather than being a mimicker of others. Because these leaders are fundamentally comfortable with themselves, they foster an environment where others feel at ease to be authentic too.

Richard Branson comes to mind because he certainly isn’t trying to fit into a cookie-cutter mold of a CEO. Not surprisingly, he has created brands that reflect his self-confidence and uniqueness.

Authentic leaders demonstrate vision. There’s a tendency in today’s economy to lead by the bottom line numbers. That’s understandable, but it’s misguided. Of course, the numbers are important, but they can’t be the sole driver in decision-making.

Authentic leaders are motivated by a vision of the companies they are trying to build and the service they want to provide, and that vision guides every decision. That vision is consistently communicated in their words and actions. It’s that vision that motivates employees, earns their commitment, and gives the workforce something to rally around.

Be willing to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult. I like to say that authentic leaders do the “harder, right thing.” By that I mean authentic leaders have the courage to do the right thing even when it’s not easy (and it’s often not easy). Because authentic leaders are true to themselves, they are able to keep true to their principles and vision. That motivation enables them to do the harder, right thing time and again.

Why is this important? Repeating what’s familiar is easier, but it doesn’t move you forward. Instead it keeps you stuck in the current state, potentially losing time and money. Doing the harder, right thing initiates movement and enables progress.

Speak from the heart. We all know the feeling of listening to someone who speaks from the heart. We feel connected and drawn to them. We are energized and engaged. When leaders speak from the heart, it translates to enhanced effectiveness and productivity. Those around them are motivated by their sincerity, honesty and passion.

Engender trust. Authentic leaders create trust between themselves and their employees. It’s pretty easy to spot inauthentic behavior — when values, words and actions don’t align. People catch on to this, and they are rightfully reluctant to trust.

One Bright Side client, a supply chain executive representing 120,000 employees, has modeled this well: During a recent calibration session, he was very open with his team about his biases. He asked others to call him out if he couldn’t provide logical, rational arguments for his ratings suggestions.

By revealing his true thoughts, he fostered trust within the group. Almost immediately, others felt comfortable to acknowledge their own biases. This frankness allowed the group to work cooperatively, rather than thwart progress with hidden agendas.

Recognizing the elements of authenticity is a first step to becoming an authentic leader. Ultimately, authenticity requires courage: the courage to trust yourself and your vision and a willingness to put yourself “out there” — to expose your ideas, your thoughts, your inspiration, and your values to others. By doing so, you give those around you something real to latch on to and a reason to follow you.

Speaking from the heart is a good place to start. It doesn’t have to be a public conversation — yet. Start with yourself. Are you leading authentically? What is your greater vision for the future?

Who do you consider an authentic leader? What behaviors do they exhibit that tell you they’re authentic? What is the impact of their authenticity, and what can you learn from them?

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Monday, 30 April 2012 20:17

Donna Rae Smith: Expert experimentation

Imagine your country is experiencing a terrible drought. You’re forced to drop out of school because there is no money to cover the basic school fees. Reading a book in the local library, you discover that windmills can generate energy. So what do you do? If you’re 14-year-old William Kamkwamba, you resolve to build a windmill in your village. Undeterred by age, lack of formal education or resources, Kamkwamba spent months building a windmill out of scrap materials. As he worked on his project, the villagers mocked him and told him he was crazy, but he refused to let that stop him.

Keep in mind Kamkwamba had never seen a windmill in real life. He could have easily decided that building one was too challenging or even infeasible. But he was convinced that if someone, somewhere had built one, he could do it too. And he was motivated by necessity. He understood the great benefit a windmill would have for his family and village.

Reading Kamkwamba’s story I thought about what makes great experimenters and innovators:

Curiosity. Curiosity fuels learning and drives experimentation.

Need. Experimenters and innovators identify unmet needs. They look for ways to create new things or improve on what already exists. They don’t settle for the status quo.

Belief. They believe in their ability to create something better.

Perseverance. They aren’t deterred by what others say or think, and they never quit, even in the face of ridicule.

As leaders, one of our jobs is to promote experimentation and innovation in ourselves and in others. We create conditions where employees are supported to be curious, identify unmet needs, believe in the outcome and have the courage to follow through.

How can you create an environment where experimentation flourishes?

Here are a few ideas.

Assess and respond.

A necessary first step is to assess your organization’s current “experimentation climate.” Begin by asking yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do I (and other senior leaders) make it easy for people to introduce new ideas?
  • Does the company have a process for idea review, evaluation and feedback?

If your assessment reveals that you aren’t doing enough to promote experimentation, identify a few concrete behaviors that you can use to energize the environment. Set personal and team targets for idea generation. Post the numbers of ideas generated on a daily basis. You might also set a challenge for increasing the number of ideas submitted on a daily basis for the first week. Be bold when you set your targets. Whatever number that first comes to mind, raise it higher.

Sponsor a contest, create innovation spaces and showcase great innovations to send the message that you’re serious about experimentation.

Use personal, positive reinforcement.

One strategy for overcoming negative, discouraging self-talk is to say to yourself and others, “I have a hundred more ideas where that one came from.” If one approach doesn’t work, you’ll figure out ways to modify it or reorient it, and you’ll keep doing that until you find the approach that does work.

Reward success.

One common characteristic of the world’s most innovative organizations is that they celebrate success. Recognize and reward all ideas and act on the good ones.

Ask yourself and others questions.

  • What could we do to make this process or product even better?
  • What would I, as the customer, want this product/service to do more of, less of or differently?
  • How could we reduce the cost?
  • How could we increase the value for customers?

Post these types of questions around your facility to stimulate ideas. Then encourage people to respond to them on a flip chart or internal website or blog.

New and improved ideas and products are born out of an intentional desire to improve ourselves and the world around us, an enthusiasm for the possibilities and a willingness to try and try again until we get it right. You may not be facing the kinds of challenges Kamkwamba was up against, but that’s no excuse to rest easy. Start applying the behaviors of experimentation and innovation personally and watch the positive impact on your business results.

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change. Bright Side®, The Behavioral Strategy Company, has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012 10:15

The human side of the performance equation

A few years ago, Procter & Gamble’s Pringles plant in Jackson, Tenn., had an enviable reputation. The plant produced and distributed all of Pringles’ products in North and South America and the Asia-Pacific Region. The plant had received P&G’s highest certification, awarded for superior discipline and best work processes and practices. Its performance in all aspects of the business – production, delivery, service, quality and safety – was spectacular. In short, the plant was a shining star in the P&G family, performing at a world-class level.

It would have been easy to rest on their laurels. But for Nancy Gipson, plant manager, great wasn’t good enough. She was convinced they could do even better. She took action to further lean the plant’s best practice standard operating procedures.

As part of her efforts to further lean the operations, Gipson conducted a safety assessment. She came to the realization that not all safety incidents were being reported, because employees didn’t want to jeopardize the plant’s prized certification.

This realization was sobering to Gipson and the plant leadership team. Although the safety numbers were very impressive, Gipson wanted to improve them even more based on the assessment implications. And she wanted to ensure that no incident would ever go unreported again.

Upon closer review, the safety work processes were found to be solid and as lean as they could be without investing a ton of money for minimal returns. So Gipson turned her attention to the plant’s culture and individual behavioral practices. She found inconsistencies and tremendous variation within the workforce when it came to how they performed the safety processes on a day-to-day basis.

With Bright Side’s help, led by partner Chad Cook, Gipson and her colleagues came to understand that even the best processes rely on individual discretion and decision-making. In other words, work processes have a fundamental human component that increases variability and risk of failure. To significantly reduce lean process variability, Gipson and her team didn’t need to focus on the tasks being performed; they needed to focus on the human factor.

In order to ensure that the human or behavioral aspect was better integrated with work processes, Bright Side and P&G focused on three strategic behaviors:

1.   Transparency. The focus here was on creating a climate of trust where people could feel free to tell the truth, since reliable data about safety depends on people reporting what is really happening. At the same time, employees were helped to understand that safety holds a higher priority than productivity in the eyes of leadership. Maximizing production is not more important than safety when it comes to making decisions on the floor.

2.   Shared leadership and accountability. Safety is the responsibility of all employees. Employees were engaged to take responsibility and be accountable for their own individual safety and the safety of others over and above just following the safety processes.

3.   Business, self-rationalization. Employees were encouraged to actively engage their brains when making decisions rather than robotically following processes. The outcome is that they keep themselves and others safe while achieving the business plans and outcomes.

By intentionally modeling these behaviors, leaders proved that they believed in, were committed to and were taking the behaviors of safety seriously. Employees could see and hear in their behaviors that leadership was sincere about these changes, and that led to greater trust on all sides. With consistent and constant leadership, these behaviors took hold on the floor and throughout the plant.

The long-term impact has been exactly what Gipson originally sought: the plant has become an even greater model of success in its safety processes and beyond. The plant is measurably safer, has reduced costs, increased efficiency, reduced turnover, expanded production and improved quality. Employees, their families and leadership feel secure that people who work in the plant will leave work as healthy as when they arrived. On a recent tour, an exec from outside P&G remarked, “I have been to many facilities in the food industry, and you set the standard for any I have ever visited." The plant is now expanding their behavioral strategies to intentionally encompass every work process in the facility.

Our work with Pringles demonstrates what Bright Side endorses and delivers: to significantly improve performance and get a magnified return on investment, organizations need to find the balance between both the task and behavioral aspects of getting work accomplished. Many companies mistakenly believe that focusing exclusively on tasks is the solution for everything. They think they can infinitely improve processes and competencies by working harder. But the reality is that once you have removed most of the waste from a system or process, you get minimal benefit from continuing to focus on tiny gains in task improvement. A lean task focus has its limits.

The REAL, leverage-able opportunity for improvement then comes from a conscious and intentional focus on the human/behavioral side of getting work done, as the Pringles case study illustrates. It’s only when companies really commit to exploring and improving leadership engagement focused on strategic behaviors (actions, words, beliefs and assumptions) that productivity, consistency and effectiveness rise off the charts.

If you are already on the journey to lean your organization, don’t neglect the human/behavioral component. Expand your thinking to add the behavioral side of the performance equation to your current lean tools and processes.

Donna Rae Smith has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change.  She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change.  For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in executing behavioral strategies coalesced with business strategies to accelerate and sustain business results. Bright Side®, The Behavioral Strategy Company, has partnered with over 250 of the world’s most influential companies.  For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012 19:53

Donna Rae Smith: Avoiding the blame game

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” — Henry Ford

There’s no shortage of blame going around. Pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV and you’ll see accusations being hurled across political divides, within families and over international borders. I often think of all the wasted energy that goes into blaming and accusing others. That same energy could be used constructively, to build and create instead of to tear down.

Blame is just as poisonous in the workplace, debilitating teams and stifling productivity. Think about how you’ve felt in the past when you blamed someone for something that happened. You were likely holding on to a host of other accompanying emotions — anger, resentment, frustration. Now think about releasing all of that negativity and charting a course forward using your energy to be proactive instead of reactive.

Once you recognize that blaming others isn’t a solution, the question becomes how can you break the cycle and respond instead with healthier behavioral strategies? One of the techniques we use at Bright Side is to get leaders to “unpack” their assumptions around blame. A case in point:

Elizabeth, a senior executive, paints a dismal picture of her staff that includes infighting, poor cooperation and lack of accountability. Discussing a recent project failure, she offers no shortage of accusations.

Without dismissing her frustrations, we ask her to dig deeper. What was her role? Did she set clear expectations? Clarify roles and responsibilities? Provide feedback? Does she model the behaviors — accountability, clear communication, collaboration — that she expects from others?

This self-assessment isn’t easy. It’s typically uncomfortable for people to step back and see their role objectively. Once Elizabeth acknowledges that she isn’t simply an innocent bystander, and that some of her behaviors aren’t constructive, we work to identify new behaviors that will achieve the desired outcomes.

At this point, Elizabeth has already made considerable progress. She is able to see her actions more clearly and to propose more effective behaviors. The next phase is to work with her (and leaders like her) to think through what some of the barriers might be when she goes to apply this in the workplace.

In Elizabeth’s case, one problem area is that she isn’t comfortable with confrontation, and therefore, she avoids addressing problems until it’s too late. By recognizing the obstacles and identifying concrete situations where she can start to behave differently, she is prepared for the challenges and can hold herself accountable.

The path to real solutions and progress occurs when people accept accountability for their own behaviors and resolve to work on themselves rather than on those around them. Here are a few ways that you can get started:

1. Communicate clearly and civilly. Even if others are engaged in finger pointing and name-calling, stay above it. Set a standard for the kind of interactions and conversations you expect from others.

2. Kudos to you. Recognize that when you exhibit positive behaviors, you have a beneficial impact on business outcomes. Acknowledge that you’re demonstrating these behaviors despite the personal discomfort, and commend yourself for establishing new patterns of behavior.

3. Clap your hands! OK, you don’t necessarily have to give applause, but you do need to counter blame and negativity by recognizing the good work and positive behaviors taking place around you. Extend words of praise and acknowledgement where deserved. Intentionally identify when colleagues exhibit positive behaviors. Do this daily. It reinforces the message that you value positive, constructive behavior, keeps you on your toes and exposes you to learning (and hopefully adopting) the effective behaviors from those around you that diminish the blame game.

The process of replacing entrenched, deep-rooted behaviors with new ones doesn’t happen overnight. It takes repeated effort and hard work to unlearn and then re-learn. But the effort is well worth it for ourselves and those around us.

Donna Rae Smith is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a behavioral strategy company that teaches leaders to be masters of change. For more than two decades, she and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in organizational and leadership development and the key partner to more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. Smith is a guest leadership blogger for Smart Business and the author of two leadership books, “Building Your Bright Side” and “The Power of Building your Bright Side.” For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact her at donnarae@bright-side.com.

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