Friday, November 26, 2010

Next Steps for Association Innovation

This is an exciting time for the WSAE Innovation Task Force. At our last meeting on November 19 we talked about several new initiatives whose success will clearly depend on getting people in the broader community engaged, so I thought I'd share an update here on Hourglass and see if there's anyone out there who'd like to get involved with our objective of defining an evidence-based model of innovation for associations. I've pointed out in the summary below the places where we're especially looking for help, but please feel free to contact me with any ideas and interests you may have.

First of all, our white paper on association innovation is nearly finished. I've posted draft excerpts of the white paper here on Hourglass (here, here and here), but we hope the final version will have much broader dissemination within the association community. We’re looking for appropriate venues to publish and/or present the paper, and encourage your suggestions and help in disseminating it.

Second, we are currently working on a new online community dedicated to innovation for associations. In addition to being a great networking site, we will be using the levels of innovation readiness described in our white paper (and here, here and here on Hourglass) to structure and conduct facilitated conversations in this community, with the hope that they will help us identify and validate practical strategies for innovative practice. We expect that this exciting innovation “hub” will allow us to connect with a much wider audience and aggregate our industry’s state-of-the-art practices into a comprehensive model of innovation that can serve everyone’s needs as we each move forward with brining innovation to our associations. We're looking for several volunteers to help with this initiative, as we will need identified discussion leaders to monitor conversations and to extract the salient nuggets of information for our evolving innovation model. Let me know if you're interested.

And third, we're beginning to plan for a National Summit on Association Innovation, to be held in conjunction with WSAE’s Annual Educational Conference, September 15, 2011, in Madison, WI. Using the innovation model developed by the online community, we plan to structure a day of activities designed to allow individual participants to construct their own roadmaps of innovation for their associations. Speakers on innovation in the for-profit and non-profit sectors are envisioned, with a majority of the time spent in targeted breakout and discussion sessions. A conference planning committee is currently being assembled to help organize this event, and we hope to attract association executives from around the nation to participate. Please let me know if you have an interest in attending or helping to plan this unique conference.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bedrock of Innovation

I was combing through my backlog of HBR blog posts recently and came across this one from shortly after Google pulled the plug on their Google Wave experiment (remember that?). I think it was way back in August 2010. The blogger, Karim R. Lakhani, is reacting to the hue and cry that followed Google's "failure."

Failure of course is always a possibility with any attempt at innovation. Indeed the bedrock of innovation is failure. Unpacking the history of most innovative products and services will reveal a long track record of failure where innovators attempted many different (failed) ideas and approaches on their way to create high-value solutions. These failures are a necessary on the path of innovation and executives and managers need to build an organizational culture that has a high tolerance for failure so that that their staff don't second guess big risky ideas and instead propose incremental bets.

This really hit home for me. As I've written before, I'm chairing the WSAE Innovation Task Force, and we recently identified the freedom to experiment and fail as one of the core principles of innovation the for-profit sector has embraced that the non-profit sector still needs to work on.

As Lakhani points out, I believe it is incumbent on leaders to build organizational cultures with high tolerances for risk. To shrink from this challenge, to allow risk aversion to dominate our culture, is to relegate our best efforts to little more than incremental improvements. Nothing else can survive where risk is feared. The perceieved price of failure in these environments is too high to attract the necessary champions for innovation.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Innovation = Creativity x Execution

This is a fantastic post on innovation from Vijay Govindarajan, co-author of the new book, The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge. In it, he really drives home the point that the hard part of innovation is not the creativity, the coming up with innovative ideas; but the execution, the translating the ideas into action.

Maybe because of the way my brain works, I really like the mathematical model he uses to make his point:

We like to think of an organization's capacity for innovation as creativity multiplied by execution. We use "multiplication" rather than "sum" because, if either creativity or execution has a score of zero, then the capacity for innovation is zero.

It's excellent. And he goes on to illustrate the "multipler effect" successful execution can have on innovation efforts:

Here's why we worked on execution, as opposed to creativity: We surveyed thousands of executives in Fortune 500 companies to rate their companies' innovation skills on a scale of one to 10, one being poor and 10 world class. Survey participants overwhelmingly believe that their companies are better at generating ideas (average score of six) than they are at commercializing them (average score of one).

So which is more effective--moving your (already good) creativity score from six to eight or lifting your (very poor) execution score from one to three? Here's the math using our shorthand, creativity times execution:

Capacity to innovate = 6 x 1 = 6

Capacity to innovate, increasing creativity score = 8 x 1 = 8

Capacity to innovate, increasing execution score = 6 x 3 = 18

It's no contest. Companies tend to focus far more attention on improving the front end of the innovation process, the creativity. But the real leverage is in the back end.

Simple and effective in underscoring the importance of execution in any innovation effort. It's also something I've realized as part of my work with the Innovation Task Force of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives. We've recently framed that discussion around three levels of "innovation readiness," which can succinctly be summarized as "build the right culture," "design the right process," and "apply the right resources." In this construction, the creativity piece, the generation of innovative ideas, takes a back seat to a culture that embraces those ideas, a process that solicits and prioritizes them, and the resources that translate them into action.

There's more work ahead for the Task Force as we begin to flesh out the details of these three levels, looking to work with organizations that have developed successful strategies for each objective. I wonder if Govindarajan's book would be worth a read. Has anyone read it? Any ideas to suggest from it?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Will Change the Workplace?

Okay, Eric, your post from last Tuesday has me thinking. I read McAfee's post and yours, and I get it. When a new generation comes into the workforce, we tend to freak out. There is an interesting pattern to the freaking out, though.

Strauss and Howe argue that generations follow a pattern, alternating between dominant and recessive. Baby Boomers, they argue, are a "dominant" generation. That makes X recessive and then Millennials dominant again (and if you want to go back, the Silent Generation was recessive). So think about it. When the first silents entered the workforce (end of WW2), they didn't really shake things up, because the whole country had just been shaken up and we wanted stability. They took command and control into the manufacturing economy and ran with it. When the Boomers (dominant) entered the workforce, they shook things up because it was the 60s and everything was being shaken up. When Xers (recessive) hit the workforce, we confused the status quo and the question was how is the workplace going to deal with us. Now Millennials come along and the predominant message is they are going to shake things up.

See the pattern? We think recessive generations will blend in or get assimilated, and we think dominant generations will change things. The hourglass shape of the demographics of the last three generations, by the way, only reinforces this trend (two BIG dominant generations around one small recessive one). When McAfee pushes back, he's got a point (because we always need someone to push back against the trend).

But one thing I find interesting, as I pointed out over on my blog, if you look at nearly ANY organization today, you will see a command and control culture, which was the hallmark of the Silents. All this talk about shaking things up, and we still have command and control cultures? We hardly have any more silent generation members in our workforce, yet we're swimming in their culture! So maybe McAfee is right--no matter who the new generation is, things don't change so quickly.

But here's the rub. Things are changing more quickly now. Not generationally--that's about every twenty years. But in most other areas, the pace of change has gone through the roof. In the 90s it took four years for the internet to reach 50 million users, but today Facebook can add 200 million users in nine months. By the time you finish a four-year degree, the stuff you learned in your first year is outdated.

I think the workplace will change significantly in the next several years. It won't be BECAUSE of the millennials, but it is quite possible that they will be better able to adapt to the changes that are happening, and this notion of whether or not the Boomers will give up their spots may become a moot point, because it's rooted in a Silent-Boomer-Xer understanding of the workplace that isn't as relevant any more.

You want to know who is going to change the workplace?

You. So what's it going to be?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Managing by Collaboration

The recent blog posts by Joe Rominiecki and Jamie Notter on collaboration got me thinking. Like a lot of blog posts I read, these didn’t prompt any profound conclusions (my fault, not theirs), but they did get me thinking about collaboration and how I use it as a management tool in the workplace.

Then I listened to this podcast from HBR, where Peter Cappelli is interviewed about managing older workers.

First of all, Chuck Nyren would love the podcast. If you followed the discussion he and I had in the comments to my post Don't Forget the Baby Boomers, you know he's all about the vibrancy and continuing cultural influence of Baby Boomers. And the podcast makes many of the same points. Boomers still have a lot to contribute and will be with us in the workplace for years yet to come. In singing their praises, Peter describes older workers as being better at just about everything than younger workers--except maybe taking SAT tests.

And one kernel of wisdom I found in Peter's comments had to do with management style, and how the “manage by expertise” model of previous generations is and must start giving way to the “manage by collaboration” model.

Yesterday’s boss was likely older than you. He had been around longer and knew more than you did. That’s why he was the boss. He had the technical expertise and he used it to manage you. It was his job to tell you what to do and it was your job to do it.

But today’s and increasingly tomorrow’s boss is likely not older than you. As the workforce ages and as more younger workers move into management roles, your boss is likely to be younger than you. You probably know more about what to do and how to do than she does. She doesn't have your expertise, but that's okay, because her job isn’t to tell you what to do. Her job is to coordinate what you do with what other people on the team do, to set objectives for team and individual performance, and to hold people accountable for success. In doing so, she won't tell you what to do like yesterday's boss did. Instead, she will collaborate with you, and foster collaboration among you and all the other team members. She needs all of your individual expertises and everyone's active collaboration to do her job. She can't determine the right boundaries for successful performance without it.

It's the way I work and the way I manage (or at least try to). I do it with my staff, but I do it with our volunteers and Board members, too. I'm the boss so it's my job to set the objectives, but in order to set objectives that are achieveable I have to collaborate with people--and many of those people are older, more experienced, and more technically adept than me.

Hey, Peter? I wonder if that’s something else younger workers might be better at than older ones?

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Arguing for Generational Superiority

This is another one of those posts challenging the assumption that as Millennials storm their way into the workforce they're going to radically change the landscape and force organizations to adapt to their idiosyncratic ideals in order to harness their power and survive. It's a good post as these posts go, and Andrew McAfee throws in the obligatory pop culture reference to make sure you're paying attention.

But what always fascinates me about these posts is how many comments they get. McAfee got 91 comments with this one. 91! The average on HBR seems to be about 10.

Not that I'm jealous or anything.

If you take time to start reading through those comments, you discover that the majority are from a much smaller group of people--people from different generations--arguing back and forth over whether Millennials are special or not. Here's how it typically goes:

Millennial: I'm a Millennial and I'm different!

Xer: Oh yeah? Well, I'm an Xer, and twenty years ago I was just like you. Millennials aren't any different.

Millennial: Yes we are! We're more experienced and more marketable than previous generations at our age. We deserve rewards for the skills we're bringing to the table. And we're not content with the status quo. We want to shake things up and create new ways of doing things.

Xer: We wanted the same things when we were your age. Ugh! We still want those things! But we learned that those things don't come without making sacrifices to exitsing power structures. You need to learn the same thing.

Millennial: But we shouldn't have to! We're special!

Xer: No you're not. Now wait your turn.

Boomer: I don't know what you two are arguing about. Nobody's getting nothing till I get mine.

And so it goes. Let me sum up with this comment:

Ninety percent of the talk about the new generation changing the way we work is just that--talk. Millennials will have an impact. Just like Xers did and Boomers did before them. But that impact will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. It won't be realized until Millennials are fully integrated into the workforce and hold a significant number leadership positions. And by that time everyone will be talking about a new generation of youngsters coming into the workplace to shake things up.