Inspire People to Dissolve Diversity Reply

John BrookerGuest blogger: John Brooker, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Managing Director of Yes! And. John is a former Senior Vice President of Visa, author of ‘Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate’ and Board Member of the Association for the Quality Development of Solution Focused Consulting and Training.

This article suggests that people are not diverse because of their age, their race, their sex or any other attribute. They are diverse because of mental “walls”. It suggests that successful leaders can dissolve diversity and help people to achieve greater things by facilitating people to interact, co-design their future, take small steps and notice signs of progress.

“I never feel age…If you have creative work, you don’t have age or time.”
Louise Nevelson
(American sculptress, at 80 years of age)

Last year, I facilitated a group of young people in an innovation workshop in the Middle East. They felt that older, more senior managers rejected many of their ideas because the senior managers did not listen, were too set in their ways or were risk averse; or all three. Senior managers have told me that when they reject ideas from younger people it is often because they are poorly thought through, solve the wrong problem or are sold badly, due to inexperience.

There seems to be diversity of opinion between the age groups when it comes to innovation and many other topics in organisations, yet I doubt that it stems from age. I have met younger managers who did not listen, were set in their ways or were risk averse. A glance at the news proves that the young do not have a monopoly on poor thinking, solving the wrong problem and selling ideas badly.

If not age, what is the problem? I believe these type of issues arise because people work in a mental “room”, with “walls” they build from:

  • Assumptions that may be unwarranted
  • Egos (small, medium and large)
  • Prejudices
  • Fixed mind-sets.

Are these “walls” age related? I think not. Consider this. My daughter, 19, mentioned that at work in the office of a multi-national company, before university, she sometimes felt that she could not address people in an equal way because she was younger than them, “but that’s probably due to my mind-set.” I celebrate the sixth anniversary of “birthdays with a zero” this year; when I enter a room full of strangers of whatever age and I have no role (e.g. as a host), I feel trepidation. It’s not my age; rather, it’s my mind-set.

You could spend much time trying to understand and change the different assumptions, egos, prejudices and mind-set of any diverse group. I doubt you will move forward very quickly. Rather, I believe that successful leaders in organisations metaphorically “dissolve” these metaphorical walls. To do this, they engineer and stimulate interaction between diverse people, whether that diversity is age, race, gender or even job roles.

Successful leaders help diverse people to co-design a preferred future, where they work together successfully and achieve much. They encourage them to avoid blame, to seek what works well between them now and to focus on their positive differences and relative strengths, not weaknesses.

To create progress towards this co-designed future, they inspire people to take small steps and notice what changes. When people achieve progress, they inspire themselves and others to take more steps, notice more change, create yet more progress, in a virtuous circle.

When they are truly successful, leaders notice that people in their organisation no longer talk about, worry about or even celebrate diversity. Why? Because those very diverse people no longer notice it. May it happen to you.

Today’s learning landscape – how L&D is supporting democratisation, creativity & innovation, leadership & change 3

Sue Parr

Guest blogger: Sue Parr, Head of Executive Education at The Open University Business School looks at the business challenges behind the buzzwords.

This content first appeared on HR Magazine, an online HR publication for people-focused, forward-thinking, business leaders who want insight into, and examples of, business-contextualised HR to develop high-performing organisations.

Many managers are recognising that they have to adapt to new ways of working to meet the expectations of their employers and their employees.  New behaviours and ways of working are being driven by changes all around them, but what changes can be supported through developing capability and skillsets?

Complexity: Today’s managers contend with the complexity created by the many different perspectives of a multi- cultural, cross- functional, often geographically dispersed workforce spanning as many as three generations. In fact, there are more generations in our workforce than at any other time as those previously of retirement age extend their working lives.

For example, in areas of manufacturing companies who are increasingly aware of the benefits of sharing best practice and collaborating to drive innovation, in surprising ways, but ultimately to the benefit of all.  Commercial sensitivity is being nuanced and boundaries pushed.

Creativity and innovation: We’re not talking about being good with colour here!  We are talking about turning problems around, not going for same old safe solutions because ‘this is the way we’ve always done it ’. Organisations need their people thinking more broadly.  For managers who had stages 1, 2 and 3 of their career in a technically specific function, creative practice techniques can start to get them thinking more holistically about their whole organisation, the needs of their current market and exploring opportunities in new markets.  Although these tools and techniques can be learnt, but the prospect can be daunting for those who have bought in to a self-image of not ‘being’ creative.

Change: The themes of leadership and change have always been high on the management agenda but the focus of these has changed. As organisations recognise increasingly that what is needed to stay competitive is to be more responsive, agile and comfortable with increasing ambiguity, they are investing in their middle managers. As a result there has been a democratisation of management and responsibility. Where once the focus of executive education was on the most senior of senior teams, today’s companies recognise the need for developing leadership excellence at every level.

Connection not Control: The traditional workplace had a top down structure, hierarchies where orders were given and carried out. As more organisations use project teams spread across locations, remotely connected, the skills of influencing become much more important. Managers need to learn how to influence people to achieve outcomes where they don’t have direct authority or control.

Career Development: As the economy gets back on track the scales are tipping and businesses need to make the effort to retain good people. L&D has a proven track record as a powerful retention tool. Generation Y workers are much more likely to move onto new jobs quickly. Restless for new experiences, employees need to see a development pathway within their organisation or they will be tempted to move on. A structured, embedded talent management programme can help employees visualise their personal growth plan.

But on top of this, the managers on-the-ground, are expected to satisfy this quest for knowledge, development and progression. Coaching is a skill that can meet many of these needs, but how much should, or can, individual managers be ‘expected’ to fulfil this role?

(l&d) Centricity: Increasingly HR departments are embedding elements of leadership in learning and development right from the start of employees’ careers. Advanced organisations are incorporating leadership development and L&D at the centre of their organisational strategy. The leaders of these organisations act as ambassadors for this approach, realising that when L&D becomes a part of the DNA of a company it is much more successful.

We worked with a large UK-based retailer who wanted to change the whole way people accessed L&D and highlighting at every career stage, why it’s important. This cultural shift led to a company-wide holistic approach that supported the company’s strategy and goals.

(bite size) Content There is a definite shift towards a blended learning approach to executive development. Rather than taking people out of their workplace for long periods of time, face-to-face delivery is being supported by shorter chunks of online learning and interaction.

In the past executive education frequently included an online facility – a library of content. However this approach often wasn’t successful.  People simply didn’t use the library.  Now online is used to prepare for, and follow-on from, face-to-face learning.It’s all about making people more responsible for their own development, learning at their own pace and accessing information when they need it.

The virtual academy, or online campus, gives people the opportunity to access the content they need.  This can be particularly helpful for senior managers who are often expected to have achieved “sage status” or business “omniscience”.  The virtual academy provides a safe environment for them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

Overall, managers are expected to have a much broader repertoire of skills, often earlier in their careers: effective management will require highly developed communication and interpersonal skills, capability building though coaching and mentoring, problem solving through creativity, networking through social media savvy.  The pace of change is heady and the combination of developing hard and soft skills at all levels to enable individuals and organisations to adapt and thrive requires a commitment to professional development for a career-lifetime; both from the employee and the employer.

New behavioural finance software launched 1

Professor Mark Fenton O’Creevy, Associate Dean (International Strategy) at The Open University Business School, gave a speech at the launch event on 12 March 2014 for a new software program aimed at improving fund managers performance by identifying how behavioural biases affect trading.

Described as a behavioural finance thought leader, Professor Fenton O’Creevy commented that effective management of emotions is not the same as suppressing or avoiding them.

Read the full article on the Global Banking and Finance Review website.

Innovation quarter summary report Reply

Business Perspectives Innovation SummaryTo conclude the Business Perspectives innovation quarter, we have created a summary report that offers diverse ideas and insights about innovation – a snapshot of perspectives from around the globe.

We invite you to download and share the report and please send us any comments.  We will create a similar summary report following the strategy quarter, if you would like to contribute your perspective towards the strategy theme, please contact our Business Perspectives Editor using the web-form below.

Click here to download the report.

Ten things businesses should know about what innovation is and isn’t 1

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks

innovationInnovation is a common topic of debate and strategy in most businesses (be they new or well established). In the current economic climate, and with the huge potential of the likes of social media data, brands are increasingly looking at innovation (large and small) as a way to beat the competition.

But innovation is often misunderstood. After a recent event debating the topic at the Open University Business School, I left with some insights into what the attendees thought that innovation was, and some misconceptions about what it has to be:

Five things that innovation is

  1. Inextricably linked with growth, according to the BBC’s Evan Davis. He surmised that innovation hasn’t come to a standstill in 2012, although we do have a growth problem which innovation itself will be crucial to solving.
  2. Delicate. It’s important to nurture it gently so as not to kill it off too quickly, but also carefully contain and manage it to prevent any huge financial, market, or reputational fires.
  3. More prevalent during recessions. The atmosphere of fear engendered by recession is often the trigger required to force organisations to adapt and survive (as opposed to ending up at the decline end of the sigmoid curve, such as Kodak), as well as being ideal for start-ups. Recessions tend to shake out the worst performers, and those simply coasting along with the status quo.
  4. Often within your team already. Any business is likely to have great ideas and innovators already within the team. An open and creative organisational culture and office space is crucial to finding, developing, and encouraging these employees, who will always move to another company (possibly a competitor) to innovate if they can’t do so where they are.
  5. Often the victim of resistance and sabotage. Some tactics to look out for and actively surface and manage include Peter Keen’s “lay low”, and “keep the project complex, hard to coordinate, and vaguely defined”. Plus also the wonderfully expressed “Say yes! But do nothing”.

Five things that innovation doesn’t have to be

  1. Big or complex. Sometimes the best innovation can come through a series of incremental steps which ultimately amount to something quite large, impactful and radical. Such gradual change can often be more palatable in businesses.
  2. Hugely expensive or driven forward by companies. As demonstrated by the user-led innovations of the maker movement, and also Jugaad Innovation’s more flexible, frugal, and bottom-up approach.
  3. A risky business. At least not to the innovators – who have complete faith in their idea. It’s the financial backers who are taking the risks. However, if we’re taking an incremental approach, perhaps that can help reduce the overall risk by breaking innovation up into more manageable and less intimidating or costly chunks.
  4. A driver to cut costs. As it’s enabling many companies to retain their current cost bases but stretch those resources further into more countries and ventures.
  5. About technology. Thinking and process innovations show it’s not just about technology (e.g. queuing), and service innovations prove it’s not only about products either. Nevertheless, technology is certainly vital, and SAP UK’s CTO Adrian Simpson explored how innovation is being shaped by greater mobility (e.g. increase in mobile devices), social media and networks, the cloud, and huge data sets (including social data).

Ultimately, innovation seems to depend on persistence, belief, adaptability, and relevance to customers and the market. While its success relies on people, behaviour and skills, and spotting and pursuing the opportunity before it’s too late. Undoubtedly money and resources help, but perhaps more of a barrier exists in the minds of employees and cultures of organisations?

(This article was originally published on FreshNetworks on 20th Dec 2012.)

First event hailed a big success 17

Business Perspectives event

Evan Davis shares his perspectives on innovation

Did you miss the inaugural Business Perspectives event at the Cumberland Hotel in London last week? Do not despair as we intend to bring highlights and insights from the day at a webinar on 4th December. Full details of the webinar and how to sign up will be posted here shortly.

The event itself was attended by over 100 practising managers, industry leaders and business academics, and provided a thriving hub of perspectives on innovation, both in the room and on Twitter (#ou_bp).

During the evening session our Visiting Professor and BBC Economics Editor Evan Davis was joined by Ken Keir, Executive Vice President, Honda Motor Europe, whilst Professor James Fleck then joined them both for a lively question and answer session.

The daytime masterclass considered the organisational structures, strategies and cultures needed to cultivate and support innovation, with insights and perspectives from Adrian Simpson (SAP), Win Dhat (Kates Kesler), David Harrison (True Potential), Dr Leslie Budd (OUBS), Imran Razzaq (Microsoft) and Professor James Fleck.

Were you there? How about sharing your perspective of the event on our blog site?

– Shasha Wang, Digital Development Manager, OUBS

Innovation or innovators? 1

David Harrison, Managing Partner of True Potential LLP, The Open University MBA alumnus

Innovation or innovators

Edited transcript of Business Perspectives Video: Innovation or innovators?

“Most of the organisations I see, they train everybody”

“I have observed first hand that it’s about selection. I’m not necessarily a nature versus nurture addict if you like, but if I was, it would be nature. But if you look at any elite organisation in the world, it will probably be down to selection. So if you look at British Special Forces, as an example away from financial services, they don’t train people until they’ve selected them, on a course of selection criteria which rules out just about every human being possible.  The ones that get through, they train them.”

“So what people do is set criteria, some sort of hurdle that most people can’t get over, “therefore they are weak, and let’s train that weakness”. And I don’t. I think I ignore weakness, I work with strengths.  One strength can be innovation that you have within individuals in an organisation, but there will be other individuals who don’t have that as a strength. People then tend to get angry and say “everyone is creative”, “are you saying I’m boring and dull or whatever?”. And if you are in finance, you may say “I wanted to be in finance, boring and dull, I didn’t want to make a mistake and cost everybody millions of pounds”. So there has to be those people, and those people, I believe, are happy doing that job, because they are naturally endowed with the ability to be careful, to be numerate, to do the things which other people may find boring. They probably think that all creative people are glib, they are chaotic, they create a real mess for these people to tidy up.  And I think it’s just recognising in an organisation that there are different people. And I want to separate that form of creativity, that form of real innovation, which may find you in a different market, with a different product and so on and so forth, from what I call the ordinary everyday creativity, which most people have, which can also lead by the way to big leaps, such as improving a process we’ve already got.

So if you look at the organisation we have got, we have got lots of people, they are mostly partners, and I think that helps creativity because essentially what they are doing is,  if they bring something to us, then it is to their advantage as well. The more they do of that, the more shares they are likely to have, the more important they are going to be in terms of value for the organisation.”

Bounded Innovation – the limitations of organisational reality 5

Guest blogger:

Fiona Beukes Fiona Beukes, The Open University MBA, UK Marketing specialist, BNY Mellon
 

Innovation in some respects is like the Holy Grail of business – How do you do it: disruptive or continuous? How do you foster it in your organisation: Incentives? Creative downtime? Hire the right talent? Although these are obviously worthy avenues to explore, they do take time to implement.

man with bulb head

Is your organisation agile enough to foster innovation?

I think many organisations are hampered by their internal environment which prevents a dynamic, agile response to market change. There is definitely a tension, in my view, between Grant’s internal resource perspective and Porter’s economic view of the workings of the external business environment.

From a practical perspective, I also think many companies find it hard to innovate through disruptive change. In my view, the larger and larger an organisation becomes the more bounded I feel it is to its BAU (Business as Usual) and the day-to-day constraints that just “getting things done” place on its internal environment.

The leaner, younger, more nimble upstart is likely to steal a larger company’s thunder and swiftly re-engineer the external environment. Think of Apple launching the iPod – a lower quality sound compared to compact discs so Sony engineers believed at the time – a product that rapidly caught the attention of a mass market interested in synching their PC to a portable, lighter device. In the end, a good quality product (CDs) lost out to unperceived customers’ needs and wants (iPods).

I think it is this disconnection from the customer which fosters continuous improvement in an organisation rather than disruptive market change. As a product or service exists already and a level of stakeholder engagement is in play – internally and externally – it becomes safer to adapt and improve a product or service rather than launch new ones. Why ruin a good thing?

It is also seems safer to improve the operational side of an organisation by being leaner and more cost-effective rather than radically altering the product or service and risk a customer backlash: something Coca-Cola experienced when they launched new coke in the 1980s. Why risk upsetting the apple cart, and more importantly, an organisation’s shareholders by changing the status quo?

There are certainly many barriers to innovation in organisations – people, culture, shareholders to name a few – and varying ways in which to be innovative. In my mind, how an organisation chooses to innovate is contingent on a range of external and internal factors. And also its strategic, longer-term vision of what the future holds.

To read more of Fiona’s articles, visit her blog.