Addressing Organizational Challenges  (July 5, 2017)


We’ve all been there. The budget just got cut. A law just changed. One of your product lines isn’t doing well compared to others. You lost a big customer. You gained a big customer. A key staff person left the organization. You know what I mean – stuff happens and you have to deal with it. What’s a leader to do? Here are a few ideas to get you going:

  Name the problem. Strangely, this might not be as easy as you think. Was the budget cut? How? Just total dollars? Specific line items? Do you have the flexibility to move money around to address the shortfall? Can you get replacement funding from another source? Do you need all the money you had before? You get the idea – be sure you really know what exactly is happening. Don’t guess – if you guess wrong, you might waste too much time and effort.

  Analyze your options. Have some ideas about how to tackle this new challenge? Great! Now, create somewhat detailed analyses of how different solutions might play out so that you (or other decision makers) can make a thoughtful decision.

  State your goals and report progress. The launch of a new idea or program should always include the standards by which its success will be measured. Once the standards are set, measure and report the results at regular intervals!

  Let some problems “cook” awhile. Conversation and creative exploration becomes richer when groups avoid reaching consensus before all divergent views can be expressed and considered. To help ensure that minority views come to the surface, Michael West and James Richter recommend that groups include members that are likely to hold contrary views, and try to ensure that those individuals do not feel like the lone contrary voice. When people feel that at least one other person shares, or at least appreciates their views, they are more likely to join the conversation and take an interest in the outcome.

  Look for “sweet spots.”  Small, well-placed, well-timed, well-executed changes can produce out-sized results (like adjusting the trim tab on an airplane, or turning the rudder on a ship, or changing a seemingly small procedure.) High performance organizations are always on the lookout for opportunities to implement this kind of high-leverage change.

  Cultivate networks. Organizations are complex entities. Robust and resilient organizations do more than just acknowledge that their employees are connected to others outside their home work groups—they encourage employees to seek join both internal and external networks. Interdisciplinary groups are able to combine their members’ different backgrounds and skill sets to solve problems in new and often innovative ways.

  Promote professionalism. There is nothing unusual when professionals (attorneys, engineers, executives, etc.) find colleagues outside their organizations among groups of people with similar training, education, and experiences.  While it is less common for line staff to pursue these outside relationships, they too can gain a lot by seeking out affiliations that reinforce professional practice standards and encourage them to raise the bar for their own performance.

  Make changes collaboratively. Have to make a REALLY big change? Invite employees in the impacted departments and divisions to help assess the gap between what’s happening and what’s needed, and to offer suggestions for how to reallocate, restructure, or eliminate work.


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Building creative organizations  (June 15, 2017)

Those of us who have worked in organizations know very well what it means to have to “do more with less.” But financial constraints don’t rule out creativity. In fact, creativity is precisely what’s needed when resources are scarce. Here are a few suggestions for how to cultivate creativity in your organization:

Put some skin in the game. Creative organizations don’t sprout up overnight, but they don’t happen by accident either. If you want to lead a creative organization, you have to expect it. Plan for it. Commit yourself to its existence. Tell everyone you know, including your colleagues and employees, that creativity is now among your highest priorities—and don’t waver.

  Reward creativity. You can incent creativity even if you don’t have the funding or latitude to change pay levels or job classifications. For example:

*  Share the time. If the solution will save staff time, consider acknowledging the contribution with a small amount of “free” vacation, and then provide a venue for your creative staff to tell others their story.

*  Share the savings. If it will save money, apply part of the savings to an “innovation fund” that departments and teams can access to fund future projects.

*  Spread good ideas. If it can be spread throughout other areas of the organization, appoint some or all of the project team members to be leaders for new implementation teams.

*  Train future leaders. If newly appointed team leaders need it, give them training. This can build self-confidence, deepen loyalty to the organization, and provide stepping stones for future advancement. It can also create a pool of “resource” employees who can coach future innovation efforts.

*  Recognize creative contributions. Individual performance evaluations should highlight creative contributions, and each managers’ performance evaluation should include mention of how well they stimulate and support the creativity of those they supervise.

   Reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it makes sense to start from scratch if you want to improve upon a very familiar process or product. Brainstorming, piloting, rapid prototyping, “hacking”, or other experimentation strategies can produce surprisingly effective results in a short period of time—often at a lower cost.

  Mix it up. Few dispute the wisdom of having members of an organization learn about unfamiliar areas of operation. For Andrew Hargadon, a professor of technology management at the University of California, Davis, the advantage to interdisciplinary exposure isn’t thinking outside the box—it is the ability to “think in other boxes.

  Hire creativity. When you have a chance to hire, look for employees who are self-motivated, effective networkers, good listeners, and good team players (meaning they are happy to help other succeed as well as to showcase their own successes.) The most creative problem solvers are able to suspend judgment on what “should” be done in order to make room for creative approaches and solutions.


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