Demand Leadership Innovation Like a SEAL

My son is a senior in high school. He has his mind made up on entering the special forces. His top choice would be the Navy SEALs. Many, many, many of our conversations are about the SEALs these days. Recently, I came across the Navy SEAL Creed: “We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me. My training is never complete.”  

Anyone who knows much about the Navy SEAL job requirements would not be surprised that the training required to be selected is extremely rigorous. Physical and mental training beyond compare prepares one a recruit to join the ranks of the “elite.” However, as former Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson writes, “you realize you are just another new guy in an already well-established organization. And it only gets tougher from there. The training never ends, and every single mission is rehearsed.”

Seal subWell-run businesses are very similar. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Dan Cathy, the current president of Chick-fil-A. Cathy discussed  the extensive training they provide every new hire and how they try to help the employees to anticipate needs rather than simply wait for them to be expressed. 

Gleeson described key characteristics of leaders:

1.     Leaders define the mission. A clearly defined mission starts with the leadership, is ingrained in the team, and is constantly reviewed. Mission success relies more on training than it does on planning. Rarely is a plan executed exactly as it has been laid out, because external forces prevent this. Thus the leadership and team must be ready to adapt. Adaptation requires ability, and ability comes from training.

2.     Leaders set, and reset, the vision. It’s up to leadership to know when shifts in a company’s vision must happen. The organization’s ultimate direction may not change but how you get there most certainly will. That means having a keen understanding of industry trends, economic cycles, and competitive movement. Leaders must be constantly acquiring knowledge and looking to the future.

3.     Leaders build the team. As a company grows it will require different types of talent. If you find the right people and train them accordingly, they will stick around and the business will thrive. It takes good leadership to identify who to hire and the roles to put those people in. This too requires ongoing knowledge development.

4.     Leaders embrace the necessity of growth, both personal and professional. If the mind and body are not in a constant state of growth, eventually things stagnate and progress stalls. Instilling the importance of learning in the team is one thing, but leadership has to embrace this first. Great leaders are always seeking knowledge, developing their minds, and maintaining their bodies. Mental and physical wellness is essential for optimal leadership.

5.     Leaders execute. An organization’s strategic plan means nothing without exceptional execution. As a company grows, the methods of mission execution will change. So will the way in which products and services are provided. The leadership has to build this into the culture, provide the team the proper resources, and remove obstacles. Companies that fail do not fail because the plan wasn’t good enough. They fail because the leaders didn’t execute.

All of these are great guidelines for leaders. What I want to return to from the SEAL Creed is the expectation of innovation. This expectation is something I’d like to see more businesses embrace. The fact that they don’t creates a need for great leaders to champion culture changes. 

 

 

Does Your Company Have an Innovation Identity Crisis?

 

Intrapreneurship – some would argue it to be a subcomponent of innovation; others, an outgrowth of; still others, a precursor to. Regardless your perspective, the concept that some organizations lack the culture to innovate effectively begets the question of how to change said culture. Many wonder what makes the greatest difference in an organization’s ability to innovate. Matthew May is a blogger on innovation and consultant at EDIT Innovation. He wrote recently of the”things that prevent a company from cultivating a companywide culture of innovation:”Corporate culture

1. Innovation identity crisis. If you assume that the consultants at Booz & Co are correct, there are perhaps three distinct approaches to innovation: needs-based, market-driven, and tech-centered. The first is the “humanist” approach good designers take.  The second is the “capitalist” approach…the fast followers that optimize…like a Hyundai, or in many respects Toyota. They capitalize on Clayton Christensen’s “innovator’s dilemma,” quickly copying and even improving on game-changing innovations as they hit the market. The third is the “technologist” approach, like an Apple. Many big companies simply don’t know or can’t easily conceptualize which of these categories they fall into, or should fall into, given their bench strength. 

2. Unclear innovation strategy. Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School and coauthor of Playing to Win, likes to ask “given your chosen approach, where will you play and how will you win?.” It’s a question of focus, which is something different (albeit a nuanced difference) than prioritization. It’s the ability to identify what you’re going to say NO to. Steve Jobs was great at this, and you’re now seeing the clear picture under his rule become blurry. 

3. Inaccessible definition of innovation. People hear innovation and think: gizmo. Or app. Or code. Or product. Or service. Or feature. JetBlue’s founder David Neeleman said,  “Innovation is figuring how to do something better than it’s ever been done before.” 

4. No common methodology. We’re not taught in school to innovate. We lose our natural born capacity to learn and create new knowledge. Unlearn the ways of business execution and (learn to) define a problem by observing or experiencing it, guessing how to solve it, creating a solution based on that guess, and quickly seeing if what you assumed might work actually does. 

5. Methodology doesn’t feature experimentation. The mindset has to be “I think this may work so let me try it out.” Scientists work on hypotheses, which is a fancy term for guesswork. If people aren’t getting their hands dirty out in the field with users and customers, testing early low-fidelity prototypes and adjusting a solution, they won’t be able to truly innovate. 

6. Mismatched talent-to-task fit. Innovation is about divergence, rapid prototyping, testing and failure. Big outfits might go to school on Lockheed’s Skunk Works. Kelly Johnson, Lockheed’s maverick Chief Engineer (broke) away from the main operation, (stole) away the hip thinkers many consider the lunatic fringe, and set up shop in secrecy to essentially get back to the garage, with the charge being to design a working prototype under a few intelligent constraints. 

May’s points are well-taken. Companies that haven’t worked through their internal language of innovation find it hard to have productive conversations about how to go about improving their ability to “do something better than it’s ever been done.” Being able to have clear definitions provides the basis for shared goals, methodology, and talent strategies.  The sharing of desired outcomes, coupled with high level commitment to venturing, is the starting point for cultural fitness. 

 

Take Away 10 and Add 6 For Innovation

 

Preparing for a monthly webinar on intrapreneurship has led me to literature searches for resources that represent thought leadership on intrapreneurship and innovation. Most of the literature recognizes the inherent dichotomy between organizations wanting to be cutting edge for the sake of competition, but not wanting the risks and change necessary to go there. Consequently, many stumble in their pursuit of innovation. The book, The Innovative CIO: How IT Leaders Can Drive Business Transformation (CA Press/Apress), addresses practical suggestions to overcome some common barriers to successful innovation. Dennis McCafferty writes that “it also demonstrates how to take advantage of your human and tech resources to effectively evaluate, track and “sell” the value of innovation within your company. The Innovation CIO coauthors Andi Mann, George Watt and Peter Matthews discuss the following 10 Ways to Kill Innovation:

 

1. Unhealthy Internal Competition  Healthy competition encourages achievement. But when employees focus more on beating each other than benefiting their organization, it’s unhealthy competition.

2. Inconsistency in Rewards  If workers feel there’s no rhyme or reason in performance awards, they’ll grow demoralized and stop trying.

3. A Culture of Intimidation  Bosses who ridicule “dumb” ideas to present themselves as “the smartest person in the room” ultimately choke innovation through fear and ridicule.

4. No Organizational Framework for Innovation  Without a companywide framework for fostering innovation, it’s difficult for lower-level managers to leverage innovation as it happens.

5. The Pursuit of Perfection  Perfectionists tend to “hide” work until they feel it’s 100% ready. But innovation thrives from collaboration and dialogue while work is in progress.

6. Protection Obsession  Company “protectors” are often guilty of shooting down any proposals that they feel will harm their organization or department.

7. Inbox Overload  A relentless barrage of emails, meetings and phone calls–many of them unnecessary–keeps CIOs and their teams preoccupied with the mundane and urgent instead of something fresh, new and valuable.

8. Voluntary Isolationism  IT teams will often “go dark” and bury themselves in projects while closing off contact with stakeholders, customers and others who can help greatly via feedback.

9. Clinging to Legacies  Outdated IT systems and processes hinder innovation. However, too many CIOs stick with them because they cost money and/or they don’t want these deployments to be perceived as “failures.”

10. No Strategic Focus  Innovation teams must always keep concrete, business-benefiting goals in mind during collaboration. Otherwise, it’s just a fun but ultimately pointless “creativity exercise.”

What is true in IT circles is true, to some extent, in any kind of business. The environment and culture have so much to do with successful innovation. Agility Innovation and Ovo Innovation, in a joint whitepaper, provided a list of 6 key capabilities needed by executives to foster the skills and capacities for innovation in their companies:

  • creating alignment,
  • deploying trusted methods and tools,
  • effective communication and engagement,
  • empowering people, providing skills,
  • refocusing attitudes, perspectives and rewards ,
  • defining a corporate “governance” for innovation

The whitepaper authors argue that  these skills or capabilities can be developed in an appropriate strategic manner when applying the Executive Innovation Workmat (shown below).  They believe that executives can be trained to both understand how to innovate and how to acquire and inspire the skills requisite to do it well. Beginning with establishing a language for innovation, complete with agreed upon definitions of key terms, a systematic approach serves organizations best. When corporate strategy and innovation have linkage, the likelihood of success goes way up!

Executive Innovation Workmat

 

 

Leaders Instill Vision and Creativity

 

“Vision is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action. It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are. It gives us capacity to live out of our imagination instead of our memory.” 

– Stephen Covey

Vision cogAs a management consultant of 25 years, I have had the opportunity to interact with a variety of companies, their leadership teams, and employees. What Covey describes above is the missing ingredient in many businesses and the critical success factor in others. Jeff Orr, who coaches executives and their organizations, has this to say about Covey’s quote:

Vision. A key component of leadership. The ability to see what doesn’t exist…yet. And then to communicate that vision, so compellingly, that anyone who hears it can’t help but jump on board. This is the stuff of great leadership.

I have found that one of the most challenging aspects of vision casting is not the actual speaking of the vision, but what the person receiving the message actually sees in their mind regarding that vision. I have discovered that I can verbally paint a vision for a group of people and, depending on their experience, upbringing, etc., each person can have a slightly different picture in their mind of what the vision looks like. They also have a particular view of how they play a part in that vision – which may or may not be what I had intended. This has led to miscommunication and missed expectations. So how do we as leaders cast a compelling vision that is caught by our audience as we intend it to be caught?

Know your audience-their background, personalities, language and culture; (then) you can (better) craft your message to connect with them. If your audience is diverse, you may need to use multiple word pictures to say the same thing to different people. This takes a bit more time, but can be an eye-opener for you. Learning how to convey your vision in multiple “languages” will make you a better communicator.

Once you feel enough of your audience has “gotten it,” you still need to continually cast that vision. As one great leader has said, “Vision leaks.” Imagine a bucket with small holes in the bottom. As you fill that bucket with water, some of it leaks out the bottom. If you don’t continually fill the bucket, all of the water will eventually empty out. People are no different. The concerns of their department, projects, and life in general, all compete for their attention, crowding out the vision. It’s up to you as their leader to keep “filling their bucket” with the vision so it stays top of mind. As you utilize various methods of delivering the same message, you will see your team gain energy, synergy, and momentum.

What applies to leadership applies to intrapreneurship especially well. Organizations that lack visionary leadership often stagnate in their business performance. As the followers sense that the leaders care about creative capacity and are doing something about it, they become very motivated to produce.

When the workers are unable to see beyond their current reality (and not encouraged to do so), they can become disheartened. Being able to envision a better day with more positive outcomes fuels the fires. Given the opportunity to be creative, to look for what lies beyond the obvious, most will work harder with less need for exterior reward because they are motivated by what they can contribute. Seek to be an organization that values vision!

 

Belief, Hereticism, and Innovative Leadership

 

“Tribes are about faith – about belief in an idea and in a community.” -Seth Godin

Mike Henry of the Lead Change Group chose to enter the social media world by focusing on leadership. He says that he  started reading what others wrote about leadership and he tweeted and re-tweeted their posts. Guy Kawasaki, according to Henry, suggested that your own content be 10% or less of what you plugged online. 

As Henry went into the Twitterverse, he found many leadership gurus working as individuals. Consequently, he perceived there to be an opportunity to create a model that could actually move the global leadership needle through collaboration. He felt that real change would take “a movement; an army of leaders willing to address the need for a new leadership model.” Henry founded the Lead Change Group as a means of addressing the need to amass an army:

On Twitter, I could find a small army of people committed to making a difference about leadership. Sure, there are people who are more interested in promoting themselves, and there have been many who tried Twitter but couldn’t remain engaged.  But there were (and continues to be) a growing number of people sincere about addressing a global leadership problem; and one that Godin was writing about.

“So here we are. We live in a world where we have the leverage to make things happen, the desire to do work we believe in and a marketplace that is begging us to be remarkable. And yet, in the middle of these changes, we still get stuck.” -Seth Godin, Tribes

He goes on to say that the status quo and our systems and habits make us stuck. We’re stuck in a “factory” which he describes as any system that forces us to reinforce the status quo. The antidote is people who believe in what they’re doing. He calls them heretics.Pioneer

“Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.” -Seth Godin, Tribes

I don’t want to simply be a heretic. I want to encourage leadership heretics.

Lead Change would be something different; not your mama’s leadership group. We went so far as to claim the intention “instigating a leadership revolution.” We didn’t start the revolution, but many of us recognized we were all in it. So we decided to band together.

Lead Change Group is based on the ideas:

  1. Anyone can lead. Leadership is an attitude, a decision.
  2. You don’t need permission. You simply need to start.
  3. Your greatest influence comes from who you are, not what title you have.
  4. The world needs you to bring your best self and make a positive difference.
  5. Others believe in your leadership if you start with yourself.
  6. If you’re going to do something, do it with everything you have.

What Godin advocates and Henry describes resonates very deeply with me. Being heretical just for the sake of drawing attention is a misguided notion. However, taking initiative to inspire others, having the courage to pursue a dream, and embracing the perseverance requisite to see results is a kind of heresy that captures my heart!

When I describe my business model for Hippotential, I describe it as helping business owners get unstuck. This is congruent with Godin’s challenges to be remarkable and make things happen while we do that which beckons us. Every entrepreneur should feel so moved–or stop being an entrepreneur! Every intrapreneur should feel the same way:)