Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The “You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter” theory of innovation

That old Reese’s commercial makes a valid point — a brilliant new idea is often just the collision of two unlike things. The magic is in creating that sweet spot of overlap between two previously unrelated elements.

That’s why innovation in any field so often depends on the combined expertise of people from two or more different disciplines. But before that sort of collaboration can occur, you need to provide visibility across the company of different functions and areas of expertise.

Beyond visibility, the goal is to build respect across functional silos. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Build awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company — using whatever channels you have at your disposal. You can do this on your intranet, you can use an app, you can produce podcasts. You can publish a cultural magazine with articles that provide visibility for leading thinkers in the organization. You could even use digital signage for employee spotlights that highlight the work of various innovators.

By showcasing the talent in your company, you provide visibility into the wide range of expertise in your organization. When you can make celebrities of employees across a wide range of disciplines, you support a culture of respect. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters unexpected collaboration —  and that leads to innovation.

Interested in building a culture of innovation? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Boost collaboration with a culture of respect for expertise

Want to build collaboration across departments, disciplines or business units? The first step is to raise the visibility of the work being done and the expertise of the people doing the work. For employees to value ideas contributed by someone from another discipline or with a different expertise, they first need to respect what others bring to the table.

We’ve seen this connection between respect and collaboration with a couple of clients recently. Each of these two companies depend on innovation and bringing new ideas to market in order to remain competitive. Both involve manufacturing and technology. Both are incredibly impressive in the way they collaborate across silos to create better solutions for customers in their industries.

When interviewing high-level engineers at both companies, they speak with great excitement about their collaborative efforts. They heap praise on the expertise of partners from other business units or functions and stress how lucky they are to be able to work with the collaborative team they’ve formed.

How does that happen? These two companies have developed their shared admiration for differing expertise organically. But if that’s not already the climate at your company, you can use communications strategies and tactics to sow the seeds of respect.

Providing visibility is the catalyst. Employees can’t respect each other’s expertise if they don’t know about each other. One of the most important elements of collaboration is awareness of the work being done in other areas of the company.

Develop a channel or two that provide windows into other silos. There are numerous ways you can do this, including your intranet. One of the tactics Tribe often recommends is an employee culture magazine that features the work of individuals and teams across the range of functional divisions or business units or geographical locations.

A magazine can turn employees into celebrities. A feature article can explore a project or initiative in some depth, quoting several of the employees involved and sharing their successes and solutions. A spread of employee spotlights can showcase the work of three or four or even more employees in various functional areas. A roundtable article that includes management from several different silos can share their perspectives on topics like innovation or team building or leadership.

Shining the limelight on employees supports a culture of respect. A magazine or another channel with the same intention of showcasing the talent in your company communicates to all employees the value that each individual can bring to the company’s success. And a culture of respect helps create a work environment that fosters collaboration.

Interested in increasing collaboration in your organization? Tribe can help.

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Balancing Collaboration and Efficiency

A premium is placed on collaboration in many, if not most, large companies. As knowledge and expertise become increasingly specialized, collaboration across functional areas becomes even more critical for successful business results.

At the same time, efficiency is also a priority. Companies feel the pressure of delivering improved speed to market, quick response to changing business factors and the ever-increasing demand to be faster than before.

The challenge is that collaboration and efficiency work against each other. To collaborate requires rounding up people in diverse roles across the company, and usually across geography. Coordinating the schedules of everyone in the group for an in-person meeting or conference call is no easy feat. It’s not always going to happen this week, or even this month.

It’s much faster for one functional unit to make decisions and move on. In Tribe’s national study on collaboration, many respondents cited this time drag as a reason why they often skip the step of getting input from other areas in the company.

But are the right decisions being made? There are no doubt insights the sales team can share about what customers are really looking for; that the programmers can clarify in regards to what the software can really do; or that one division of the company can offer regarding a key customer they share with another division.

This tension between collaboration and speed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces people to set priorities, to weigh the need for one over the other. In most corporate cultures, the pendulum will swing towards one over the other.

One principle for maintaining a balance between the two is to separate the two functions of collaborating and making decisions. When people come together to collaborate, it should be for the purpose of providing their unique expertise, input and feedback. The collaborative meeting is not the place to make decisions. Trying to reach consensus on a decision is not only difficult, it’s unlikely to result in the best decision.

Give everybody a voice, but not a vote. The happy medium – or the Middle Way, as the Buddhists would say – is to invite many different perspectives but not give away the power to make the final determination. The responsibility for decision-making should remain with those who own the project or initiative under discussion.

Interested in balancing collaboration and speed in your company? Tribe can help.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

If you want collaboration, encourage conversations that aren’t about work

See that group of employees standing around the coffee maker chewing the fat? The ones talking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with work?

That sort of idle chit chat is exactly what you want if you’re hoping to build a collaborative culture. In Tribe’s national research on collaboration, respondents stressed how important it is to know the other people, at least casually, in order to feel comfortable sharing ideas and collaborating on work projects.

One of the major hurdles to collaboration is how vulnerable people can feel sharing fragile ideas that are still half-baked. But that’s exactly when you want to get those ideas out on the table so people with different expertise and perspectives can contribute to moving the idea forward.

Creating a culture where casual conversation and personal relationships are valued helps give employees that comfort level. Look for more ways employees can cross paths with those in other work teams and even business units. That might mean building more social hours into annual conferences or establishing an inter-departmental dodgeball tournament. It can be impacted by the architecture of your buildings. It can even be encouraged by stocking a really great break room with latte machines and coolers of energy drinks and bowls of fresh fruit.

The goal is to give employees, especially those in different disciplines, occasions to rub elbows. And then to encourage your managers to let those casual conversations happen. To some, it may look like employees are goofing off. But by establishing close social connections, your employees are doing something very positive for the company.

Interested in building a culture of collaboration at your company? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Three enemies of innovation in corporate life

The corporate world is big on innovation as the key to getting or staying ahead of the competition. Yet the culture of most large companies makes it difficult for employees to have time to think, collaborate and move new ideas forward. When Tribe interviews corporate employees in industries ranging from banking to philanthropy, we hear over and over about three major hurdles to innovation.

  1. Too many meetings: If it weren’t for all these conference calls, when would we get our online shopping done? Employees often attend meetings, in person or by phone, merely to show that they showed up. Few corporate meetings are hotbeds of creativity. When employees spend all day moving from one internal meeting to the next, they complain of not having enough time to get their work done, much less noodle on an innovative idea.
  2. Too much email: The other big time zapper in most corporate offices is a ridiculous amount of internal email, much of it of the CYA variety. Without training on how to efficiently process the overload in their inboxes, employees can feel they’re drowning in messages. Wading through that inbox becomes an endless chore, and a convenient diversion from real thinking.
  3. Trouble identifying potential collaborators: Innovation often depends on collaboration between subject matter experts from disparate disciplines, but when companies are siloed by function or division, it can be hard for employees to find their fellow experts.

Of course, meetings and emails have their benefits, and can also provide venues for collaboration. That’s the trouble, really. You can’t innovate with them; and you can’t innovate without them.

Interested in building a culture more supportive of innovation? Tribe can help.

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

White Paper Insight Six: Employees See The Intranet As The Way Out Of Their Silos

Don’t blame employees for being isolated in silos. They have a strong desire to interact and collaborate with colleagues in other divisions and locations, and they want their intranets to help them do that.

The solutions include things as simple as an employee directory. In Tribe’s recent study “Employee Preferences in Internal Communications,” 81 percent selected an employee directory as one of the features they’d most like to see in a company intranet.

They also would like intranet features that help them collaborate. Almost half, at 46 percent, indicated that they would find it beneficial for the intranet to have a collaboration space to work on projects with others and share work in progress. A related feature, space to share innovative ideas, was selected by 58 percent of the survey respondents.

Employee magazines are yet another way they can feel more connected to their peers. When asked which features they would be likely to read in a company magazine for and about employees. An employee spotlight was the leading favorite, at 68 percent. A best practices column to share insights and processes from other divisions of the company was selected by 63 percent. Location highlights, giving employees at one location a chance to learn about other locations, was selected by 51 percent of the respondents.

Write-in survey responses and interview comments included:

“Communication between divisions/locations can definitely help by switching up ideas and seeing what works for everyone.”

“I believe people like connecting on a personal level with peers in other locations.”

 “There is something humanizing about putting a face and a story to a name.”

“Sharing best practices would help us all do our jobs more efficiently.” 

“I would love to know more about other divisions.”

“There are many employees that I have never seen, yet speak to on a daily basis.”

 “I’d love to read more about other experiences from all the people who share the same job title as I do.”

“I want to know what (employees in other divisions or locations) are doing that is working and I want to share what I am doing.”

 “(I’d like our intranet to have) easy sharing from peer-to-peer or collaboration with a great number of employees.”

 “You do not have to be in the same location to collaborate.”

“(People) may even be more apt to collaborate with more people if they knew who they were in their minds.”

Interested in knowing more about this study? The full white paper on this research is now available on the Tribe website: http://www.tribeinc.com/pdfs/EmployeePreferences_TribeWP_Fall2013.pdf

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

5 Ways to Cultivate Innovation

In today’s business environment, ideas are king. During the recent years of economic stress, most companies went through a comprehensive process of fine-tuning to maximize performance while minimizing costs. Building a competitive advantage now requires something beyond those linear, left-brain corrections.

Innovation is the key to getting and staying ahead of the competition. Here are five best practices to help harness the creativity of employees throughout the organization.

1.    It Starts at the Top: When top management models an innovative approach to the business, it reverberates throughout the organization. Beyond offering innovative ideas of his or her own, these leaders don’t just encourage their people to contribute creatively; they demand it.

2.   Creative Collaboration: Innovation is often the result of two completely different things bumping up against each other. Get people from different departments and disciplines together to approach an issue or challenge and you’ll get innovation neither group would have arrived at on their own.

3.   Involve the Frontline: So many companies make the tragic mistake of ignoring the valuable experience of their frontline employees. Wondering what would make your customers happier? Ask the cashiers, the airline attendants, the delivery guys, the call center employees or anyone in your organization who actually interacts with your customers.

4.   Innovation Software: Technology offers tactical ways to build creativity into your organization. Platforms like Spigit (www.spigit.com) and BrightIdea (www.brightidea.com) provide a process for idea generating and having those ideas vetted by other employees across the organization.

5.   Creative Fire Drills:  The process is simple: Gather subject matter experts from a range of areas and put them in a room. Give them the assignment (naming a new service, developing a product extension, whatever). Set a timer for five minutes or some other small chunk of time. Everybody puts their heads down and scribbles as many ideas as they can come up with before the bell. This is not the meeting where any decisions are made. The purpose is only to cast a wide net of potential ideas.

There’s an interesting by-product of fostering a creative culture. Sure, the company benefits from all that innovation and collaboration in terms of providing a competitive product or service. But beyond that, this sort of culture generally enjoys strong employee engagement.

When employees understand that their ideas are not just allowed but desired; when they know that their creative input is heard; when they feel that they can have an impact on the company’s future, they then feel a powerful bond to their company.

This post was excerpted from an article I wrote recently for CommPRO.biz.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Creating innovation by venturing outside the silo

Silos are the enemies of innovation and sound decisions. When you can align employees with the company vision and values, and bring together people with different perspectives, expertise and experiences, the organization benefits in multiple ways.

Frits Van Paasschen, President and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, puts it this way. In a recent blog on the Harvard Business Review site, he says, “I strongly believe the best decisions happen when people with the same goals and values — but different points of view — speak frankly around the table.”

That comment might be overshadowed by the real news of the blog. Starwood has moved its headquarters to Dubai for a month to engage in an experiment that’s certainly attention-getting. “We’re here to be immersed in one of the world’s most dynamic regions,”  he writes, “and to see our global business through a sharply focused local lens.”

Van Paasschen is onto one of the best ways to cultivate creativity. To think outside the box, get outside the box. Try a new box. Try new combinations of old boxes. Do whatever you can to see things from a different perspective. Click here to read the complete blog.

 

 

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Innovation Is Not Just For Engineers

Innovation is often considered the domain of engineers. And of course it’s true: a new technological innovation can be the catalyst that allows one company to gain dominance over the competition.

Yet innovation can come from anywhere in the company, particularly the frontline. The frontline workers —  those people who are making the beds in your hotels or running the drive-thru at your quick service restaurants or standing on the sales floor in your retail operations — can be a gold mine of innovative ideas.

Because that’s who has a finger on the pulse of the consumer. While the engineers are sitting in front of the computer or messing around in the lab, the frontline employees are interacting with your customers. They see what works about your product or service — and even more importantly, what doesn’t.

Unfortunately, many companies operate with very little input from frontline employees. That’s not necessarily because management discounts the value of their ideas. More often, it’s merely because it can be so difficult to communicate with non-desk employees.

But it’s not impossible. When companies do find ways to reach non-desk workers, not just through their direct managers but through direct channels to corporate, they’re able to harness the ideas of those with a unique understanding of the customer.

Those companies also enjoy higher employee engagement. In Tribe’s research with frontline and field employees, our respondents consistently noted that they felt out of the loop — and often that made them feel they weren’t respected or valued by the company.

Want to promote innovation on your frontline? Tribe can help.

 

The Evolution of the Textbook

Apple never ceases to amaze me. They constantly prove that the possibilities are endless. Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, a newer and even faster version is introduced. Whether it is a new phone, app, or other form of technology, customers can always count on Apple to deliver top-of-the-line, cutting edge and user-friendly products that are consistent with the Apple brand.

One of Apple’s more recent developments in particular caught my attention and sparked my interest this week. I’m referring to iPad’s new feature to download textbooks from the App Store. That’s right, textbooks! And available at the low cost of $14.99 or less. Apple announced iBooks 2 for iPad yesterday after partnering with big publishers like McGraw-Hill and Pearson. This is probably going to be one of their largest drivers of revenue to date.

To think, just 2 years ago I was in college, carrying 45 pounds and $500 worth of books on my back when I could of just had a 3 pound tablet in my purse. Needless to say, the current generation of students has it made.

However, with every positive comes a negative. It makes me a little sad to think that my children might never get to see or feel a textbook. It’s a completely different experience to dive into a textbook, to smell the pages, to actually have to look up a term in the glossary instead of typing it into a search box. I know that technology exists to make things easier, but I believe exposing children to technology at too young an age robs them of their ability to problem-solve, to become resourceful and independent. Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m sure I’ll one day be a parent of a 2-year-old who knows how to use an iPhone, but I’d like to think that textbooks and cursive writing will stick around for another decade or so!

What do you feel are the pros and cons of kids using iPads in school instead of textbooks and notepads?