Get innovative, goddamit!

It is a common refrain from business leaders – the need to be more “creative”, more “innovative” and to look at opportunities that explore beyond the present. “If we do what we’ve always done, well get what we’ve always got” is the refrain that echoes around multiple boardrooms.

And of course, this is both true and false at the same time. The motivation for making the statement in the first place is that doing what has always been done is no longer providing what has always been got. Otherwise, why change? The very issue is that external factors are creating moments that the business can no longer navigate – hence the need to think again.

What’s tough in these circumstances is that often the organisation is so hard wired, that no matter how many times someone shouts “CREATIVITY” or “INNOVATION”, no matter how positive the intent, there is a seeming inability to deliver against that good intention.

What’s wrong? Do we need to get a new type of person? Bring in some really “BIG thinkers”?

What are the chances that you’ve hired an entire workforce that is unable to think differently? What are the chances that there is not a single innovative bone in the collective body? That you’re institutionally bereft of creativity?

My guess is, that in those very organisations you have artists, musicians, writers, dancers, poets and sculptures. My guess is that at the very moment they leave your organisation for the day, they’re starting to display the very traits that you as an organisation are yearning for.

So what are the chances, that you’re trying to tackle lies within the corporate form rather than in the employee body?

Much of how we’ve structured organisations is to develop conformity, replication and rule following. Some people portray this as a negative, it isn’t. It’s just a thing. So if we want to change the behaviour, we need to also change the rules of the game. If you’ve never asked for a creative idea, why do you think one will come just when you think it should? If you process employees and value conformity and obedience, why will people think and act differently?

Creating the environment for people to express and develop their ideas, means creating the environment, not just artificial moments. If we want to unlock the innate skills and abilities that exist within our businesses, we’ve got to ask ourselves what closed them off in the first place.

Organisational culture is complicated

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a definition of organisational culture that I agree with. It seems to almost through the act of definition we make compromises that detract from the complexity. We talk about culture as a collective phenomenon, yet in many ways it is a very individual experience.

And when we look to aggregate the individual experiences, we unwittingly homogenise the outcomes to the point of potential meaninglessness. In many ways, understanding that individual experience is the key.

A number of years ago I was trying to explain organisational culture to a group of business leaders and I drew this:

organisationalculture

The specific words in the foundations and interventions boxes are irrelevant, purely to illustrate a point. Culture, for me, is the experience that results from the interactions and interventions that exist in a system.

Ultimately organisations want to try to create something cohesive and so, in order to do this you need to design the interventions against a set of consistent criteria (we often call them values), combined with leadership behaviours that are in tune with same criteria, that gives you the best chance of creating something that gives you your best chance.

Organisations often fall down because the experience of the interventions doesn’t match the foundations, (e.g. “we make things happen fast” but the reality is bureaucratic decision-making), leadership is inconsistent with the foundations and interventions, (“that’s fine but in this case we need to make an exception”), or they believe the end is somehow achievable by running some sort of culture survey, without doing the hard work.

Individuals will either like or not like a culture and that often leads us to talk about “fit” as if it is some sort of silver bullet. However, it is often the organisation determining whether the individual is a fit – which creates a whole other world of pain. I may have a favourite restaurant, it doesn’t mean I want to eat there all the time.

At the end of the day, it is complicated and we need to be ok with that as most important things are. Whilst at the same time, we probably need to worry less about the experience and more about the construct. If we’re making organisations consistent, cohesive and clear then maybe we should worry less about how we make people feel about our culture, and let them decide for themselves.

It is not ok

Would you think it acceptable if someone at work shouted at you, called you names, told you to do your f***ing job? Or if they reminded you how important they were and that they could have you sacked? How about if they were drunk, high, abusive or sexually inappropriate?

Yet everyday people at work endure this treatment, from their customers.

It is not ok.

When “normal” people behave inappropriately when they’re placed in a nominal position of power in a retail, hospitality or leisure environment. When they talk to service staff, cleaners, security guards and transport staff as if they are dirt. When they lose all sense of humanity.

It is not ok.

Working in organisations, they’ll value “teamwork, “collaboration” and “partnership”. They’ll abide to corporate value sets about caring for one another and being the best that they can. Yet once outside, the good intent drops away and they enter into a different relationship with our world.

It is not ok.

It’s not ok to treat people around you any differently because of a perceived commercial superiority. It doesn’t matter whether that’s buying something in a shop, or a restaurant, or on a train. It doesn’t matter what your excuse is.

It is not ok.

Everybody is a doing a job. Some people have choices about the work they do, other people have less. Everyone comes to work to earn money for the things that they care about. Some people earn more, others less.

Everybody has a right to dignity and respect. Everyone has the right to be treated like a human being, to be treated with politeness, with understanding and tolerance.

It is not ok to lose perspective of the way that we work with our colleagues, talk to our friends and behave with our family. To treat people doing an honest day’s work with contempt.

It is not ok to belittle, demean or berate someone because we believe that our social value is somehow greater than their’s.

It is not ok to dehumanise anyone.

It is not ok.

In praise of spin

I’ve worked in HR long enough to know that it has an image problem. One that is generally unfair, but probably the result of our own endeavours.

Our knee jerk reaction, like anyone in this scenario, is to tell everyone they’re wrong. That actually they’re missing this whole bunch of important information that they’ve never consider before.

It’s all……a bit whiny.

We whinge and bitch and moan about how we are misunderstood. And all it does is make us look like a whiny, moaning, bitching bunch of people. Let’s face it, would you want to hang around with someone coming across like that?

We don’t work enough on presentation, on delivery, on PR and, yes, on spin. I don’t care what you think, if you believe in the product that you have enough, you should be willing to take any measures necessary to get it delivered.

Rather than being the organisational equivalent of the parent telling their unenthused kids to, “eat their greens” and reminding them they won’t grow or be healthy otherwise, we need to learn to plate up something equally nourishing but more palatable and exciting.

We need to think about the hooks, the positioning, the language, the packaging and the delivery. We need to create excitement and interest in the topics that people have become weary, wary and immune too.

Time and time again I hear of people telling me that their business, their CEO, their leadership team aren’t interested in HR. That’s a total crock. If you speak to any CEO or leader, they will talk about all the things that we are trying to achieve. They just aren’t interested in us or the way that we talk about it.

We all know the famous quote about insanity being the act of doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Sometime we border on the insane as a profession.

We’re full of creative, thoughtful, innovative people. We’re full of people that want to make a difference, that want to help organisations be better, perform better and grow. We’re full of people who care.

So instead of shying away from the dark arts, let’s embrace them. We can reinvent ourselves and our work, but in order to do that we need to think as much about position, delivery and narrative as we do about content, process and structure.

People consume a package, they don’t always want to consume a principle.