I’m no innovator… but that’s ok

I’ve just realised that I don’t have to be ‘an innovator’. I’ve decided it’s a label I don’t need to twist myself in knots trying to add to the long list of things that I am and that I’m proud of, and here’s why.

I see pressure all around for us to be innovative. In this highly connected / social / sharing world thoughts and ideas are popping up and progressing at an astonishingly rapid pace. If we’re all innovative, ahead of the curve, pioneers… who are the doers? The people who ground these ideas and concepts into practice, process and allow them time to grow roots and show their true value.

Don’t get me wrong… I see the desire / need / requirement for change / progress / evolution (I am in learning and development after all!). I’m just not one of the inventors stretching the bounds and disrupting the status quo on a visionary level.

And until recently, I thought that made me less. I thought I had to fake it or hide the fact that it’s not a natural thing for me to lean into (as much as I may want to at times). Just because I don’t class myself as an innovator, doesn’t mean I’m not creative and imaginative.

I do believe in playing to our strengths. Stretching ourselves and continuously developing in the field we thrive in and / or are passionate about. There are a lot of bloody fantastic ideas out there already that aren’t being harnessed to their full potential. Which remain relevant.

I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t think it was pertinent and dare I say it – imperative to flourish in today’s world. The fundamental aspects of communication, connection and problem solving are indeed very useful skills in managing the change going on around us / to us / because of us.

I may not be an innovator, but I am still relevant. And I’m more than ok with that.

Engagement (or any) surveying is not enough

Asking someone a bunch of pre-determined questions on one particular day, of one particular week, in one particular month in their career journey with your organisation is a standard way of ‘measuring’ employee engagement. But how do you know you have all the right puzzle pieces?

I can think of many times in my career that a survey was administered in a time of turbulence for me or my team. It may have been the shitty time of budget cutting; or maybe a new project was just launched; or the team was disrupted in a multitude of other ways. But I knew (or at least hoped) that the survey results weren’t a true reflection of their engagement overall.

Without a deep dive, or even just a focus group ‘sanity check’, how do you know the true value of the feedback you’ve collected? If it’s been a crappy day/week/month for someone, does that reflect on their survey answers? In my experience, hell yes! You may still need to address the issues front and centre, but you definitely should check the validity of the engagement data before making any decisions about long-term action planning.

The best way to find the root cause of disengagement or even that tipping point between fully connected and just doing ok, is discussion. Using insight-encouraging questions to gain clarity, a deeper understanding of your employee’s engagement levels, is critical if you want to turn meh into good, or good into lets-smash-this-out-of-the-park.

If you’re serious about employee engagement, focus groups and deep-dives are important. Use them, or better yet – get an unbiased perspective (like me!) to run them for you.

Put the spoon down

Helping others develop and grow is an important part of being an effective leader. The type of support and direction individuals’ need will vary depending on the situation.

One thing that won’t change … let them do the thinking (and the talking) … don’t spoon-feed them.

Insights or ‘ahha’ moments tend to occur when we’re not thinking about the problem directly. Doing something repetitive (like driving), or that we are good at or enjoy (like cooking), frees up our cognitive resources to find answers to things that have been puzzling us. It also quietens our brain so we actually notice these new connections and combines existing data in new ways.

So insights are really very useful, they:

  • Are required to progress or solve complex problems.
  • Are more memorable than linear solutions (at the moment of insight, feel-good neurochemicals are released that help embed this new connection).
  • Generate a deep sense of engagement and ownership (we become very attached to our new way of thinking).

Therefore it’s important to facilitate insights, try not to always give answers.

At any opportunity, ask questions that bring about reflection, create self-awareness and generate a greater sense of responsibility. These are HOW questions, not WHY questions with a deliberate focus on solutions rather than problems.

To increase the chances of facilitating insight:

  • Provide quiet moments, don’t expect your team to go at 100km an hour all the time, staring off into space can be very productive.
  • Encourage your team to look inward, pause and reflect.
  • Limit threat and create positive emotion (think of their SCARF drivers/triggers).
  • Reduce conscious attempts to solve the problem, don’t sit in front of the whiteboard, marker poised until the answer presents itself – because it probably won’t.

Can you recall a time when someone has facilitated an insight for you? Asked you particular questions or just gave you the space needed to think outside the proverbial square? There’s nothing quite like that rush you get when you can finally grasp that elusive ‘AHHA!’. It can be a powerful motivator and spike productivity too.