Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 33 – bringing innovators into a business and keeping them there 16

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 3, 2017

This is my 33rd installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-32.)

I focused in Part 32 of this series on the issues of encouraging and supporting, and retaining creative employees that you might already have in your business – who all too often are typecast as if they could only do well at the routine and even rote tasks that they are doing now.

• Businesses can and all too often do hemorrhage talent from their ranks, and without even knowing what they are risking and losing as they do this, as managers in pursuit of the routine in their task completion lists, fail to look beyond that to see what their teams and the people in them could do.

So I wrote about non-managerial, hands-on employees in Part 32, as a source of what could be innovative excellence and for at least some crucial fraction of the workforce in place. And I ended that by noting that I would at least begin to discuss how to better address this challenge here. I will do that. But first, I need to expand out the range of the Who side to this topic as considered here, by including frustrated managers who are stymied as their creative drive and potential go unrecognized too.

Non-managerial employees who do essentially all of the direct hands-on work at any business of any size, are an obvious fertile ground to look through for unrecognized and unappreciated creative potential. There are, after all, usually more people in that overall category than there are people with managerial and supervisory responsibilities in a business. So this is an obvious place to begin – and certainly as hands-on employees tend to have a lesser voice and a shorter reach in expressing it than managers do, and certainly when mid-level and higher level managers are considered. But it is vitally important to look for and identify, encourage and develop and support the innovative potential in the management team too, and certainly in the pool of lower level and mid-level managers in place, who take more orders overall than they give, and certainly within the managerial ranks where their own areas of responsibility and action are determined.

What do you look for there? I would begin answering that question by noting what you should look for in non-managerial employees too, who have managerial and leadership potential, as that means looking for the same traits that you should look for in already-managers who have real potential for further professional growth and advancement. Look for people with:

• Good, strong communications skills,
• Who can work well with others,
• And who do not work in a rut of only seeing their own here-and-now immediate tasks at hand.

Look for the people in your business who routinely see and think in terms of bigger pictures, and how individual efforts fit together, as well as the details that they have to work on. And look for the people there who think in terms of how larger parts of the business do and do not fit together effectively and how and why: larger ranges of the business than are encompassed by their own direct workplace responsibilities.

Note that I did not add wider hands-on expertise or unusually impressive technical skills there as general identifiers of leadership and management potential. And I did not include anything like an ability to expertly do a wider range of jobs hands-on themselves, than they are held responsible for now in that either. This is because good managers and leaders facilitate the people who work with them and under their supervision, to do better at their areas of expertise. And they help them to work together more effectively, and in a more smoothly coordinated manner. A good leader: a great leader excels in organizing larger efforts to meet larger goals in carrying out larger tasks and even when they do not have the hands-on expertise needed to actually take over for anyone on their team.

They do need to know the basic issues and the language of their area of responsibility and well enough to be able to ask the right questions and convey the right information to others. And they need to know enough of the more technical side to what is being done for them to be able to tell when they are being given good answers, incomplete answers that need to be further developed … or obfuscating jargon and the ineffectual and non-answers that sometimes also arrive on a manager’s desk.

• And in the context of this posting, a good manager has to be able to work effectively with the new and the uncertain,
• And when and how to support and advocate for those who seek to create new and positive through innovative effort, and when to more highly prioritize more basic and routine tasks that others in the business depend on their doing and completing.

Look for non-managerial staff with the capability and the interest in moving into positions where they would manage and lead others, developing and exercising their potential in that direction. Look for mangers who could effectively advance to greater and more wide-reaching levels of authority and higher up on a table of organization. And strive to facilitate this and even if you do not have a simple solution as to how right now, with a clearly defined opening on your table of organization at this time, so you do not end up watching your best walk out the door in frustration – and certainly not avoidably.

And with Part 32 and this installment up to here in mind, I add:

• Look throughout your organization for unmet potential that can be developed and encouraged and supported as sources of positive value for your business,
• And look for ways to more effectively capitalize on this potential – and even when that means you’re being creative in finding new ways to do that, that do not simply fit your perhaps cookie-cutter, linear business growth pattern in place.

This does not mean you’re never losing talent and even extraordinary talent from your workforce; it does mean striving to limit that loss and at all ranks in your business where that can realistically be achieved.

And with this 900 plus word start to this posting, I finally at least begin to address something of the How of all of this. And this means delving into two basic categorical types of communications that shape the employee and the manager experience, and what they are allowed to do, and what they are required to do at work:

Structured and even formally structured communications, as arise for example in the context of annual performance reviews with their pre-vetted review forms and protocols, and
Unstructured communications, as tools for arriving at unexpected insight and types of it.

I am going to delve into those issues in my next installment to this series, and use that as a starting point for discussing best practices in identifying and cultivating innovative potential in a business. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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