Now’s the time to critically appraise your team to work out who has the right behavioural traits to help you innovate. You don’t always have to hire new people. The innovators you need might be sat right under your nose.
As some things change, others stay the same.
Irrespective of how long it will take for the world to return to a new semblance of normality, when we get to the other side, there will be things which are different but also things that stay the same. For this article, let’s assume that when you walk back into the office, you have the same team, performing in the same way now, as they did prior to the lockdown.
Fresh business challenges mean that old concerns about employee productivity, enhancing performance and increasing engagement will take on an additional level of importance.
Having innovation as a strategic priority and what it means for how you shape your teams, won’t depend on how your business is being affected but on how you prioritise coming up with new ideas to build a long term sustainable and profitable business.
Where does your business sit today?
Dependent on which camp you sit in, the people challenges and opportunities will feel different.
Camp #1 – There’s been a significant fall in demand for your product or service.
You’ll be thinking about how to increase demand for your product or service or maybe creating something new, knowing that we will enter increased levels of unemployment.
What this means if that if you’ve used natural wastage as your talent strategy in the past (let’s wait for them to leave and then we’ll hire someone superb), the employees who you want to leave (with your blessing of course), won’t be going anywhere. At least not soon.
In fact, you might find that they suddenly become even more diligent and consciousness because fear about the state of the employment market means too know it will be difficult to get another job.
Camp #2 – You’ve seen an increase in demand for an existing product or service or you’re planning to go out to market with something new.
If you’re in this camp, you’ll be needing to hire more people to satisfy demand and the current economic downturn might prove favourable for you.
For example, in theory you can choose from more people, although quantity doesn’t guarantee better quality, and your employment costs may fall. Why? Because you can get away with spending less on job boards as people are applying direct to you and/or you can get away with offering lower salaries as candidates are less likely to haggle in high unemployment conditions. And for the unscrupulous businesses, they may also decrease the time and attention they give to employee engagement using the ‘they should be grateful they have a job’ strategy. This is not uncommon.
Camp #3 – It’s too early to tell.
Do you operate a subscription model business? You may have already experienced some immediate decline in demand however you may not feel the true impact of the pandemic until it’s time for your customers to renew. Possibly, you’ll have employees clinging on for dear life and you’ll also be thinking about innovating and creating new roles which better align with your revised strategic direction.
Think about the skills and capability you need for the future
T here are many business leaders who want to do the right thing by their employees. They already know which team members aren’t right for the future, but being fearful of looking like an uncompassionate leader, may leave them feeling like they’re stuck with what they have. If this is you, then don’t worry, you’re not alone.
But before you resign yourself to accepting the status quo, there are some things you can do that are within your span of control. One of which is take a step back and think objectively about the capability and the behavioural traits needed to both pull and push your business out of this economic downturn. To do this you need to ask yourself two questions:
(1) Other than survival, what would I like to achieve with my business in the next year to 18 months?
(2) Who do I have in my team, or within my wider network that can help?
Therefore, if focusing on innovation, because finding alternative sources of revenue streams, is important to you in the here and now, you’ll want to be assessing any candidates with a critical eye and looking at your existing team through a different lens.
Remember there are many examples of businesses starting, pivoting and innovating on the back of the 2009 financial crisis. What’s App was started in 2009 by ex-Yahoo employees. Groupon started in 2008 and experimented with performance based marketing (commonly referred to as growth marketing) during 2009 to connect businesses with new customers. If they can pivot and innovate, so can you.
Sometimes what you need most is right under your nose
I included the comment about existing teams for a reason.
It would surprise you to know how many businesses sit on what I call ‘gold bars’ of talent, yet because they haven’t spent the time or the resources understanding the drivers of these individuals, they’ve put them in the wrong job.
Increase the chances of uncovering the gold bars in your current team should be your priority.
Back to what you need to look for. I can’t give you all the answers, but I can give you some tips under the proviso that:
· Aside from running a profitable and growing business, you want your team to be happy, productive and feel like they can make a positive contribution.
· You recognise that using natural wastage is like having a strategic priority which says “Wait for the stars to align, for Mercury not to be in retrograde and we’ll act after the next lunar eclipse is over.” Or like me looking at the ‘when I’ll be skinny’ section of my wardrobe, hoping nothing but the passing of time will help me fit into those clothes… which haven’t been touched for the last two years.
· You want to find better ways to realign the resources you have, that doesn’t mean throwing people off the bus, yet still increases the odds of your business thriving in the months and years ahead.
So here we go. #3 traits to look in your employees if innovation is one of your strategic priorities.
#1 They challenge the status quo
Successful businesses that innovate aren’t built with teams accepting the way things are. We all recognise the individuals fearful of change and therefore are more than likely to say things like “That’s not how we do things here.” Or “Yeah, it’s best we the boat.” Or my favourite “Now is probably not the time to raise our heads above the parapet.”
Employees with the ‘challenger’ traits, will question the way things are doing, spot different ways to do things and their sentences will start with “Have we thought about this?” or “I was thinking last night that we could…” or “Why don’t we try this.” Or “I just don’t understand why we keep doing this way.”
An excellent way to test this within your team is to ask them if they have any ideas of what you should do to grow more revenue or to become more profitable. Ask them what ideas they have about offering a better value for money service for your clients or who you could partner with that gives you opportunities to explore broader markets.
You are not looking for the quickest answer, as some innovators are reflectors so they need to go away and think about it, rather than talk their thoughts out loud. You’re looking for the ones that come back to you with ideas, more than one, and where you can tell they’ve thought about the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. Just don’t expect them to come with the detailed ‘how’ although they may have prioritised their list of ideas. Which brings me onto the next trait.
#2 They focus on the big picture
These employees will always be more interested in where they’re going, and by default there the business is going, rather than what you’ve done and achieved in the past.
They will look to prioritise activities and actions, which they feel makes the biggest impact on what you’re trying to achieve. And with the right level of cognitive ability (which is the ability to learn and process new information), they can readjust their sails so to speak to go on a different but forward focused path, as and when new information is presented to them. Change doesn’t phase them and neither does failure.
#3 They are unhampered by failure
Yet if innovating quickly is your priority, you may prefer to have people who are unhampered by failure. These individuals are willing to try to experiment with new ideas, and if it doesn’t work, they’ll shrug their shoulders, try something new and keep it moving. Provided, of course, you provide the right environment that supports that…
This is in comparison to those who are perfectionists. They will want to do things properly and right first time, which means making mistakes will be something they try extemely hard to avoid.
Here are a 3 tips in how to get the most out of your employees (or new hires) who exhibit traits most beneficial for innovation.
1. Give them the space and autonomy to lead. They will resist micro management even if you feel as if you are just ‘checking-in’
2. Agree the parameters up front if you are going to give them leeway to explore and test a new idea. What resources can they use? What budget (if applicable), when do you want to have updates? How do you want them to involve the rest of the team? Agree all of this up front so you can leave them to it.
3. Throw in a good challenge and debate now and then. Individuals wired this way love a challenge and nothing better to engage in some verbal (competitive) sparring. But be prepared, though. They will like to win!
You’re in it together, and there’s a role for everyone.
In some businesses, innovation falls to a designated team or those that have ‘innovation’ in their job titles. If you run a smaller business, this is not a luxury you can afford and I believe it’s also the wrong way to approach innovation.
The beauty of re-examining the behavioural traits in your team mean is that you have a much better change of leveraging the skills and re-energising team members (what I call sparking the will) to achieve beyond their role or where they sit in your hierarchy. You can redeploy people onto other projects, to lead on other tasks where they will excel and in forthcoming articles, I will show you how there are roles of everyone in your team, provided they exhibit the right behavioural traits, aligned to the right roles which are aligned to what you are trying to accomplish.
This is great for achieving more with less. And it’s a much fairer approach to re-align people with roles and projects. When you are ready to take it a step further, there are tools out there which can help you align behaviour traits with job roles, but for now, going through a manual process of re-evaluating your team will still be beneficial.
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