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The “Price” of Innovation: No Free Lunches

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Innovation. The very word conjures breakthrough products, magazine covers, and celebrity status. But those associations are too good to be the whole story. It requires a closer, more balanced, look. Innovation comes at a cost to leaders, teams and the organization.

Organizational Culture and Policy Change

Attention to measures, accountability and efficiencies have dominated organizational initiatives in the last few years. Innovation thrives on exploration, curiosity and discovery, rather than productive performance. It takes time to identify new options or synergies. Google and 3M are known for providing some of their employee’s discretionary time. How much time are you willing to provide? Which employees would be eligible? Can you shift from a short-term mindset to a longer time frame to develop and test those ideas? What changes to your reward system are necessary to support and maintain innovation?

Change in Leadership Practices

A leader’s role is typically defined as setting goals and measuring performance. While coaching and analytical thinking have been added in the last decade, leading for innovation requires additional skills. Engagement, risk taking, supporting setbacks and building resilience have become critical to innovation.

Overcoming the fear of failure or the stigma attached to anything less than stellar success stems from leaders who are willing to challenge thinking and insist on asking hard questions. One leader I worked with had a practice of starting each staff meeting with the question: What mistake have you made and what have you learned from it? It certainly set a standard for creative thought. Great ideas can come from any part of the organization. What are you doing as a leader to support the probing questions and assumption testing? You might be surprised what a brand new team member might ask and the opportunities those questions open.

New Support for Collaboration and Cross Functional Teaming

Did you know that the Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison worked with a team? In fact, several of his patents included the name of his teammates. While we have the image of the lone inventor, innovation thrives in teams. Cross-functional teams have one of the strongest track records for innovation. Combining engineering and medicine has provided breakthroughs in cardiology, orthopedics and more. The field of bioinformatics is just one example of how new fields of study can arise at crossroads of traditional functional definitions. What kind of teaming are you relying on? Is the team’s culture based on competition or collaboration? Is it siloed in one functional area or expanded across areas of expertise. And, how is teamwork rewarded?

Stand Up for Cancer Research efforts (SU2C) have demonstrated how the hero inventor must be transformed into a more collaborative effort not only across disciplines but also across organizations. Instead of researchers striving to be singled out for a Nobel Prize, the need to digest a torrent of data and complex interactions mandates a different approach across research centers. How can leaders build teams, overcome turfdoms, and create collaboration to identify new opportunities and solve intricate problems?

Is Innovation Worth the Price?

Recognizing the fact that there is a cost associated with innovation, does not mean that the costs outweigh the benefits. The pay-off in market leadership, new business models, product introduction and extension, service to customers and personal significance more than compensate for the adopting the quest for innovation. Just because a lunch is not free, does mean that you forgo the meal. It can still be a delicious delight.

Which is More Detrimental: Power or Powerlessness?

Working the System Instead of Fighting It

Mastery is Merit

Degrees of Separation: Leveraging Personal Power

Untapped Power of Recognition: Investing in Praise and Feedback


One of the most effective forms of organizational power in today’s workplace is recognition power. However, in speaking with countless executives and supervisors over the years and as confirmed in our recent survey, I’ve realized an unsettling trend: recognition power is often the most overlooked.

Expanding recognition power enhances engagement, satisfaction, employee retention, collaboration, innovation, performance. Why would a leader neglect such a powerful leadership tool? Too often recognition is confused with tangible rewards so the short- and long-term benefits are missed.

Let’s explore the potential behind recognition power.

What is recognition power?

Some leaders think recognition is limited to tangible rewards – a bonus, a raise, a promotion – and consequently ignore the intangible power of praise and recognition.

One leader told me, “They get a paycheck and an annual review, that’s enough recognition.” News flash: These are not enough. In a 2010 Harvard Business Review brief, researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer explained that most people today are motivated by a sense of progress. In particular, the  younger generations – the Gen X’ers and Millenials – thrive on constant praise, recognition and feedback.

Without recognition, high performers revert to being average. If excellence receives little response, why put effort into any task?  Why use discretionary effort or display initiative?

Benefits and examples of recognition power

Recognition takes time rather than money. It can actually be quite easy. The following are some effective examples I’ve seen implemented to achieve different results:

1.) Recognition from customers

A study of nurses found that hand written thank you notes was the most meaningful recognition possible. For call center customer service representatives,  it was a weekly printout of voicemail surveys praising them.

2.) Recognition from the team

Instead of relying on management to recognize performance, the team can provide timely and specific recognition. One director I’ve worked with would have a quick, five-minute meeting on a Friday afternoon and ask, “Who helped you this week?”

When someone spoke up the person they thanked was given a Klondike bar – a Klondike bar!   The simple act boosted engagement and created a culture where the staff recognized each other.

3.) Recognition as respect

A labor dispute was brewing because a plant leader didn’t say a simple “hello” to his workers. Many in the workforce interpreted this as disregard. The simple act of informing an introverted manager of how his action was being interpreted changed the tone and contributed to improved trust, respect and communication.

4.) Recognition as visibility and pride

Another form of recognition is when a worker’s performance is recognized by upper management. For example, when an employee prepares a key report, recommendation, or suggestion, he or she should have his or her name on the report or be asked to attend the meeting wherein it is presented. This not only offers intrinsic pride but also increases confidence and sustains excellence.

5.) Recognition of innovative thinking and initiative

Organizations require innovation to stay competitive and effective. If you want to foster a culture of innovation in your organization, then you must recognize initiative, not just outcome. One leader would start her staff meeting by asking, “Who has tried something new?” This simple question set an expectation that out-of-the-box thinking was important, even if the idea was not a slam dunk success. After all, the Lisa computer was the precursor to the Mac. We have to recognize those who overcome any fear of failure by speaking out, by engaging people and issues, and by proposing new solutions and alternatives.

While recognition is not currently a common practice, it is one that sustains performance, encourages thinking, and supports initiative. Recognition has a return on investment that every leader must recognize. What additional approaches or techniques have you seen or used to recognize others? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Superheroes and Supervillains: Command and Authority Power

Command and authority power result in speedy compliance, clear direction, and action. Using the “do it because I said so” approach rarely requires discussion or heated debate.

However, the “salute and execute” approach can be very helpful. During a crisis, the use of command power saves lives and organizes action. In the case of Hurricane Sandy or another critical safety issue, the use of command is a natural, effective, and reasonable approach.

Moviemakers create our superheroes. From Iron Man to Superman or Spiderman, they give directives to help others. We also associate command power with movie villains, from Darth Vader to the Godfather. In the Lord of the Rings, the search for the one ring of power pitted the good Hobbit Frodo again the lidless eye, Lord Sauron. Their dictates and motivation stem from greed and ego.

Command power: decisiveness, direction, and clear expectations

Despite a negative reputation, command power can aid others, create positive outcomes, and direct needed resources to the most critical problems. Medical triage might be one example. Doctors yell assessments about who should be treated first.  The other medical staff follow their directions and save lives.

While events like the 2009 crash of US Air 1549 happily do not happen as often as medical triage, it highlights again the benefits of command power. When the geese hit the engines shortly after take-off, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed his disabled plane safely on the Hudson River. His decisive actions saved 155 lives.

In the corporate world, command power can provide clear goals and initiatives, create standards, align energies, and ensure high levels of performance.

There is a downside to using command power when the situation does not warrant it. This impersonal approach can create passivity, low levels of risk taking, and withholding information. It can also breed fear and crush personal motivation.

Authority power: clarity and unity vs. bureaucracy

Organizations grant authority power by title, position, and office space. Pay and perks, including furnishings, are metered out by position and title. In some organizations people of a specific rank prefer to speak only to those of an equal rank or higher.

The popular series Downton Abbey lays out the hierarchy not only upstairs but also downstairs. The “this is the way it is to be” approach clarifies the chain of command and responsibilities without regard to personality or personal connections.

With military, police, fire and medical staff, uniforms are a part of their authority. But even those without a uniform feel the role they play when they accept a title. Each title – professor, board chairperson, or elected mayor – has a role to play. Each recognizes the duties and obligations that accompany a position.

Organizations tend to use authority power to ensure appropriate decision review, set a direction or goal, or create unified action for goal achievement. However, authority power can become a morass. In one organization, there were seven signatures up the chain of command required to hire a security guard. Other war stories about approving travel reimbursement or multiple rejections of key decisions due to the submission of an improper form become part of one organization’s lore. It also creates a cumbersome bureaucracy that creates barriers to success.

The election of Pope Francis offers interesting insight into authority power. The pope has infallible power and substantial public and private obligations. In the first month after his election, there are signs that he will break from some traditions and practices as he sets a model of humility and service. It may be that a pope can serve just as well without wearing red shoes.

When those in authority rely on authority all the time, they are playing a dangerous game. The trump card of authority has its limits. It cannot produce commitment, loyalty, or develop future leaders.

To use power effectively it must match the situation. While it might be tempting to rely on one or two power levers, all seven must be in your tool kit. What are the signals you observe that tell you when to use which of the power levers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.