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May 4, 2020 / Blog / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation / Mariposa Articles / Stress / Work-Life Integration

UPDATED: Creating and Sustaining Workplace Culture (for Now and the Next Normal)

by Sue Bethanis, CEO/Founder of Mariposa, sueb@mariposaleadership.com@suebethanis

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

Culture is the cohesiveness that shapes a company. I like to describe culture as the “ways things are around here” and see it as imperative to your company’s success — just like strategy, structure, and operations.

Understandably, in the past month, conscious attention to culture might have fallen by the wayside as your company had to abruptly move from an office work environment to WFH (work from home). You’ve probably been mired in contingency plans and focused on getting situated. If you’re a parent, homeschooling has taken much of your time and energy, and you’re probably still overwhelmed by it (and it’s really okay). Many of you are mastering videoconferencing and finding your team’s productivity sweet spot. Some of you are relishing being at home because less distractions equates to higher quality output. And we have heard that for all of you, it’s been tough to create the “water cooler” on Zoom (or Teams or Slack or Hang-outs), and certainly the “way things are around here” is markedly different now. There is no “here” because there is no office; collaboration is more challenging, cultural artifacts (like snacks to share, those comfy chairs by the window, elevator signage, even the cool color schemes) have faded away; and heightened stress and anxiety from isolation, uncertainty, and/or fear has come into full view.

In this essay, I want to address how you can put more attention on culture now and for the future (the “next” normal); it’s a future that is going to look very different from before Covid-19. If you can put solid practices in place now, and at the same time, design for the future, your team/organization will be better set up for success; you will also be able to cope with stress better and create loyalty and inspiration that will have a lasting effect. Creating consistent cultural rituals, for example, will be the things that people will remember you for. They’ll remember that you checked in with them every week just to be sure they were doing okay. Or that you spent extra time to work out a problem with them regarding a customer. Or that you showed genuine sensitivity when a team member ’s loved one got sick.

Let’s look at three areas of culture: 1) consistent communication practices, 2) morale boosters, and 3) design. These practices are associated with three important and far-reaching cultural values: productivity, engagement, and innovation.

Consistent communication practices (to be productive)

Much of what I am going to suggest here are practices we are hearing from our clients. We have a nose-to-the-ground knowledge because Mariposa has 12 coaches who collectively work with approximately 110 leaders, and we have many HR partners. We have a pretty good handle on how tech leaders are coping with Covid-19, and I want to share what we consider the best practices.

Messaging: Clear constant messaging is vital from the top of your company. I can’t emphasize this enough. Make your messaging a newsletter or a personal email and make it weekly. Directs and employees want transparency, and they want to hear from you as often as possible. Further, if you’re not the head of your company, demonstrate clear leadership with your own team, and email/phone/Slack/Zoom to ask the CEO to be consistent and transparent.

Communication Channels/Tools: Review all the ways people can effectively communicate now and get clear about how and when teams will use each method. For example:

  • How will they communicate real time? Phone, vidcon, etc.
  • How will they communicate asynchronously? Email, chat, text, etc.
  • How will they think visually together?
  • How will they share content?
  • How will results, recognition, progress be posted/shared?

Meetings: Make all meeting types clear and whatever you were doing before Covid-19, double it; this will demonstrate the value you are putting on communication and connecting. This uptick in communications is not intended to be micro-management; you will need to trust team members and use the time to support and align on expectations and intended outcomes. For example:

  • Have a 15-minute daily video huddle at 9am, and end with one at 5pm. Use it as a way to get clear on goals for the day and any important updates.
  • If you used to have 30 minute bi-weekly 1-1s with each of your directs, make them weekly. Ask each time, “how are you doing?” Or “how are you holding up?”
  • For team meetings, take the time to let everyone check-in and establish clear agendas, actions, and document any actions taken away. For these check-in’s you might try one question each time and hold people to a minute:
    • What’s been hard to navigate lately?
    • What’s been a silver lining in WFH?
    • What’s an achievement you can share?
    • What have you learned about yourself in the last week or two?
  • Use a consistent virtual collaboration tool, to keep meetings fresh and ideas plentiful. We like Stormboard.
  • You can’t do “walk arounds” anymore, but you can do “call arounds” while you’re taking a walk in your neighborhood. We are hearing that team members are already growing tired of formal video meetings all day. So, pick up the phone and call instead, and suggest that you both walk and talk (or talk and walk). Also consider this practice for skip level meetings. Walk&Talks are the one practice that leaders and employees covet the most and the one they hope to continue, for sure.
  • Simulate the “water cooler” by using a Slack channel or Zoom for one hour a day. As the leader, you’re there, and encourage others to stop by and gather around. (And some very collaborative, smallish teams are keeping a Slack or Zoom channel open from 9-5).

Scheduling: I just outlined a lot of meetings; at the same time, it’s important you don’t over rotate on meetings. Choose a few and do them well and consistently. Get input from your team(s) and identify scheduling norms that will work for most everyone. (These will likely change as you transition through different phases over the coming months.) The very best tip we have heard from clients is one from a VP of a 200-person service organization: Two weeks into their now eight-week WFH policy, he highly encouraged (instituted) a 9-12, 2-5 meeting schedule. He did this to give time for parents to be with and teach their kids, have lunch with family, and to emphasize self-care and mental health. This schedule has contributed to great success. Their overall productivity is up, and they are now planning on a WFH approach for the foreseeable future. It has completely changed their thinking and orientation. Put simply, this has changed their culture.

Morale Boosters (to engage)

Morale is a critical component of culture. It is the outlook, attitude, satisfaction and confidence that team members feel working together and working for your company. For many, work is a not just work; it’s social, too. A lot of people — especially single employees — depend on work colleagues. We have heard Shelter-in-Place has been especially isolating for them. Further, getting creative about coping with the isolation is already hitting some roadblocks.

Here are some ideas that our clients have done, and the Mariposa team has generated in a brainstorming session. These morale boosters serve as ongoing cultural rituals that can hopefully carry on once you are “back-to-the-office.”

  • For fun:
    • Virtual happy and coffee hours have been done a lot. Ask a team member to continue to RIF on it to keep it fresh. Change up the drinks, change up the theme.
    • There’s HouseParty – a fun app where a team can get together to enjoy a drink and a game. Give it a try.
    • If you haven’t already, try a best mask contest.
    • Online gaming together.
    • How about sending an inspirational quote every week?
  • For learning:
    • Send each other articles/blogs/videos that are helpful to culture, leadership, teaming, etc., that you circulate once a week. Ask a team member to curate them in one place. Leading effective remote meetings is a hot topic right now!
    • Teach other skills: nutrition, cooking, knitting
    • Use a Slack channel for various things: Share self-care routines, parenting tips, movie tips, etc.
    • Lead a class: Pilates, yoga, weight training. Share your trainer with teammates.
  • For giving and supporting each other:
    • One of our clients — a sales director for a small tech firm — uses UberEats gift cards to get time on their customers’ calendars. Surprise your directs, peers, or customers with lunch or dinner delivery or a gift card they can use for a local restaurant. This supports local small businesses, too.
    • Encourage your team to take walks with each other in their neighborhoods, walking at least 6 feet apart.
    • Use a virtual collaboration tool/white board to post wins, thank you’s, etc.
    • Take time in a regular meeting to allow people to give shout-outs, thank-you’s.
    • Create a chat thread all about recognition.
    • Whatever was working before, amp it up in the digital world.

Design (to understand & innovate)

Cultural rituals like consistent communication practices and morale boosters will go a long way to engage and support your employees during WFH. It’s important to keep the pulse on what’s working and not working. There are various ways to do this, and using a design thinking approach will help you determine what of your company/team cultural values and rituals are most important to keep, and what to shift now and in the “next” normal. Putting together a design team (culture committee) is the first step to innovation.

Culture chair and committee Ask someone to be the Culture Head (guru, czar, chair), who facilitates the culture committee. This committee will be in charge of understanding, developing and sustaining culture values and rituals. The primary role of this group is to be the holder of the secret sauce. Here are some questions the committee can begin with:

  • What makes your company or team special?
  • What are your most sacred values and principles?
  • What is it about the way things were around here (pre Covid-19) that we want to keep?
  • How do we change in our cultural rituals — communication practices and morale boosters — as the work environment shifts?
  • What do we want to add now and more?
  • How do we keep engagement fresh and fun?

And most importantly, how do you get ongoing feedback, distill it, and continuously feed it back to the sponsor, boss, etc., so adjustments can be made. Using a design thinking (Empathy, Brainstorming, Prototyping, Test) approach will be helpful here. Cultural values and rituals cannot and should not be decided in the back room. It requires many voices and iteration. Experimentation is a healthy way of looking at what’s ahead of us. There will be “rolling blackouts” type situations where WFH and/or WFO (work from office) will be more predominant at various times. This means getting clear NOW on what’s most important in your team/company’s collaboration and communication practices, for example, will make it easier as you navigate the scenarios that come next.

Feedback will be especially important when the transition to the “next” normal happens. Because the next normal will be unlike anything any of us have experienced here in the U.S. Other cultures have some experience with it from the SARS and MERS epidemic, and China is in the midst of coming back to offices now. See an example here.

Dealing with the experience of the “next” normal: The “way things are around here” is going to be very different when it is deemed okay from a public health standpoint to start going back to the office. From my research, the common theme among policy makers is that there is no rush: the curve and testing will determine when the economy should open up. #TestTraceIsolate will become standard in our lexicon, and we should brace ourselves for a pandemic summer that includes physical distancing that could last way beyond the summer months.

Here are some excellent resources to learn more about the public policy planning that emphasizes #TestTraceIsolate.

  • Three Harvard’s public health academics view here.
  • Former FDA head, Scott Gottlieb, and his team at AEI here.
  • Earlier this week, California Governor Gavin Newsom laid out the factors he and his team are using to decide on reopening. He explains reopening businesses will begin slowly when both the curve has not only flattened, but starts to go down, and when testing becomes more ubiquitous. Right now, tests are designated for health care workers and those who show obvious symptoms of Covid-19. Ubiquitous testing translates to approximately 10,000 a day for those who have mild symptoms and for those who might have been exposed to someone who has had Covid-19. This type of testing then is followed by careful tracing of others who have been exposed to those who are positive, and then isolating those who are positive (by quarantining). For more details, see press conference here, and summary here.

So what might the first phase after Shelter-in-Place look and feel like? Here is a glimpse into the “next” WFO environment.

  • Coming into the office is purely voluntary;
  • There will be required temperature checks to come into your building and your floor;
  • There will be only 2 people to 1 elevator ride, so you will be waiting in line for elevators;
  • There will be physical distancing in cubes and conference rooms (depending on the size of the conference room, that means 2-4 people in conference rooms with others on Zoom);
  • Odd floors are used one day; even the next (so there can be a rotation in deep cleaning);
  • Alternating when segments of your company/team come in: some come in on MW, others on TTh;
  • Touchless doors; touchless coffee makers (does Amazon carry those?);
  • Hand sanitizer and wipes at your desk and every conference room, and an expectation that you wipe your chair, table, and equipment down every time you transition;
  • Everyone wears face protection at all times;
  • You will be happy to go out to lunch with one colleague, grab a sandwich together, and then walk outside to a place where you can sit at least 6 feet apart (well, unless you are freezing your ass off in San Francisco’s July weather — in that case, you will go to a restaurant inside by yourself and sit at least 6 feet apart from the next table over and be greeted with a waiter with face protection).

Picture all of that for a minute. It has a very different feeling then pre Covid-19, doesn’t it? Safety — both physical and psychological — is paramount. So, in order for a culture committee not to become the culture police, it’s going to take some “experience” design to ensure your culture isn’t sterile, even though the work environment has to be. I have addressed with you previously in this paper about the importance of simulating the “water cooler” in the WFH work environment. Same holds true for the new WFO environment: how will you create the “water cooler” in the “next” normal? The culture head and committee should be in charge of this, and brainstorming and prototyping new ideas is key.

The “next” normal is really a hybrid: In addition to coming to grips with how the next office environment is going to be experienced, there is also the issue of having two work environments (WFO and WFH) — and two cultures — being managed at the same time. Preliminary data from our clients suggests that WFH might be preferable for some employees. Some reasons include higher productivity from WFH (more convenience, time, and less distractions) and less costs (as a VC colleague told me, one of his start-ups could save $10mil in real estate costs). Further, as this article points out and as I outlined above, there is actually a heightened awareness/attention on communication practices out of necessity. Finally, the prospect of office meetings with others — all wearing masks, 6 feet away — might just feel too off-putting for some people.

We all were literally thrown into WFH in the matter of days; and what if this experiment works? There are many levels that have to be considered here, and many logistics to coordinate. There are tremendous implications for real estate, as well as facilities, and IT. My suggestion is that before this becomes more than an informal nice to have — “gee, I would rather just go into the office 2-3 days instead of 5” — that cultural rituals are considered along with the usual operational and workplace issues. What are the communication practices that will work in this hybrid (WFO and WFH) environment, what are the points of engagement and morale that should be considered, and how do we get continuous feedback to ensure it’s working (through design work).

Creating and sustaining the culture you want in this hybrid environment starts with having an elevated role for a culture head, in order to put culture central to your company’s success. Here are some more specific suggestions:

I welcome your feedback, questions, and your ideas. Sharing helps everyone.

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

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June 30, 2017 / Articles We Like / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation

On “Are People More Creative Alone or Together? Trick Question”

Do you think people are more creative alone or together? It’s an interesting question and one worth thinking about. It turns out that your brain doesn’t care because both are equally important.

In a recent Fast Company article, “Are People More Creative Alone or Together? Trick Question,” authors Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane look at the research and say the way to maximize creative potential is to flow between being alone and being in a group – in that order.

What are your thoughts on collaboration and brainstorming?

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June 7, 2016 / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation / Wisetalk

WiseTalk Summary on Empathy, IT, and the Digital Economy

On May 24, 2016, Sue Bethanis hosted Jeff Sussna, Founder and Principal of Ingineering.IT on WiseTalk. Jeff specializes in driving quality improvements through practical innovation.  Jeff shared his ideas about using Design Thinking and DevOps to improve customer satisfaction and operational effectiveness.

Favorite Quote:

“Empathy does not mean wallowing in other people’s pain. All it means is the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. It’s really fairly simple and straightforward.”

Insights:

  • DevOps – In most IT organizations the people who develop software and the people who operate software are separate groups. Software as a service (SaaS) businesses need IT to deliver faster and continuously and this leads to boundaries between these two separate groups to break down. Sussna believes that DevOps is fundamentally about crossing silos and boundaries and getting people to work better by working together- shifting from an old complicated system into something more fluid and dynamic that improves both speed and quality as a result.
  • Design Thinking – After 250 years industrialism we have this very long tradition of how we deliver things and messages. Now we need to learn something new. Companies are losing control because customers are controlling the message and that is a very new thing. Sussna uses an abductive approach to solving problems. This approach is an alternative to analyzing your way to a solution. He shared that it is important to think beyond functionality and that all of the parts of IT and digital business are about delivering service and this service needs to be designed.
  • Resistance – With an iterative approach you start with a hypothesis by engaging a group and allowing them to learn; you are empowering people to adjust and in this process you create momentum. Sussna believes that getting people talking to each other is the simplest and most straight forward way to begin. It is important to create opportunities for them to solve problems together. When you get people together and you give them an opportunity to make things better together, that is an ideal way to overcome resistance.

What We Found Most Interesting:

Leading businesses are making the shift from the complex machine model to the complex adaptive system model. This new model is organized in small cross-function teams with autonomy and the ability to experiment, learn and move quickly. This model also gives us a mechanism for achieving resiliency. The problems we face are becoming more complex with systems and the model organization structures give us a much more powerful mechanism for doing that. They also help us to respond to failure in a flexible and elegant way. The potential is that instead of IT being a friction point it becomes an acceleration point.

To learn more about Jeff’s approach to digital service delivery, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

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December 22, 2014 / Articles We Like / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation / Leadership

On “Research: 10 Traits of Innovative Leaders”

To successfully innovate, companies need strong leaders. As executive leadership coaches, our work with clients in Silicon Valley is inherently tied to helping companies achieve their innovation goals, and that’s why this article resonates with us.

The Harvard Business Review article, Research: 10 Traits of Innovative Leaders, by Jack Zenger and Joseph Falkman, reveals the 10 behaviors innovative leaders consistently demonstrate that make them effective at driving innovation.  We contend that these behaviors are not only key innovative leadership behaviors, but core skills to hone for effective leadership overall.  Read the article now.

Do you agree with this list of behaviors? Why or why not?

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November 30, 2014 / Articles We Like / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation

On “Beyond MVP: 10 tips for creating your Minimum Loveable Product”

Creating a minimum viable product (MVP) is the goal for most new product innovation, and for many of our clients in Silicon Valley. So many decisions go into making an MVP, and balancing those decisions with speed to market is not a small task. With many MVPs failing to leave a lasting impression on customers because their expectations are not met, is there a better way to successfully bring new products to market?

According to Laurence McCahill, yes there is! From a customer experience perspective, the MVP might be an outdated way of thinking about new product innovation. Instead, consider the Minimal Loveable Product (MLP). In the article, Beyond MVP: 10 tips for creating your Minimum Loveable Product, Laurence outlines 10 tips to go from MVP to MLP. In the process, you’ll build a community of users, delight them from the start, and get them talking. The author advocates for design as a critical element, which we love!  Propel the success of your new product by reading this article now.

What’s the greatest challenge you face in creating new products?

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May 15, 2014 / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation

How Can Design Thinking Spark Innovation?

Graphic by mapthemind.org

Graphic by mapthemind.org

Sue Bethanis, CEO of Mariposa Leadership, Inc., led an online webinar, Breakthrough! Apply Design Thinking to Spark Innovation, as part of the Syntax for Change online series, Cultivating Change 2014 Master Class for Change Agents.

Design Thinking is a problem solving technique that has been used extensively and successfully to develop products and services.  However, the principles of design thinking can also be applied by leaders to enable organizational transformation. For example, how do I redesign the value chain to shift from products to services or solutions?  How do I motivate employees to stay engaged and energized in their work amidst organizational change?  How can I involve employees in the change effort? These are not easy problems.  This webinar gave audience members an opportunity to apply the Breakthrough! model (Empathy, Brainstorm, Prototype, Implement) to a real-work challenge.

If you missed this fun and insightful webinar, click the link below to listen to the webcast.

download

For more information, check out our Design Thinking workshops and learn how to to easily move from idea-to-innovation.

 

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April 28, 2014 / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation / HR / Talent Management

Ask Mariposa | Understanding Customers’ Needs

John asks:  Recently there seems to be a widening gap between product development and our understanding of customers’ needs. The products aren’t hitting home like they used to. Obviously, there are many changes we need to make – where do we start?

Sue Bethanis, CEO of Mariposa, responds:

Well, there are many facets to the this question, and believe me, you’re not the only one feeling it; so many people we talk with are zeroing in on this dilemma.  Here’s one idea that may hit home: START with customer empathy, and put on your anthropologist hat. GO see how your customers are using the products on their turf.  You know, Steve Jobs was famous for not conducting Focus Groups, but he still knew Apple’s customers REALLY well.  He was seen regularly hanging out at the Palo Alto Apple store, and checking out how customers were using Apple’s products.

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January 29, 2014 / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation / HR / Talent Management

How Design Thinking Changes the Way HR Implements Programs

Most HR professionals understand the pitfalls of implementing an HR program. To circumvent failure, HR professionals often conduct a needs assessment to inform direction, maybe conduct a pilot program, and then move to implement when given a “thumb’s up.”

A design thinking mentality shifts that. Whether designing a product, service or experience, the core principle behind the success of design thinking is “fail fast.” For HR professionals, this changes how “buttoned up” your program will be before piloting, or even before rolling it out.  The point is to test the program and via observation and feedback, gather data on an ongoing basis to continue to improve.  Why do this?  Because “customer-driven” programs are the most successful.

To innovate the way you implement HR and Talent Management programs, join us in our new Using Design Thinking in HR & Talent Management workshop

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January 2, 2014 / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation

Why Innovative HR Leaders Prototype

Prototyping is not just for product design. Prototyping can also be used for intangible services or experiences, including human resource initiatives. Redesigning your high potential development program? That can be prototyped. Got an idea for branding your talent recruiting experience? A prototype can be done for that as well.

Why prototype instead of using PowerPoint to present your ideas? Tim Brown of IDEO often refers to prototyping as “building to think.” By making the intangible tangible through 3D modeling, ideas are bridged with innovation by using the right brain to liven up the solution, creating space for fresh thinking. The 3D models then become a symbol that can be tested with your employees to gather feedback through interviews and observation. Prototyping also offers a quick and cheap way to “fail fast,” one of the key principles of design thinking. In “failing fast,” more feedback can be gathered upfront and used to refine your idea before investments are made in HR program pilots.

For an experience with prototyping your human resource or talent management ideas, join us in our NEW Using Design Thinking in HR & Talent Management workshop or download our Executive Guide to Design Thinking for prototyping tips.

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December 18, 2013 / Design Thinking / Creativity / Innovation

Better Brainstorming for HR Innovation

As an HR leader, you need to come up with innovative ways to energize, develop and retain your workforce.  You need fresh ideas – many useful ideas – as well as an new method for cultivating those fresh ideas.

In a design thinking process, brainstorming plays a key role in cultivating a plethora of fresh ideas. But we aren’t talking about your average run-of-the-mill brainstorming session, with everyone in the room (hopefully) contributing a single idea out loud, one by one.  This is a frenetic, fast-paced process which sets the stage for creativity!

Here are our tips, based on our Breakthrough! Model:

  • Clarify the specific problem upfront. Set the problem for the group before you begin to guide the brainstorming process.  Examples: How might we redesign the entire end-to-end employee experience of performance reviews? How might we create buzz about our company to a certain demographic, so they know us and know good things about us? How do we ensure that non-comp recognition and rewards are tied to retention? How might we redesign our current leadership development program with Millennials in mind? With multi-generational audiences in mind?
  • Encourage imagination.  Ask your team to think broadly and creatively.  The sky is the limit for ideas!
  • Start alone. Give each person some time to write down a bunch of ideas on individual sticky notes by themselves and post for the group.
  • Break into small groups. With smaller groups generating ideas at the same time, groupthink can be avoided, one person can’t dominate the conversation, and idea generation potential multiplies.
  • Each small group member produces an idea…and another…with limited time.  In a small group format, have your team write ideas on sticky notes and share them aloud one by one without comments.  Challenge your team to produce more ideas after a period of time.

This brainstorming process will result in a broad, creative list of ideas, from which to cull further.

For additional tips on frenetic brainstorming and culling the list of ideas, download our Executive Guide to Design Thinking or join us in our NEW Using Design Thinking in HR & Talent Management workshop.

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