Enemies of Innovation
Look around, everyone seems to be very busy, but are we accomplishing anything meaningful? Are we achieving results that matter?
There are two types of busy, busyness due to meaningful strategic innovation (positive busy) and busyness due to:
Iterations Instead of Innovation
Activity Instead of Results
1) Over Complication
The core to this problem is what I call “Strategy by the Pound”; the larger the strategy the better it must be. If you’re like me, you’ve seen more than your fair share of strategic plans that topped 150 pages.
Who reads these? Who can easily explain them?
There is a great deal of time wasted creating these complicated documents and even more time wasted when an organization does not clearly understand the intended outcome. If the strategy requires more than a few pages, it’s too complex.
Keys to a Successful Strategy:
Clear and Concise, less than 5 pages plus necessary financial appendices.
Can be communicated in less than a minute.
Easily understood by everyone in the organization.
Everyone must have a clear understanding of their strategic role and how it contributes to organizational success.
Strategy is company wide, tactical plans are departmental and should align to support the strategy.
Iterations primarily exist as a risk adverse way to introduce new products or services. Iterations are like fast food, they may fill you up, but they’re mostly empty, wasted calories. Undifferentiated products are more risky because they use up resources that could be spent on real innovation.
Keys to Increased Innovation:
Create meaningful platforms from which to build product innovation and development. According to the co-chairman for Deloitte LLP’s Center for the Edge, John Hagel – “For the most strategically ambitious of firms, an exciting potential associated with some platforms is the ability to change how an entire marketplace operates—and capture more value by doing so.” Check Out his article: The Power of Platforms
Focus on fewer, but more strategic initiatives, market changers that leapfrog the competition.
Segment project lists into new products, extensions/improvements and product maintenance to understand where time is being spent.
Work on no more than 2 to 3 major projects at any one time; of course this depends on the size and resources of an organization. In my experience, when considering day-to-day operational requirements and non-product related projects, most companies can only handle 2 to 3 major innovation projects well.
Resource alignment across the organization. All resources should be aligned to support the strategy. Check Out: Alignment of Strategies by Leigh Richards.
“For the most strategically ambitious of firms, an exciting potential associated with some platforms is the ability to change how an entire marketplace operates—and capture more value by doing so.”
3) Eliminate Meetings
There will always be a need for some meetings, but most decisions can be handled without assembling a group of people for 2 hours. An overload of meetings can be a sign that there are issues with informal communication and departmental silos. Calculate the cost of your meetings at Meeting King.
Keys to Meeting Management
Before accepting and attending a meeting, there should be a clear purpose. How does it move the strategy forward? What is considered a successful outcome? Why do you need to be there?
If the meeting is scheduled for an hour, it should end in an hour, regardless of whether all topics have been covered. Meeting owners will learn to hold more concise and focused meetings or risk missing deadlines.
No Technology – No mobile phones or computers. Although they may help in some ways, inevitably the distraction created is a much greater waste of time.
Destroy Silos – If communication naturally flows freely, there will be less of a need for meetings.
Start on Time – I once worked for a company that charged $1 for every minute a person was late for a meeting. It’s not a large sum of money; but the point was that we have gathered a lot of expensive people together; there is a high cost of waiting for everyone to show up. As a result, it was very rare for someone to be late.
Decide and Execute – Push decision making to the lowest level possible. Let go, if there is a focused strategy, tactical plans are in place, and goals set, there is no need for managers to be involved in every decision and therefor less of a need for meetings. If it is necessary to review and achieve consensus on everything, then you have not hired the right people.
4) Meaningful Results
Busy is not the equivalent of hard work and hard work is a waste of time without meaningful results.
I often hear “their not busy” or “what do they spend their time doing?” Yet, many individuals that don’t appear to be busy are actually creating the most meaningful results. These individuals focus on what matters and eliminate the meaningless work that consumes their limited amount of time.
Keys to Meaningful Results:
Let employees work when and from wherever they want. It’s all about getting the work done and achieving results. If the results are there, who cares when and where they’re achieved?
Everyone needs time to think and reflect. This is key to creating new ideas.
Stop worrying about whether employees look busy or are in the office after 5:00.
5) Email – The big sinkhole of the business world.
Email is like any other tool, when used correctly it can be very useful, but email has reached a point that is crippling organizations and wasting hours of resources everyday. It’s not just checking the mountain of emails, but the distraction it creates and the time required to get back on the task when you’re done. According to Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, “It takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.”
Keys to Email Use:
As a best practice, check email twice a day. Once in the morning (pick a time when you are generally not as productive) and once at the end of the day. If you just can’t go that long, then check it midday as well.
Email is not a form of emergency communication and an immediate answer should not be expected. If you need an immediate answer, call.
Message should be no longer than 5 sentences, unless you’re using bullets. Think above the fold. If you need to communicate more information, then use an attachment.
Create meaningful subject lines to help recipients determine the importance of the email.
No CYA Emails – Only include those that are necessary, adding a person to “cover your ass” wastes a lot of time. Independent research by Atos Origin highlighted that the average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal emails, which adds no value to the business. Check Out 25 Tips for Perfecting Your Email Etiquette
“It takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.”
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but busyness is costing companies billions and it’s time to rethink our approach or continue wasting valuable resources on non-productive work.