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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Treating Your Employees Like Turtles Can Smother Innovation | Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, Fast Company

In their article, authors DeRose and Tichy use an analogy about the mistreatment of pet turtles to explain how employers can promote creativity among their employees. They write:
If you buy a turtle and put it into a small aquarium, it will stop growing to accommodate its limited living space, regardless of how large it might have potentially been. This is a phenomenon that often outrages animal activists because urban apartment dwellers who fancy diminutive turtles typically don’t look after them very well. In truth, the turtles stop growing because they not only have limited room to reach their potential but are also malnourished and poorly treated.
The authors explain that companies stunt the personal growth and organizational contribution of frontline employees when those employees are boxed in by rules, bureaucracy and hierarchy. They write:
When middle managers and senior leaders claim that frontline leaders lack the necessary strategic context or see criticism of organizational processes only as resistance to change, they have the same limiting effect as the turtle tank. Employees never achieve their potential and the organization misses out on great ideas and potential innovations.
The article continues with examples of how four companies--Amazon, Facebook, Steelcase and Ritz-Carlton--have encouraged innovation by their employees.

And the authors introduce a five-step process to harness "the ingenuity, innovation, and emotion of their largest group of employees."

Summarized, here are those steps:
  • Connect the front line to the customer strategy. ... If front-line employees can’t see how to connect their daily reality and the organization’s capabilities to delivery of the customer value proposition, no strategy--regardless of how elegant--will succeed in practice. ...
  • Teach people to think for themselves. Helping employees understand how to make customer-friendly judgments while protecting the business’ long-term health is the cornerstone of building a frontline-focused organization. ...
  • Experiment to implement. ... Many companies have unlocked millions of dollars of value simply by offering frontline employees the autonomy, resources, and a methodology to put their ideas into practice. ...
  • Break down the hierarchy. ... Becoming a frontline-focused organization requires eliminating the detrimental aspects of hierarchy epitomized by overbearing HiPPOs [Highest Paid Person’s Opinion]--disrespect, intimidation, and oppressing opinions--through the careful use of language, data, and open discussion.
  • Invest in frontline capability. ... Too often, companies under-invest in both their frontline employees and the supervisors who manage them.
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This article is featured today, Oct. 30, in my daily paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

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