Tuesday, December 22, 2009

To avoid conflict; To confront conflict; That is the question.

Do you avoid or confront conflict in the work place? Today’s example: As a manager, how do you handle jealousy in the office when an employee finds ways to do their job more effectively outside of the office walls?

I recently spoke with a young professional who just faced this challenge. For the last 5 years, he spent about ½ a day every week working from his local coffee shop. He would save all of his mundane/ computer work and high concentration writing for that opportunity. He would drink 3-4 cups of coffee and get it all done in one chunk of time. He claims that the caffeine boost and change of scenery made the mundane go faster and improved his ability to write complicated summaries or high level communications.

However, he was notified recently that his departure from the office had been noticed by other employees and they expressed concern to their managers. The negative vibe created caused his manager to request that he stay in the office building during business hours.

What would you do in the same situation as his manager?

My response: Avoiding conflict will only reduce the effectiveness of the entire department and further isolate the most talented employees. Instead of eliminating the exceptions to the rule, allow everyone equal opportunity. If other employees are jealous of one working outside of the office, give them the same challenge: “Find a place to work ½ of a day every week that increases your work productivity.” What positive effect might you see in the office?

In public schools, differences in learning styles and performance are recognized and programs like “Gifted and Talented” or “GT” have been created. The programs are designed to promote alternative leaning techniques for those currently being confined by teaching methods geared towards the average student. Taking this mentality into the work place allows for greater personal development and encourages activities that increase efficiency and productivity.

That is my opinion….What is yours?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Who makes the best “Idea Parent” for your innovation projects?

In a recent video blog post by Maddock Douglas http://www.maddockdouglas.com/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1896, Mike Maddock argues that all ideas need a parent to help nurture it and bring it to fruition. However, if the “idea parent” leaves before the end, the idea will surly suffer.

So how do you keep the “idea parent” around to the execution phase? Perhaps the answer it to make sure you use your most passionate and motivated employees as “parents”.

As a product developer with about 7 years experience, I know that I would take it very seriously if I was asked to be the team’s motivational force behind a new product launch. I would also be unlikely to leave the opportunity until I saw it through. I believe my passion and motivation stems from my vision upwards towards a future that is yet to be.

However, upper level managers and executives may not have the same conviction to specific ideas. They have been trained over the years to leave their passion behind and look at the numbers to guide their next steps. “It’s just business” is not something you hear many Generation Y employees saying.

All ideas have their ups and downs during the execution phase. My argument is to make sure you have someone leading the execution whose passion will override any of the daily turmoil and also ensure they are driven to see the concept through to its final stages without jumping ship.
Maybe the best parent for your innovation is a younger generational employee looking upwards towards their future rather than an executive who is looking down from the top of their career.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ready... FIRE... then Aim - How CPG companies should use this principle to target a new generation of consumers.

I recently read a blog posting by one of my favorite innovation firms MaddockDouglas titled Ten Reasons Your Next Launch Will Fail. I agreed strongly with about 8 of the 10 ideas (pretty good I think) but I had particular issue with the suggestion that a “Read, Fire, Aim” approach is bad. After some thought, I came up with a way to explain what I believe is great about the concept and should be given significant consideration. Let me try to explain.

With 7 years experience working as a product developer for CPG companies, I have been part of some great product launches and few where we had developed great products, but the launch didn’t go as expected… being honest, they were flops. When looking back at how our great products could flop in the market place, all signs eventually pointed to the hard to swallow realization that we never did have a great product. How could that be when more than $300,000 in consumer testing proved it would be a great success? Top two box scores suggested that we had the next sliced bread and consumers would be lining up to give us praise.

When you give into the idea that perhaps the product was not the next sliced bread, the next conclusion is that the all important “top two box score” must have been wrong. The research firms would quickly point out that the top two box score had correctly predicted previous success and that there must be another explanation. Well, I believe that Occam was onto something when he developed his razor (click here if you don’t get my reference). The simplest explanation is this case would be that the correlation between previous launches and good test scores was coincidental.

Well, without test scores how would CPG companies like General Mills decide what products to spend millions of dollars on to launch nationally each year? The answer? Ready, Fire, Aim!

This phrase is typically used to describe a speed-to-market approach by launching products into the market before they are perfected and allowing consumer comments or complaints to guide your revisions.

When using the method well, a company would not “fire” without any initial consumer testing nor would they launch a product nationally before it is ready. However, the company would get new products onto shelves in test markets months earlier than currently planned and use real consumer behavior to drive additional product improvements before a national launch.

Peter Erikson, Vice President of R&D at General Mills, gave some great examples in a recent presentation at the 2009 Front End of Innovation (FEI) conference. The new approach followed by General Mills is a great adaptation of the “Ready, Fire, Aim” concept. In the new General Mills approach, they launch B+ products into small markets and allow the consumer to make the final product improvement suggestions before going national. In the example of the Pillsbury Savorings®, Peter Erikson estimated that the company saved a full year of development time by putting products developed by an external partner directly into test. Previously, General Mills would have gone through multiple rounds of internal formula revisions and consumer tests before launching into stores. How did things turn out? After a few months in test market, the Savorings® team had enough consumer insight to adjust the formulas appropriately and launched nationally. Sales have since tripled and more varieties have been launched to fill the increasing demand.

Research like IHUTs (in home use test) or BASIS (Nielsen based home tests) that give guidance based on a “top two box” are perhaps not worth the time and cost. If you are looking for real consumer feedback, just go out there and get it using test markets.

My take on “Ready, Fire, Aim” = Launch more B+ products into test markets and allow your consumer to turn them into A+ products before going national.

Below is a link to Michael Masterson's take on Ready, Fire, Aim. While I have not read it myself, I felt it would be valuable to point you somewhere if you wanted to get more information on this concept.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hiring a new CIO? You may want to look lower (in your organization)

Looking for a shift change in your organization to increase your innovation programs? Considering spending some big bucks to hire a CIO (Chief Innovation Officer)?

Here is an innovative approach to consider: Promote one of your highly motivated, young professionals into the role. Forget about the amount of experience in management roles or their ability to craft an ROI. The younger generation work force is willing to work harder for less money if given the right opportunity and challenge.

Yes, I can think of a few negatives right off of the bat with this approach, but what about the potential positives? How might your innovation efforts improve if you had a younger generation employee who grew up using today's technology working his tail off to perform at an increasingly higher level? The lack of experience could prove to be a major asset to the role as a less experienced employee would instantly recognize that he didn’t have all the answers and would need to reach out to take advantage of other employee talent. A team work approach would happen naturally and would not need to be forced.

Following the Schulmberger model of making new Engineers work for 3 years in the oil fields along with the “rough necks” before getting their desk job, how might promoting from within your grunt forces improve your company’s ability to connect innovation efforts with employees all the way down your organization. Perhaps the fastest way to filter new innovation downward is to start the effort from the bottom ranks. As a highly motivated, 28 year old… I can see many positives to such an innovative approach and would work my tail off to get such an opportunity.

Do you have anyone in your organization like me? Maybe you can’t make them the CIO, but what innovation challenges could you give them?

Taking small steps in the right direction is the best way to make the organization shift you are looking for. How can you motivate your younger employees to take the first steps for you?