How Leaders Can Harness Untapped Potential
Let’s face it, even the most successful companies can become stale. From the first trillion-dollar company, Apple, all the way down to the smallest of businesses, finding ways to stay relevant requires a lot of energy and effort. Fortunately, untapped energy potential lies in every organization that can amplify productivity and engage employees. Leaders can amplify their organization’s power by deploying the following three strategies:
- Agile leadership, to respond quickly and decisively to each variation
- A refined process, to accelerate implementation
- Power from employee potential to innovate
1. Agile Leadership—Variation Is the Norm, Not the Exception
Driving is completely different at 100 miles an hour. The finish line is clear, but targets change instantaneously, based on variables such as track conditions, other drivers, and proximity to the curves. Decisions must be swift and decisive, because a simple misstep, or an unforeseen event, may have an unpredictable and amplified impact that leads to loss in position.
Organizations are similar, but their “finish line” may be less clear. Prior to the Information Age, leaders were rewarded for identifying a roadmap that defined success, then sticking to it. Today, drivers of business must recognize within mere moments whether the variables around them represent new risks or opportunities. The target is no longer clear, because it is in constant motion. Industry changes, competitors, and cultural context all play key roles in success.
Identifying and valuing variation must become a cultural norm, as it increases creativity and mitigates risks. This practice is gaining traction but does not come intuitively to many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. With Millennials and Gen Z making up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, spontaneity, diversity, and inclusion will be intrinsic qualities. Until then, progressive organizations must prepare by identifying the source of employee energy and igniting an innovation culture.
2. The Process—Accelerate Implementation
When racing, it’s critical that processes such as refueling and tire checks are in sync with driver needs. If they are not aligned, the pace slows, and a competitor could take the lead. As SVP of Innovation for two global companies, I witnessed countless ineffective ideation programs, internal and external to our organizations. A common example of misalignment was the general call for employees to “Submit your big ideas!” Companies that encourage random ideas from employees run the risk of discouraging innovation because if the idea is not aligned to strategy, it is rarely implemented. With an already overburdened workload, irrelevant ideas are seen as a distraction. When seemingly good ideas are not put into practice, frustration, demotivation, and disengagement predictably result.
Sustainable innovation starts with a thoroughly defined problem—this ensures ideas are relevant. Relevance accelerates implementation. Imagine being asked to drop what you have been working on for the last six months to try something innovative that has nothing to do with your division’s business goals, needs, or measures of success. Like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unless there is strong leadership support for the idea, chances are, it will be met with resistance and its momentum stopped.
In contrast, consider Newton’s Second Law of Motion, that when force is applied to an object traveling in the same direction, it creates acceleration. And the larger the mass of the object, the more its velocity may be increased. The more relevant, prioritized, and critical an idea is to the organization’s success, the quicker it will be implemented. This simple paradigm shift can turn fluffy, cost center innovation programs into tangible, profit center generators.
For example, when leading innovation at Balfour Beatty Investments, we improved idea implementation by narrowing the process to align with director strategy. We went from “blue sky” ideas to a focused topic of “Identify how smart meters and resident behavior affect energy use in student housing.” With refined focus, existing stakeholders, subject matter experts, and potential clients were included in the ideation process. An emerging leader team used the company’s “i-Lab” process to power employee potential while generating a tangible, useful solution. The initiative ultimately led to new business. Balfour Beatty Investments became more agile because the i-Lab targets changed periodically based on actual needs.
3. Powering Organizational Energy
Without a renewable source of fuel, cars will be stopped in their tracks. Likewise, actualizing organizational potential provides the fuel to execute by leveraging variation and managing strengths. Organizationsthat leverage employee ideas and knowledge meet product revenue targets 46 percent more often and product launch dates 47 percent more often than their industry peers.
Most large companies already use traditional cognitive tools such as Myers-Briggs, DISC, Management by Strengths, or the Predictive Index to highlight an employee’s preferences. While these tools increase an employee’s communications ability with peers, without the relevance of strategic alignment, the tools do not directly address innovation.
Newer tools, such as the AEM-cube, which has been adopted in the U.S. by organizations such as IBM, Yahoo, Apple, Phillips, Altria, Stanford, and Purdue, maps employee preferences to different phases of the naturally occurring growth curve (Sigmoid “S” curve). This cybernetic-based, 3-D model reflects a “heat map” of employee energy as individuals or a team. It matches talent to need, ensuring companies have the right drivers in place for innovation. Employees quickly understand where they contribute most powerfully, and employers identify gaps in leadership.
Success means leaders must be agile, processes improved, and employees energized. These three management strategies are proven to harness untapped potential energy, keeping any size company fresh and relevant within their industry.
Tabitha (Crawford) Scott, CEM, CDSM, is CEO of Cole Scott Group. As former CEO of Military Assistance Company, and SVP of Innovation & Sustainability at global companies Balfour Beatty Investments and Lend Lease Americas, Scott leverages years of successful experience with innovation program leadership, leader development, and powering organizational potential. She is also a published and credentialed Certified Energy Manager and Certified Demand Side Manager, and she is responsible for implementation of the world’s largest rooftop solar community. While helping dozens of companies become more agile, Scott is an international advisor and speaker on energy, change management, and innovation, with several published works.