Tag Archives: engagement

Are you ready to Dare Greatly?

Daring greatly leadership poster
I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, ever since I watched Brené’s TED talk (link). I’ve been experimenting with vulnerability, something I have always found difficult, for a couple of years now (Time to get personal – 2016). This book is the gospel on vulnerability, shame and courage. It is really easy to read and is structured with checklists and summaries throughout.
I thought it would be helpful to summarise some of my big takeaways – though I encourage you to read this book and apply its lessons yourself.
Vulnerability is:
  • asking for help
  • saying no
  • starting a business
  • encouraging my kids to try (even if they might fail)
  • calling someone who lost a loved one
  • publishing your work, sending it out, etc
  • falling in love
  • trying something new
  • admitting I don’t know
  • admitting I’m afraid
  • trying again after failing
  • standing up to peer pressure
She has 10 questions she asks to understand the culture of any group or organisation:
  1. What behaviours are rewarded and punished?
  2. Where and how do people spend time, money and attention?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported taking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how do they show up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning,  trying new things, giving and receiving feedback normalised or is there a premium on comfort?
The space between our practiced values and our aspirational values is the values gap. This is where we can lose people.
In an organisational culture where respect and dignity of individuals are held as the highest values, shame and blame don’t work as management styles. We can’t control the behaviour of individuals, we can only create cultures where certain behaviours are not tolerated and people are held accountable for protecting what matters most – human beings. There is no leading by fear, if we are looking for creativity, innovation and engaged learning.
A daring greatly culture is one of honest, constructive and engaged feedback. However, in most teams and organisations effective feedback is rare. There are two main reasons:
  1. we are not comfortable with hard conversations
  2. we don’t know how to give feedback in a way that moves people forward.
There’s a big difference between mean spirited criticism and constructive feedback: When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection, but when we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss criticism we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to hatefulness, our spirits get crushed.
Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process. She has a great checklist for preparing to give feedback.
I know I am ready to give feedback when:
  • I’m ready to sit next to you rather than opposite you, and put the problem in front of us rather than between us.
  • I’m ready to listen, ask questions and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
  • I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
  • I recognise your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
  • I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
  • I’m willing to own my part.
  • I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticise you for your failings.
  • I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
  • I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

We can tell a lot about how we are engaging with Vulnerability by observing how often we say:

  • I don’t know
  • I need help
  • I’d like to give it a shot
  • I disagree – can we talk about it
  • I did it
  • Here’s how I feel
  • I’d like some feedback
  • Can I get your take on this?
  • What can I do better next time?
  • Can you teach me how to do this?
  • I take responsibility for that
  • I’m here for you
  • I want to help
  • Let’s move on
  • I’m sorry
  • This means a lot to me
  • Thank you
My commitment as a leader:
  1. I want you to show up, to be yourself, to be open to learning.
  2. I want you to take risks, embrace your vulnerabilities and be courageous.
  3. I commit to engaging with you, standing beside you and learning from you.
  4. I commit to be vulnerable, to be courageous and to dare greatly.
“The key to our transformation as leaders is in realising that getting people to engage or take ownership isn’t about the telling but about letting them come to their own idea in a purpose-led way, and our job is to create the space for others to perform. This is a shift from “having the best idea” or “solving all the problems” to “being the best leader of people”.
This is a shift from controlling to engaging with vulnerability – taking risks and cultivating trust.”
– Christine Day, CEO Lululemon
Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and trust. If you want your employees that take responsibility, take risks and have an entrepreneurial spirit, you have to encourage people to try and to make mistakes (and be willing to stand by them when they do).
Go read it and apply her lessons for yourself!
(Brené has a great chapter on “wholehearted parenting” that is builds on these ideas powerfully.)

Reflections on talent, culture, leadership and engagement (Strategic HR Magazine)

At a recent conference, I found myself sitting next to the founder of a rapidly growing media company. She was talking to me about the challenges of hiring and retaining graduates. “What is it with millennials?” She said. “They are so impatient, some haven’t even been working for a year and they want to be promoted. In my day, you just put your head down and did your time.”

Continue reading Reflections on talent, culture, leadership and engagement (Strategic HR Magazine)

Rethinking Innovation in Healthcare

I was invited by a leading global Pharmaceutical company to talk to around 500 of their UK & Irish employees about innovation today. I am blown away by the parallels between healthcare and investment management, in particular the shift from pushing products to delivering outcomes/solutions for customers (and ultimately patients). Here’s the Prezi and a summary of my key points. 

Background and context

Since leaving Henderson, I have made it my mission to help organisations in different industries enable their people to do the best work of their lives, whilst adding meaningful value to their customers, companies and society. I am convinced this is the future of work and I want to play my part in rebuilding organisations to fully utilise and honour the gifts of every single person who comes to work every day.

I believe real value is created in the gap between the employee and the customer, between manufacturing and distribution, between head office and the field. That is where innovation happens and is needed. I am talking about employee led, customer centric innovation. That’s what I mean when I say Rethink Innovation.

The need for innovation

There is a desperate need for innovation today as many companies, in many industries are facing accelerated change and disruption:

  • Historical products are being commoditized & we are facing intense competition putting pressure on margins and making it difficult to differentiate.
  • Technology is developing exponentially bringing huge advances in science, genetics, healthcare, communication, etc. dramatically changing the landscape.
  • Information itself is commoditized and customers have much more information at their fingertips making them more demanding.
  • The general public and customers are disillusioned with corporate self interest.
  • In a world of austerity and low growth customers want more for less!

These are major forces of change on their own let alone when considered together. We cannot do things the way they have always been done. We need to adapt, innovate and engage to survive. We need to redesign our companies, industries and economies for a changing world.

When I talk about employee-led or grassroots innovation, I don’t mean it in the sense you might know it. You don’t need to sign off a big budget, it doesn’t need to come from the top, it is not just about product – launching the next big blockbuster, it is not just the concern of specialists/creatives/scientists and definitely does not need to take years in development.

Innovation comes from the latin word ‘innovare’ – meaning to change. Innovation is the development of real value for customers by developing solutions to their unarticulated needs – through different products, processes, services, ideas, technologies or business models.

Employee-led innovation

Counter-intuitively innovation thrives under constraints, some of the most innovative companies are emerging in developing countries – like India. A leader in this fieldVineet NayaCEO of HCL Technologies India, has built his whole company around employee-led innovation with ‘reverse accountability’, where all employees rate their boss and their bossboss and can hold their management accountable because he believes that all value is created between the employee and the customer. It should not be surprising that technology companies lead the way in this given the internet itself is incredible adaptable, innovative and engaging.

I believe anyone can be creative and I believe that innovation is everyone’s business if our companies are going to adapt, innovate and engage. When all employees have permission to innovate with customers at the centre of everything they do – that’s where the magic happens!

Fostering innovation communities

The key to engaging staff in innovation is to bring together different people, with different perspectives in small groups to vent frustrations, share problems, challenge dogma and channel ideas. This must be supported by leaders, must be recognised and be fun/inspiring in order for people to volunteer their time, creativity and energy.

You will need to draw on different perspectives, really listen to customers and others internally and externally. It is by encouraging and empowering lots of people to deliver lots of small ideas with minimal cost/risk that momentum is created. It is critical that the leadership team continually encourage participation, remove barriers and celebrate successes.

To set up an innovation community you need to:

  • set a strategic context around critical business problems
  • educate how this new way of working will fit into/around existing work & how it will differ (with both management and employees)
  • support members with light touch coaching and adequate infrastructure
  • get going with a pilot to experiment, learn, review and deliver some quick wins
  • ensure your leadership team continuously encourage participation, celebrate successes and build legitimacy in the organisation by removing barriers
  • build alignment by integrating innovation into the organisational habits and culture

Making innovation everyone’s business

It is human nature to be myopic and to look at things from our own narrow viewpoints. However, when we look at the bigger picture, when we look beyond our boundaries, and consider different perspectives we start to see things differently. Perspective is a powerful thing. Innovation comes from changing your perspective, drawing on different perspectives and thereby thinking differently.

It is all too easy to stick to what you know and who you know, but if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got. If you want to adapt, innovate and engage, you need to intentionally include people with different perspectives, with different experiences & expertise; intentionally draw on customer insights and other industry perspectives. Only then can you start to see what others have missed.

Fostering innovation communities gives all employees permission to do things differently, to challenge dogma, to vent frustrations, to get different perspectives, to share best practices, to have a safe space to experiment, to take risks and to fail fast, learn and adapt. Employee-led innovation is energising, refreshing, engaging and you will be blown away by how many people volunteer the gift of their time, ideas and enthusiasm to further corporate goals and complex industry challenges. If you can get it right, your employees will thank you for investing in them and for helping them to do the best work of their lives.

To read more about ‘innovation communities’ – click here.

Innovation Communities: Turn the hierarchy upside down!


It should come as no surprise that employee loyalty has been deteriorating over the past few years given companies’ responses to the economic downturn. Ongoing layoffs, pay freezes and limited development opportunities have compounded employee disengagement. Meanwhile, firms are desperate to reenergise, reengage and motivate staff. In this blog I explain how to foster ‘communities’ at work to build engagement with your employees, whilst aligning them with your strategic goals and fostering a culture of innovation.

Crowd-source ideas from your employees 

The way we design and organise our companies by specialised roles, distinct titles, functions and layers of management is very effective for delivering consistency, quality, precision with good process and governance. However, it is not a very good system for co-ordination, idea generation, problem solving, motivation, communication or innovation. Most organisations struggle with silos and have developed matrix structures to try and overcome these limitations but often end up becoming gridlocked.

A ‘community’ on the other hand is a group of people that share a passion, skill or interest. Most organisations will have numerous informal communities based on interests, social events, faith, etc. People get a tremendous sense of belonging, support and energy from their communities both within and outside of work.

“In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness”. – Wikipedia.

However, very few companies use communities formally as part of their organisational design. There is a tremendous power in communities to bring employees together, to draw out skills, to generate ideas and to solve problems. A small group of leading edge companies are experimenting with communities as cross-functional think tanks, bringing employees together to work on strategic problems motivated by their own passions and skills, creating natural centres of innovation.

Where good ideas come from

Research suggests that best ideas emerge over time and spend most of their time percolating as partial ideas and hunches. The catalyst to developing them into fully formed commercial ideas is to have your hunches collide with others. Ideally you want lots of different people with different partly formed ideas of their own to collide with frequently.

It’s no surprise that a lot of innovative companies think about the design of their physical space carefully given that tea and coffee rooms, libraries, book clubs and pubs have been big idea labs through history. These days social media brings diverse minds together to collaborate, share ideas and find new solutions. In my experience organisations need both physical communities and online virtual communities.

Diversity beyond box ticking & quotas

Many companies fail to meet their potential or capture opportunities because of a failure of imagination. Developing scenarios for the future, thinking about what might happen, developing multiple futures are important methods for being prepared for change within and without. To do this effectively we need different brains with different approaches and experiences. Each of us is limited by our own mental models that need to be questioned in order to help us see things differently.

To change mindsets we need visibility of our expectations, we need to stir our underlying assumptions of what is/is not acceptable to us. We need to be challenged. Whenever you find yourself or those around you lacking perspective or unable to appreciate alternative approaches, ask yourself:
– What assumptions and truths underly your idea of best/ideal?
– What can it not be and not do? What is ruled out?
– What ‘good’ is there in what you have rejected/dismissed?

By surrounding ourselves with diverse people in a culture that encourages debate and questioning we become open-minded, extend our imagination, generate new ideas and gain humility.

Removing the stigma from failure

“If we are too scared to make mistakes we will never learn anything new.”

Leaders need to encourage managers and employees to dare, to try and to take risks knowing that if they get it wrong they will not be hanged. In these difficult economic times when the world is in desparate need for new ideas, new products and new businesses, employees are most fearful of losing their jobs which inevitably crushes risk-appetite, innovation and creativity.

Leaders have to show vulnerability and create an environment that doesn’t look down on failure. Ideally, leaders should show they can make mistakes too and emphasise what they have learnt from failures rather than presenting themselves as infallible. Leaders need to define a safe space where employees can make mistakes and reflect on lessons learned. Communities at work can offer such safe spaces where employees freely explore new ideas without the fear of failure or judgement.

The reason that so many organisations fail to create a sustainable innovation culture is:

  1. Innovation does not have top table sponsorship
  2. Innovation is often everyone’s concern and no-ones responsibility
  3. Ideas from senior people always get more representation

The role of ‘ Innovation Communities’ in Business

The best people to generate new ideas are those that are frustrated, that want to agitate for change and struggle with bureaucracy. Communities offer flexible structures where different people come together regularly to share and debate topics of passion.

Leading organisations regularly harvest the best ideas once or twice a year into a different mode for testing, delivery and implementation. Communities allow companies to draw upon different people, with different skills and different ideas for lots of different strategic problems, selecting only the best ideas to get budget, authority and focus for implementation each year.

Companies that are experienced in creating innovation communities know that creativity comes in seasons. There’s a time to harvest your ideas and there’s a time to let the field sit fallow.

Foster innovation communities in your company if you want to:

  • bring people across the business together
  • achieve something significant that cannot be done incrementally within business units
  • engage and motivate employees at all levels within the company
  • tap into client and employee insights
  • help people to do the best work of their careers
Further reading:
1. Upside Down and Inside Out: Reinventing Management for a Networked World by Gary Hamel, Founder M. Lab, Consultant and Management Educator, Author – Future of Management, Faculty of the London Business School
2. www.managementexchange.com
3. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, & William Snyder,  (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002). 


Get in touch: If you want to know more about fostering communities at work – [email protected]

Share your thoughts: How do you/your company engage employees in coming up with new ideas?