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At the World Business Forum, Gary Hamel gave a rousing speech about the need for companies to update their management models. An area on which he put a lot of focus was the need for companies to better utilize the talents and passions of their employees. Specifically, he called for reorienting work around “natural leaders” versus relying only on titled leaders. These are people who have earned the respect of their peers, and have demonstrated a capacity for getting things done that advance the company.
And, perhaps for you the reader, it goes without saying that often these people may not be in leadership positions.
But how do large organizations identify these employees? Here’s what Gary Hamel said:
Firms need a system for recognizing and empowering “natural” leaders.
That is a revolutionary idea. Establishing such a system, a system with integrity that measured what companies really want, would be a powerful basis for knowing where innovation emerges. It also addresses a long-term issues companies must grapple with: that as industries face accelerating rates of change, they must be more adaptable. Opportunities change, conditions are fluid, and thus it can be said that an employee’s power is fluid. Who can lead when different opportunities present themselves will vary. A community of employee peers plays a critical role in this.
How about focusing the notion on the leaders, the catalysts in innovation?
Considering this is an area for which Spigit’s customers use our platform (disclosure: I work for Spigit), we’ve developed a point of view about this. Four elements would make such a system useful:
- Ability to measure contributions
- Capture peer feedback on contributions
- Evidence that contributions led to useful outcomes
- Understanding strength and diversity of connections
Let’s break ‘em down.
Ability to Measure Contributions
Basically, companies should have an orientation toward “measuring everything”. As more work migrates onto common platforms shared by employees, the ability to measure content, feedback and interactions is getting easier.
In our knowledge-powered economy, those that provide information play a valuable role in moving companies forward. Understanding who is providing this information is a key activity in identifying leaders in different categories.
From an innovation perspective, there are two types of contributions:
- Feedback on ideas
Ideas are the start. They’re the primordial soup for innovation. Employees who provide ideas, even those that aren’t taken up, are valuable. A rich mix of ideas covering multiple strategic areas from different perspectives is something leading innovators seek. Knowing who provides them is step toward understanding innovation leaders.
But it would be a mistake to overlook another type of leader – those who provide feedback that helps improve an idea. These are people who read about someone else’s idea, and provide knowledge, perspectives or questions that advance the value of it. This is important. Ideas are rarely 100% perfect upon their initial submission. Feedback is vital to the innovation process. It improves the idea, it builds camaraderie.
Together, those that provide ideas and idea feedback are candidates to be your innovation catalysts.
Capture Peer Feedback on Contributions
The importance of feedback on ideas was just discussed. That was in the realm of refining ideas. It’s important to expand the definition of feedback to include both explicit and implicit activity.
Explicit activity includes comments, votes up-or-down and reviews. These are the actions colleagues knowingly take on an idea. Each type of explicit feedback provides a different assessment of an idea. Comments themselves can be rated, as they can be as valuable as the idea itself.
Implicit activity includes the number of views an idea has. The reputation score of a person providing the feedback. Where the idea ranks among all others. The interaction levels.
All of this represents feedback on contributions, and it can be used to assess each contribution separately. Once that assessment is made, it flows naturally to the person who made the contribution.
The combination of both explicit and implicit signals are important for understanding candidates for your innovation catalysts.
Evidence that Contributions Led to Successful Outcomes
This is the third element. While it’s critical that contributions are measured and assessed, ultimately, they must relate to the success of the business. From an innovation point of view, this means ideas that are accepted and implemented by the company.
Even measuring degrees of success goes a long way here. Think of innovation as a process of stages. Each stage winnows the candidate ideas for acceptance. Getting an idea from one stage to the next itself is an accomplishment. Its evidence that:
- The idea was directionally right for the organization
- The submitter got support from peers
Of course, highest honors go to those whose ideas become projects inside companies. The ability to measure these levels of success is important for identifying your innovation catalysts.
Understanding Strength and Diversity of Connections
Perhaps the best sign of leadership is the level of connections a person has. The ability to reach out and access ideas, knowledge and perspectives from a cross-section of an organization is incredibly valuable.
A study by University of Chicago Professor Ronald Burt found that ideas generated by employees with more diverse connections were consistently of higher quality. This is important. It means that companies with an innovation performance culture will encourage increased connections.
Of course, measuring these connections becomes easier with common platforms. The more widely the platform is used, the more valuable it is in terms of fostering these connections. Formal connections between two people can be measured, or implicit connections, such as who comments on your contributions or votes for them.
Employees with a variety of diverse connections – not just to those in their departments – are candidates to be your innovation catalysts.
Who Are Your Innovation Catalysts?
Ask this question of most executives, it will likely be hard for them to answer. Maybe the head the R&D group. The product team. Really, though, this is hard to know. And therein lies the problem. You’re trying to increase and improve innovation, but you’re not sure who across the organization is best positioned to do that.
Final thought. Gary Hamel expressed this idea
at the World Business Forum:
In the next few years, it will be possible to attach a leadership score to any employee.
Think about it. In an economy and markets that are subject to accelerating rates of change, the ability to pivot quickly and identify innovation catalysts in a given area will become increasingly valuable.
(Cross-posted @ the Spigit Blog)