They can’t read your mind!

If you want people to support your efforts and help you move toward success they  need to know what you are trying to achieve.

Not how to do it. They can figure that out.

What are you trying to accomplish? Why are you trying to accomplish it? What challenges might you run in to?

Don’t assume they know or they get it. We are all busy with our own jobs and sometimes the big picture stuff can get lost or distorted along the way.

Inform them. Inspire them. Invite them to be part of the team that builds your next success.

Taking the time to engage your team, to help them understand what you are trying to accomplish and why it is important can help them get behind the effort.

If you still think they know what you want, ask. Then stop talking and listen.

  • Does your team know why your organization exists or why the project is critical?
  • Do they understand the strategic challenges you are facing this year or expect next year?
  • Do they know the project goals?
  • Do they know who the target market is and why?

Save yourself and your team the frustration and headache. Talk with them. Engage them in discussion about who your organization is – what’s your purpose, goals, challenges, opportunities. Help them to be part of your success.

Invite People to Think

Googling a question may be the quickest way to get an answer, but is it the best way?

If you want to explore a topic, google can help.  If you enter the correct words you can review hundreds or thousands of possibly relevant hits.

But, exploring a challenge with people, even if you don’t use the correct words, can enhance everyone’s knowledge, inspire ideas, open up new opportunities and invite others to support the effort.

Open ended questions help you explore. What, why, how, or tell me about questions invite people to think, to share their insights and expertise, and generate fresh ideas and solutions.  Consider these:

  • What do we know about …?
  • How could we…?
  • Why does this need to work?

Asking closed questions – is, are, will, would, or should questions – generally results in a yes or no response encouraging little or no discussion.

  • Is there a market for this product? (versus What do we know about the potential market?)
  • Are you pleased with the membership drive results so far? (Versus Why do you think the membership drive generated the initial results?)

By asking questions you can encourage an environment that engages people, inspires them to think and encourages them to share their ideas. Isn’t this the kind of place you want to work?

“When faced with a challenge, get smarter.” ~Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.

Do your relationships limit your innovation?

Is there a short list of people that you turn to when you need to get something done?  After 15+ years in the nonprofit world I’ve built relationships that I depend on. We all have go to people who can help us quickly. But, to foster innovation, we need fresh and diverse perspectives.

Neil Perkin’s blog post “Why Don’t Big Companies Innovate More” struck a chord.  He notes that organizations work on “a well-trodden path to actors already known to each other” to get stuff done. In association’s we are guilty of this. It is easier to work in the system with people who understand what we are doing and our members, and in some cases are already in our financial system.

But, using the same old process will typically get you the same old thing. You need fresh perspectives to create something new. This doesn’t mean you start from scratch each time, you can start with small steps.

Here are four steps that can help you infuse fresh perspectives into your project:

  • Invite someone from outside your organization/market to participate in the planning or at least share feedback
  • Connect with someone doing a similar project in a different field and learn from their experience
  • Ask a colleague who you have not worked with to participate in the project
  • Engage a member(s) and listen to their insights

Infusing your work with fresh perspectives will start you on the path to creating innovation.

Build Your Innovation Confidence

Most associations won’t drastically change their patterns unless they are facing a burning platform and have to jump. There is generally too much momentum supporting the way “we have always done it”.  But, this does not mean you can’t innovate.  It just means you have to build confidence, comfort and a plan for innovation in your organization. 

Start with small steps that expose your team to what innovation looks and feels like in your organization. Small steps can be something as simple as having a real discussion about what worked and what didn’t work at your last event and making changes based on the insights, asking your members what they are trying to accomplish and listening, or testing a new process or technology for a project. Small steps will help to build your innovation skills, your organizational confidence and your colleague’s buy-in.

Taking small steps isn’t avoiding innovation. The small steps build innovation confidence. Small steps show your team that you are serious about making change and that you want them to come on the journey.

Small steps are part of leading real change. Take a small step toward innovation today. Here are a few you could try:

  • Have an honest discussion with staff or members exploring “how we could improve ____ (an existing program, resource, process, etc) to better serve members, our mission or the organization?”
  • Engage people from outside your association, industry or profession in exploring a need, idea, challenge/opportunity, etc?
  • Celebrate staff attempting new ideas or activities, even if it didn’t work as planned.
  • ·         Have a “How might we…?” discussion challenging your team to think and explore other ways you can serve a need, address a challenge or embrace an opportunity.

I encourage you to check out David Kelley’s TED2012 video How To Build Your Creative Confidence it is an easy introduction to helping people build their confidence to do something different.

“The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.”  ~ Austin Kleon, “Show Your Work”

What does it take to be a great leader?

This is such a tired question, but stick with me.  The follow up questions posed by Roselinde Torres, BCG in her TED Talk stopped me.  I absolutely love what she challenges us to consider:

  1. Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life?
  2. What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?
  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?

Imagine what we could accomplish if we spent more time exploring these questions. What could your organization achieve if you were surrounded by people “preparing themselves not for the comfortable predictability of yesterday, but also for the realities of today and all the unknown possibilities of tomorrow”?  

Take the 20 minutes to listen to the TED video

How do you create a culture for innovation?

I spend a lot of time talking with people about how they can foster a culture for innovation – how they can structure and align resources and support to encourage innovation in their team.  And I am regularly surprised at the lack of awareness or disregard for dealing with culture issues.

So when I came across Tom Agan’s CEOs as “innovation organizer” concept (HBR Blog: Can’t Find a Steve Jobs?  Hire an Innovation Organizer Instead) I was intrigued.  He claims that executives should serve as innovation organizers that create “environments ripe for innovation.” Makes sense to me, an exec’s job is not to do all the work, but to foster a space where the work can be done.  Right?

So if, you wanted to encourage an environment or culture supportive of innovation, what things could you consider?

1.What do you reward (with compensation, recognition, promotions, etc)?

  • no changes –  just follow the plan
  • small steps – things members ask for or other groups are offering
  • listening to member needs or market trends and developing new ideas
  • partnering with other groups on new ideas

2. Do you acknowledge what staff attempt to do (pilots or new activities)?  (It is a lot easier to do the same old thing than to develop a new way to try something.)

3. Does your team have the skills they need to innovate (facilitation, collaboration, decision making, etc)?

Are you ready for Bold?

How can we do something so big others will have to follow? 

I like this question, it’s a little cheeky.  But, it opens the door to a space many of us don’t venture into…“how can we do something?” not “what should we do?”

How can we make a bold move? In my experience associations don’t embrace this question. We tend to take incremental steps.  While I am a proponent of using small steps to build your innovation culture, capacity and comfort, sometimes bold is the right move.   

Have you considered how can you build your organization capacity for greatness? 

  • How can you ignite your team?
  • What expertise can you leverage?
  • What should you get rid of?

Where is the Fault?

“Which suffers more breakdowns – our products, our process or our people?  Why?”  (Kill the Company by Lisa Bodell).  Most of us have an opinion about what doesn’t work in our organization. But, do you know what your members think? Do you know what your partners think?  Have you ever asked them?

For many years I asked members questions about my association, our products, services, etc. But, I never used this language. I like how it brings these three components together. Sometimes we forget that all three impact people’s experiences with the organization.  You can create the most amazing Conference/Show, but if registration process requires jumping through four hoops or your staff are challenging to work with, members and prospective members might never make it to your meeting.   

Experiences with all three – products, processes and people- impact member experience. Do you know where the faults are in your system?