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Are you listening? The return of Employee Engagement

23 01 2013

employee_engagement“Employee Engagement” used to be a term reserved for the hollow halls of HR departments across the land. You’d hear a client say that was their main goal, and you knew a program was doomed to fail – usually because it was code word for “I haven’t got a clue what to do with this type of social application”.  My eyes would roll, my sleeves would get rolled up, and I’d get down to work teaching them the need to rethink the requirement for innovation goals that would drive focused value and strategic change through their organization.

But that was 10 years ago – and today, as I was sitting down with the CEO of a multi-million dollar multimedia retailer, I found myself reflecting on how much has changed since those days with respects to “employee engagement”.

“Boris, I see tools like this” (referring to the Social Innovation program we outlined to her) “as table stakes for keeping today’s top employee base” she said – the first time I’ve heard a C-level executive say that with full conviction.

Bravo – for she struck the nail cleanly on the head. With social technologies increasingly being weaved into the fabric that is our personal lives – we’re getting used to being heard by the masses – and we bring that desire to be heard with us into the workplace.  As Facebook and the other mainstream social platforms get us used to being influential in a bigger world, the dichotomy of then being ignored in the workplace is increasingly causing friction.

4255321476_93d737a959Where as yesterday’s employees wanted pool tables and quirky benefits , today’s employees don’t just want to be actively engaged in the company they work for, they DEMAND it.

Smart employees want to feel a part of the world around them, want to feel they can influence and enact change, want the transparency and responsibilities that come with active engagement – and if you don’t provide that level of autonomy for them – then someone else will.

These are after all, the table stakes of keeping bright employees nowadays – question is, are you stepping up to the table?

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Gamification in Innovation

23 05 2012

A few months ago I wrote a post on the promise of Gamification in the Enterprise. You can read the whole piece but as a recap, here are some of the more salient points:

1) Gamification in the enterprise is not about trivializing business processes or activities, but rather about embracing a design methodology that taps into an inherent “addiction” inside all of us to the engagement mechanics and format of  “good games”

2) Games surround us everywhere, if we choose to see them as such. Just because we don’t envision the business (and other) systems around us as games; just because we don’t design them as games; doesn’t mean they’re any less of a game – it just makes them bad games that no-one wants to play.

3) The ultimate expression of engagement is the human feeling of enjoyment – where we actively derive pleasure from engaging in a specific activity. What if we could bring that level of engagement into a business process, like Innovation for example, that would have people actively choosing to give up their free time to create new value for the company?

As in the past, a company’s Innovation process has become the best testing ground for new ways to engage the broader crowd – not least of which the history of corporate innovation becoming ever more successful with the increasing size of the crowd they’re able to tap into.  Gamification is no different – and already companies like Citi, Cisco, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt and others have embraced Gamification as a way to redesign systems to drive a new level of engagement within their crowds.

For example – at Citi, we were able to engage more than 263,000 employees around the world in 97 countries in a collaborative innovation challenge that incorporated Gamification techniques to drive a unique process that collected over 2,300 raw ideas, developed and refined 10 of those into full on business cases with accompanying video pitches, and then further refined those into 4 top quality concepts complete with prototypes that were pitched in front of Citi’s top 5 executives to be funded for development.  The amount of collaborative builds was incredible – with each of the top ideas all-receiving input from multiple business units and geographies – something previously unheard of at Citi. And the most amazing part of all? There were zero incentives used to drive that high level of engagement  beyond the gamified design of the challenge enabled by the Spigit tool.  (You can read more about the Citi Ideas Global Challenge here)

But Gamification has impact in every part of the organization and has the potential to revolutionize the way we do business as a whole.  For example – another technique we pioneered here at Spigit is the use of Gameboards – which effectively change good old fashioned process charts like this:

Into this:

The game board approach not only conveys the same information as a process chart does – but also the critical engagement elements of story line, goal orientation, levels, emotions, and more. It enables us, as social strategists, to at any one point in time look at the game board and ask ourselves “Would I play this game”? – a engagement perspective that we never consider in normal design. Why would you ever do a process chart ever again?

As always, there is much more to this concept – but I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!





Should we be starting single sex Innovation Labs?

10 04 2012
Stephen Dubner of “Freaknomics” fame recently tackled an interesting aspect of innovation on the NPR show “Marketplace” . In the show he pointed to a patent gap – namely the gender gap in patent applications.

Apparently women are only responsible for 7.5% of all patents filed and Jenny Hunt, an economist at Rutgers University reckoned that closing that male to female patent gap in science and engineering could have a dramatic effect on the economy – raising it by up to 2.7% – a pretty sizeable gain.

There are multiple reasons for this gap existing – but one of the most interesting ones that were discussed was the relative attitude towards risk between the sexes. Specifically, men are bigger risk takers than women.

Why would this be important? Well, Innovation, after all, is a risky endeavor – with average new product failure rates still hovering at the 75% level, you have to be reasonably thick skinned and willing to “go big” occasionally in order to achieve noticeable results. You have to, in short, have a reasonable tolerance for taking on risk.

Allison Booth, a British economist, cooked up an experiment that looked at the male/female risk gap by measuring the relative risk in choices between various student groups of women and/or men. She found that women who were in single sex groups were exhibiting similar risk profiles to the men who were in single sex groups. However, the women who were in co-educational groups were making less risky choices. It seemed that women were competing more aggresively (by taking bigger chances to win) when they were up against other women – but would defer/dial it down when men were also in the group.

I guess this shouldn’t come as to much of a surprise as you only need to look at the school tables in the UK to see that single sex schools tend to dominate the top of the leaderboards – especially with regards to female education – but does this mean that maybe we should continue this segregation beyond the development years?

Potential legal issues aside, would we gain more from a segregated workforce? Should we start setting up single sex Innovation Labs to maximize the competitive elements that drive creativity? Would we double the amount of innovation happening in our companies by segregating staff into men/women-only divisions?

Sounds counterintuitive – but maybe it would work – what do you think?





Getting Inside the Game – The promise of Gamification in the Enterprise

15 03 2012

[tweetmeme]You’ve probably started hearing the terms “Gamification” or “Game Mechanics” in increasing frequency in your corporate hallways of late. This is especially so if I’ve been working with you, as Gamification theory and practice (not to be confused with the Economics based “Game Theory”) is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the next generation of highly engaging collaborative Innovation programs.

I probably get asked about Gamification (aka the application of Game Mechanics/Game Design to a particular system, process, or program) at least once a day now – Spigit has quite the reputation for incorporating Gaming Mechanics into its product design – and the Collaborative Innovation consulting practice I run at Spigit has now also pioneered the development a host of new techniques and methods to apply Game Design techniques into the successful design and execution of various types of challenges, communities and collaborative competitions with some quite astounding results.

Done properly, it’s probably one of the greatest tools in a Social Strategist’s arsenal – giving great insight into that hallowed (and much overused) word “Engagement”. Yet as a topic it’s rarely understood – and even more rarely applied – properly by most including those claiming to be in the field.

First and foremost, let’s tackle some of the misconceptions:

–       Gamification is NOT the same as Social Gaming.  Whilst popular games like Farmville, Cityville, etc incorporate gaming techniques and could in themselves be the end result of the Gamification process – Gamification itself is a much bigger subject matter.

–       Gamification IS a Social process

–       Gamification IS a design methodology – it’s about how you incorporate Game Mechanics into a system to make it more ENGAGING .

–       Gamification is NOT about specific technology features and functions. Buying Bunchball, Badgeville, or any of a host of new companies cashing in on the Gamification trend and blindly incorporating their software into your website does not make you a Gamification King.

The key to comprehending why Gamification is so important to businesses in the future – is understanding that that there is something incredibly and intrinsically addictive about a well-designed game that engages us as humans at the very core of our beings.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all been deeply engrossed in board games, video games, or what have you – looked up at the clock, seen it was 1AM and uttered the words “Crap, how did that happen?”

A good game not only engages us, but it physically and emotionally satisfies a part of us.  Left alone we will create games from whatever we have around us (“I spy with my little eye…”).. We actively WANT to, and some might even say need to, play games.

Given options, we will choose to spend time playing games above all other activities We will even PAY to play a good game – and we have whole cities designed to cater to our desire to play games!

What if we could capture the mechanics that make a good game so addictive to us, so engaging, and bring those into a business system that actively creates value for the company? THAT’s the real promise of Gamification.

Games come in many forms though – some very obvious (Monopoly, Blackjack, World of Warcraft. etc) , and others not so (political games, dating games, etc).

In fact, if you think about it – we are actually surrounded by games all around us everyday, although most of the time we don’t necessarily perceive or think of them as being games.

For example – take your morning commute – you get up and leave the house with the aim of getting to work on time.  There’s a path to follow, and there are choices along that path:

–      Do you decide to drive or to take the train?

–      If you drive, which route do you take?

–      Do you go the direct route over the hill that can be slower but has less traffic or do you go around on the main road that can be quicker but is more prone to traffic jams?

–      How fast do you drive – do you increase your speed when you hit the highway to make up for your lateness but also increase the risk of getting a ticket that would make you even later? (and poorer financially..)

–      And so on…

You make decisions and take actions to beat your fellow competitors (other commuters) to get to your ultimate goal – getting to work on time. It is, in essence, a game.

Of course, we don’t associate it as a game because it’s not structured and presented to us as a game – but essentially it has the same structure: A goal, a story, a reason to act, and multiple actions and decisions to get to that goal which ultimately delivers you a reward – in the example above, not getting told off by your boss for being late to work.

Almost everything else you do during your day could also be reframed as a game:

–      Lunchtime: When do you leave your desk to avoid the lunchtime rush/get the best grub?

–      Airport Security: Which queue do you join to get through as fast as possible and not miss your plane

–      Travel – Whom do you fly with? Do you go with the most direct flight, or do you go with the one you fly the most in case you can pull off an elusive upgrade?

–      Sales Reporting: What percentage certainty do you report that elusive deal you’ve been working on in your CRM system? Do you raise your boss’s expectation and hope not to disappoint? Or do you low-ball it and aim to surprise?

–      At Work: Which order do you attack your workload to be the most efficient with the least amount of pain (and most acclaim from your peers and bosses!)

–      At Home: How do you get your child to eat the brussel sprouts that they hate?  Cue the airplane game!

Consider that all of these activities you choose to engage in during your day have the same elements as a good game:

–       They have a clear start and end to it

–       There’s a pay-off for “playing” it well and achieving a “win”

–       There’s a clear storyline/reason to play that’s clearly communicated

–       A good activity isn’t repetitive

–       A good activity doesn’t throw complexity at you all at once, but rather in stages with mini-pay-offs to keep you interested and wanting to “throw the dice” until you finish.

And so on.

We play these games, and we “game” these games (incidentally – people “game” every game out there – given the option of two routes with an equal reward, we will always pick the shortest/easiest route to the prize – maximizing the prize wherever possible), and ultimately we win/lose the games we play.

The problem (or opportunity) with most business systems though, is that, as we don’t envision them as games, we don’t design them as games. That doesn’t make them any less of a game; it just makes them “crappy” games that no one wants to play!  

They’re “crappy” for the participants because they’re tedious and unrewarding to play/participate. They’re “crappy” for the business because participation is low or non-existent, compliance to the task at hand is minimal, and because ultimately the system is being gamed for the participants’ benefit and not the company’s benefit.

Instead by building and designing business systems with the mindset that we’re really creating a game, with a specific outcome, and incorporating the same rules and mechanics that naturally engage us in games – we actually end up building a system that is a win-win for all.

The net effect? Imagine creating systems that are so addictive that people will gladly spend their own free time to participate in something that is adding value to the company – and enjoying the challenges involved in doing so.

That they will even give up their own time on the weekends to submit ideas into your innovation system.

Sound impossible? It’s not – we’ve been able to achieve this effect at companies like Citi, Cisco and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as we applied these new design techniques to the practice of Collaborative Innovation at each of them. More on this to come…





The Next Evolution of Open Innovation – What’s Next?

20 04 2011

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This last week I was at the Marcus Evans Open Innovation Conference giving a presentation on “The Next Evolution of Openness” – Getting back on the speaking circuit finally gave me a little thinking time away from building a rapidly growing consulting practice at my new company Spigit and I wanted to share with you some of the key points of that talk over the next few blog posts.

Things change quickly in the Innovation world – and as I was writing the title of the presentation I was struggling whether the word “evolution” was quite the right one – maybe “Revolution” would’ve been a better word to use in the circumstances.

There’s supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse that goes along the lines of “May you live in interesting times” – and I don’t think that times get any more interesting than the business environment we currently find ourselves in.

We live in a time of massive change – both in terms of the size of changes we’re asked to take on, and the frequency with which change now happens.

The recent financial depression has had profound consequences on the businesses that survived. We’ve come out the other end to a world that demands greater accountability, greater participation, and greater transparency than ever before. We’re in the middle of a social revolution where the strength is slowly moving away from corporations and moving into to the hands of the consumer. Where power is moving from the Core of a company to its “Edges”.

As a result, businesses are waking up (rudely in some cases) to a new way of working, a new way of organizing, and a new brand of leadership. Innovation, as a corporate discipline is no different.

Indeed, if we look at the history of Innovation over the years, there are definite trends to be seen:

We started with the lone inventor, working alone to build an advantage that no one else could copy.

If one bright person could achieve an advantage, it didn’t take rocket science to realize that maybe we could put several bright people in the same room and multiply the effect – so we built R&D labs to take advantage of that.

R&D labs worked well, so we started wondering if anyone else in the company had useful input too – so we invented the suggestion box as a corporate tool.

The advent of technology brought with it the ability to ask a broader range of employees than ever before – reaching out across business silos and traditional geographic boundaries to grab ideas wherever they lay. We started putting effective processes around the use of the technology and Idea Management came about.

Innovation Management came along when we then figured out that ideas without execution were worthless – so we changed to focus on an end to end process that drove the ideas we were collecting all the way through a formal pipeline to execution and thus started creating an engine for creating new value for corporations.

Collaborative Innovation brought in the concept that people could add value even if they didn’t have an idea themselves. We started using leading edge social technologies to allow people to work together on building ideas together and driving new levels of value creation.

Open Innovation brought in the idea that the best ideas didn’t necessarily (and probably didn’t) reside solely within the corporate four walls.  So we started to look at sourcing ideas from anywhere and everywhere outside of our  own organizations.

We then reevaluated the innovation process – realizing what was really at the heart of our activities was a robust problem solving process and so collaborative problem solving became the big focus.

When we started considering Innovation as a problem solving process we also then realized that the applicability of what we were doing became broader – we could now push a flow of new ideas across the entire enterprise, building a cultural shift of not just reacting to, but actively driving massive continuous change at all times – We created Enterprise-wide Social Innovation.

So, what’s the next step I hear you ask? For me – it’s realizing that maybe even problems aren’t the right focus – that maybe, just maybe, we need to embrace the larger social revolution and realize that we’re on the brink of a new future for business as a whole.

That future sees companies using Innovation as the gateway drug on their route to incorporating broad level social feedback and input across every aspect of the enterprise.

That future sees us bringing in and co-creating with the masses to create the ultimate engagement model with would-be customers – that of a conspirator or co-owner in the very business they helped to create.

Maybe then, it’s not Innovation that should be Open – but rather Business as a whole.

If  we just follow the trends from the timeline above, we see that there has always been value in building our companies outwards. That there has always been value in continuously increasing the number of people in “the room”, in increasing the transparency of the organization, in pulling the outside in, and ultimately in the engaging, at scale, the broader world around us.

That the leaders amongst us are those who are continuously exploring the boundaries of their companies and learning how to embrace the fringes and edges to drive value at the core.  

Could this be the Open Business revolution at last?

I look forward to reading your thoughts 🙂





Innovation – do you WANT to win? Well, do you?

13 10 2010

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If you’ve never been to the annual Business Innovation Factory conference (#BIF6 on twitter), it’s really quite a trip. More of a mini-TED conference than anything specifically innovation related – it’s all about enabling people to share stories about things they’ve achieved, thought of, experienced, and so on.  The end result is that you don’t necessarily walk away with a series of bullet point “To-Do”’s like you might at other conferences – but you do end up with a simmering pot of interesting thoughts and ideas just waiting to boil over the top.

This year, two speakers said things that stuck in my head and kept me thinking. Such is the way my mind works that unfortunately I can no longer remember who they were – but I’m sure someone will eventually remind me in the comments below this post 🙂

The first of these insights was an observation that, if you have two equally matched sports teams, and one team’s members actively want to win, whilst the other team isn’t bothered – then chances are, the team that wants to win, will do so. Sounds obvious really, but it brings an interesting question to mind when you bring that concept into the business world – which, at the heart of it, has similar competitive dynamics.

If you have two equally matched companies competing against each other, the company that collectively wants to win more – will probably do so. “Desire to Win” is a competitive differentiator in effect.

With that in mind, however – how many of us actively try to instill that desire to win into our employees? How many companies actively engage in “Win Management”? You could even say that what really differentiates a successful innovator/entrepreneur from normal people is that never-ending drive to win “the game” of business.

This is even more amplified in the Innovation world where the risk of failure is ever present and embraced as a part of everyday life. It is a daily competition to beat the odds and win the game of innovation.

Pair that thought up now with another insight from that same conference. Apparently, at any one point in most organizations, only 20% of the staff are actively engaged and enjoying the job they’re doing.  I would personally argue that that number seems a little high to me – and is probably rotating too – that is, we’re not necessarily talking about the same 20% year round, as people naturally go through cycles of loving/hating/being indifferent to their work.

I would also argue that one of the reasons why people don’t get engaged in their jobs, is because their jobs (ie their companies) don’t engage them. They feel like they have no say, no ability to make an impact, no reason to want to win….

So it stands to reason that if a company really wants to win at Innovation they need to both instill a competitive desire to win in their organizations, and to tap into and maintain that desire by actively engaging their population in strategic innovation decisions.

And by “Engagement” I don’t mean just listening to your employees – I mean actually “Doing” something with their input. Business, and especially Innovation – is a team sport – and no one wants to be relegated to being the guy on the subs bench that never gets on the field.

So now you know what you have to do, you have to ask yourself – Do you want to win at Innovation? Well, do you?…





4 people to avoid at your next Innovation Conference

7 06 2010

[tweetmeme]It’s conference season again, and I find myself in the enviable position of being able to attend many of the top conferences on Innovation, Collaboration and Social Media and just soak in the rootin’, tootin’ and high faluttin’ knowledge that pervades the atmosphere at a good conference.

This week (June 8-9th) is no exception –  I’ll be at the World Innovation Forum in New York City (#WIF10 if you’d like to follow that conference on twitter), a conference with superlative speakers, and an equally interesting attendance – and if I’ve learnt anything from nearly a decade of going to innovation conferences, it’s that you can learn just as much from the people attending a conference as you can from the speaking panel. Yet, in the same way that a speaker can turn out to be a bad penny at a conference, so can your interactions with fellow attendees.

Over the years, I’ve started to realize that I’m now able to process who’ll be interesting, and who won’t, pretty quickly and thought I’d share my observations with all of you, so that you can tell the “Makers” from the “Fakers” at the conferences you go to.

Innovators come in all shape and sizes, so pointing out physical attributes to look out for won’t work – that guy dressed in the 60s suit with the bell bottoms in front of you could end up being Kodak’s leading patent holder. The sharply dressed young lady with the expensive looking briefcase, could be the newbie software salesperson for a start-up populated by teens only just learning to spell the word “innovait..innovato…inovatii”…ah, you get my point. So the only way to truly figure it out is by listening to them and watching for certain key phrases that indicate it’s time to lace up your running shoes and head to the auditorium door for a quick getaway.

1. “Sammy Satisfied” – If anyone comes across as being too smug, too sure of themselves, and too happy with their own achievements in innovation, it’s time to back away. Why? Because Innovation is driven by a lack of satisfaction in the status quo.

Top innovators are always looking to change things because they know that taking time to sit back on their laurels is just giving the competition time to catch up. Find someone who’s satisfied with what they’ve achieved, and you’ve found someone who maybe used to be an innovator. Test them – ask them “Yes, but what are you doing that’s new, now ? “ and watch them nervously start to sweat.. The good news? If you find yourself talking to a Sammy, you can probably just wander off whilst he’s in mid-sentence – he’s unlikely to notice anyway.

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2. “Tommy the ToolMan” – usually leads with “so, what kind of tools are you using internally?” or words to that effect. Even worse is when Tommy can’t stop talking about the tool he’s using – the back end, the front end, the features and functionality…urrghhh! Treat potential Tommys with the same suspicion you would if someone randomly asked you “so what car do you drive?” as you stepped out the door of your workplace. Why? Because tools don’t really matter.

Let me clarify – tools are important, having the right tool will turbo-charge your innovation program (especially if you have ambitions to embrace collaborative innovation processes), and having the wrong tool can just as easily sink it. But let me now tell you the secret of successful tools from someone with over 7 years of experience with one of the leading software companies in the field, and had a big hand in developing the innovation management software market to where it is today…….. Tools don’t really matter. Processes do.

Ultimately there are only two things that a good innovation tool really needs to do (feel free to copy this into your next RFP):

1) Be flexible enough to support whatever collaborative process you are trying to put in place to meet your business goals

2) Stay out of the way (be reliable, embrace good collaborative practices, not force you to work around the software to achieve your aims, etc)

It’s not a long list, but you’d be surprised as to how few vendors can fulfill those two basic requirements – mainly because a lot of vendors develop software that is technically excellent and/or visually pretty, but overlook the intricate ways in which humans actually want to and need to interact with each other. My former software clients weren’t successful because of the tool the sales guy sold them – they were successful because of the way they used it. If you’re talking to someone who suggests to you otherwise – run.

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3. Peter Private – Peter talks in short phrases, measuring his words and being careful with what he says. He thinks he’s like a corporate James Bond, protecting the secrets of his company by sharing little, and listening intently. Peters are inherently worried about letting the “cat out of the bag” – about saying too much and getting into trouble. Talking to a Peter is not only frustrating; it’ll be fruitless too, as you’ll get no benefit from it.

You see, innovation is all about sharing – it’s about openness – it’s about embracing the world as a potential knowledge source – but to get, you need to give too. I’ve found that people who are truly successful in the innovation field embrace this principle across all of their interactions with people. Being open is like a bug or a virus – once you realize that the best ideas are frequently elsewhere, you’ll be on a mission to find them everywhere all the time.

You don’t have the time to establish trust and sign an NDA in the short time allotted at a conference – so if you find yourself speaking to a Peter, then it’s time to make your excuses and fake a bathroom break to relieve that irritated colon of yours.

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4. Christopher Clueless – With a subject as increasing in popularity as Innovation, it’s no wonder that conferences are filling up with charlatans jumping on the bandwagon to try and make a quick buck – and Chris is no exception. Having probably read one or two books on the subject and with no practical experience at all – he comes to the conference armed with a series of “innovation catchphrases” to give you advice with and lull you into a false sense of security/trust/interest.

My favourite of these: “Innovation should be everyone’s job” – probably one of the dumbest things ever said on the innovation circuit – usually used to eschew the presence, or need for, innovation leadership. Whilst true, to an extent, that innovation should be a part of every employee’s business life, it still needs to be someone’s responsibility in order to ensure success.

Hear that, or any of a myriad of well known phrases (you’ll usually know if they turn up during the conference by the stifled giggles coming from the bloggers’ gallery above you) and it’s time to excuse yourself from the proceedings to search for that 7th cup of coffee to take you through the rest of the afternoon.

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The trick to getting the most from the speaker panel is easy – listen carefully and glean insights that you can take back to your business.

The trick to getting the most from the attendee panel though is to talk openly and talk to a lot of people – spread yourself out, meet new people at every break, collect a ton of business cards and build a network . A network that will probably not include Peter, Tom, Chris nor Sammy though.

What other types of people do you find at conferences? Share in the comments below!








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