John Saunders
January 13, 2023

INSIGHTS ARTICLE: Forward Advisory Solutions - 5 Ways to Enable Your Team to Drive Serial Innovation.

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5 Ways to Enable Your Team to Drive Serial Innovation  

How do you enable your team to consistently drive innovation for your company?
According to Gallup, 70% of employee engagement is driven by managers. This engagement is anchored in trust. When team members trust their leader, employees feel empowered, initiatives are adopted more quickly, mistakes by leaders are given the benefit of the doubt, and retention doubles.
As a leader, we can create an environment where innovation becomes a ‘pull’ rather than a ‘push.’ It will likely start with more of a push from you, but as this process becomes engrained in your team, they will begin to find the motivation that drives each of them to ‘pull’ each other along, to seek higher value ideas, and deliver stronger results.
The 5 Methods:
Get Personal
Financial rewards are appreciated but showing your team members you care is priceless. This is not a one-time event. Trust begins with your team knowing you have a personal understanding of them, their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.
Understanding your team on this level offers insight into what truly drives them and how you can better guide them to become the best version of themselves. We all have weaknesses and that is okay. At times it makes sense to spend energy on them, at other times it does not. As leaders, if we can make this discovery and coach them to work that inspires them and delivers results, we are creating a culture of positivity and change.
At an annual award conference, one of my team members was celebrating a landmark birthday. We had spent much of the past year working on areas we helped him discover he needed to improve on to drive better results. His performance improved, but not enough to earn him an award. I knew he would be disappointed, not winning.
As a leader of the firm, I had a suite reserved for me at the conference hotel. Given it was his birthday and sensing his disappointment in not winning an award, I borrowed an idea from our CEO. I secretly traded rooms with the birthday boy and had a selection of his favorite craft beers and a birthday cake waiting for him when he arrived with a personalized note. After he checked into his room, he sent me a text and asked me to stop by. He gave me a quick tour of his suite, showed me the gift basket, and told me “No one had ever done anything so thoughtful in his career.”
The next year he continued his focus and found himself taking home the top honors and his results continued to improve.
Let Them Speak…and Listen
Your team wants to know they have a voice, and it is a leader's responsibility to create this environment. They also have first-hand knowledge of what is happening in your business. Having a deeper level of personal understanding of them opens the door to honest conversations about your business and results.
Asking your team regularly for feedback and insights on your business objectives and how you’re executing on topics that sit at the intersection of value for them and value for the organization is a strong starting point. A powerful starting point is leveraging Professor Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s idea for a Google search.
Type into your search bar: “my manager is…” and see what the Google algorithm fills in. The top 3 search auto-fills by Google today are: toxic, bullying me, and gaslighting me.
This exercise offers a glimpse into how thousands of employees feel. If asking your team for feedback and insights into your business is not standard, consider how they would finish this sentence for you, versus what Google brought back.
This exercise will help you be tuned in and better prepared for what may come back to you in these conversations. Here are some questions to ask your team member:
How have I been helpful in your career?
What are your expectations of me? (yes ‘me,’ the leader)
How could I be more helpful to you?
How might our team work more effectively toward our goals?
What could I do, to empower this change?
Be prepared for answers you may not want to hear…This is how you grow. Great leaders do this regularly, and it gets easier over time.
Give Credit Where Credit is Due
Working with a client we discovered that their bi-weekly team conference call schedule was not delivering the desired engagement. After exploring solutions, we created a short list of a few senior team members to solicit feedback from and worked through the Google ‘my manager is…’ exercise above to prepare for what might come back in these discussions.
The leader had been working on growing the feedback loop with his team, but the responses weren’t offering much depth. We created a set of questions related to the conference calls and began outreach with a tenured team member. The conversations opened with this question: “I want to make sure our conference calls are driving value for the team.
“It doesn’t feel like our conference calls are getting a lot of engagement which makes me curious about their value. How do you think we could drive better engagement and value with our conference calls?”
The response came swiftly, “Get rid of a bunch of the calls. We have too many!”
‘Ouch,’ the leader thought to himself. The sting was lessened by preparing for feedback he might not want to hear and visualizing a calm and curious response. He didn’t realize his conference calls felt so numerous.
He thanked his team member for the honest response and reviewed the call schedule for the year ahead. He realized by simply canceling calls that fell on holidays that he normally would push to the next day he was able to remove about 15% of the calls for the year.
Later that week the manager sent a note to the team sharing this newly found insight. He specifically mentioned who was responsible for the idea and let every know that a new schedule would be coming as a pilot for the balance of the year. He next deleted all of the invites from everyone’s calendars. Using the word pilot is key as it illustrates a lack of permanence. Nothing is stopping this leader from bringing the old schedule back, since this is simply a pilot or experiment.
This simple act created and small but a much-needed win for the new feedback loop we were working on. It made it entirely clear that the leader was open to honest feedback and insights and was willing to work with ideas if they could drive value. Additionally, the trust level with the team accelerated as they knew solid ideas could become pilots or permanent and that they would get credit for offering insights. They knew they had a voice.
After the new call schedule came, feedback sessions with team members grew in value, team members looked forward to the less frequent calls and goal achievement across the board improved.
At the last conference call of the year, the leader reminded the team that this was the last day of the conference call pilot schedule and inquired if the schedule should return to the former format. The silence was deafening! The leader announced the reduced schedule as permanent, and the feedback loop continued to grow in value.
Event Email Graphic Virtual Conferences (46)Transparency
The Motley Fool financial services company consistently wins awards as a top place to work from sources such as Inc., Washingtonian, and Mashable. What the founders, the Gardner brothers, have learned since launching the company in their basement in 1994, is that employees find power in having a voice and sharing their opinions. And often the team brings forward a blind spot or client concern that had been overlooked or missed. The leadership at The Motley consistently provides opportunities to give their team a voice.
On a bi-annual basis, the leadership team hosts “campfire story” sessions. They specifically choose the name to signal to the team that this session would be filled with stories, not PowerPoint slides, and have a casual feel to it. During these sessions, senior leaders share stories of the past. What challenges were faced, how decisions were made to overcome them, and the outcome?
In addition to the campfire sessions, the leaders also host a quarterly meeting to share the financial performance of the company. These meetings capture ‘real-time’ views from an army of analysts that spend every day evaluating the merit of company leaders to determine if those leaders are making good decisions to deliver shareholder value.
Celebrate Awesome
“Catch somebody doing something right and then acknowledge it in front of everybody.”
• Patti Brennan, Entrepreneur & Barron’s Top 100 Financial Advisor
Your culture is built upon what allow and don’t allow and what you celebrate and don’t celebrate. Your culture can also be built by default. Not having standards and values, leaves the culture to chance, and can become an environment where each person focuses more on their interests than that of the business.
Patti Brennan has consistently grown a business from her basement to billions of dollars by exceptional leadership. A key element she leverages is celebrating awesome.
When a team member does something exceptional, she literally pulls her entire team into her conference room. She shares exactly what the team member did to provide extraordinary service to a client along with the direct impact that action had on their business, which is typically a new client referral.
What do you celebrate or showcase publicly with your team to illustrate what is truly meaningful to your business?
Enabling a Team of Serial Innovators
Leading change and innovation is never simple. Organizational cultures always exist, either by design or by the lowest common denominator.
By connecting with your teams on a deeper level you build understanding and trust and create space for them to have a voice in decisions. When they offer insights to ideas that create value, big or small, be sure to give them full credit publicly for their bravery.
To continue this cycle, leverage transparency, so each member knows what is happening in the organization and provides the most valuable feedback. As you see this process begin to grow inside your team, create landmark moments of celebration, to make clear what you want to see more of from your team that drives the right behaviors and results.



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