Forget Mentoring: Build a Board of Directors

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

You are the CEO of You – in charge of your life and your priorities. Like all CEOs, you want to
build a board of directors to give you valuable insights and advice to help you achieve your
goals. A strong board allows you to diversify and expand your network and will surround you
with a team committed to your success.

Who Should Be on My Board?
You want to be intentional about who sits on your board of directors. This is different than
friends or confidants. They play an important role in supporting you as fans. Your board of
directors should be carefully selected based on the skillsets they have and their ability to help
you achieve your goals. Be intentional about having diversity in your board- you want people
with different experiences, backgrounds, and opinions to help guide you. Your board can and
should have people at multiple levels of the organization. Someone with the skills you need
may less senior than you, a peer, or a leader. I recommend filling most of the seats internally-
that allows you to have internal advocates to speak up for you when you are not in the room.
But there is also value in having at least one seat held by someone with complete objectivity
outside of your organization who will bring a different perspective forward.

What are the Seats I Need on My Board?
The LinkedIn Learning training What a secret circle of mentors can do for you (linkedin.com) recommends the following roles. I think they are best positioned not as mentors but as key seats on your board of directors:

  • Compass Holder: Someone who helps you set your direction. Someone you can learn from the path they have paved.
  • Yoda: Someone who can help you with your blind spots. Someone with skills and strengths that compliment yours.
  • Co Pilot: Someone you can learn with collaboratively. A thought partner to bounce ideas off.
  • Connector: Someone who is well connected and can help you expand your network.
  • Optimizer: Someone to help you with your work life balance.  Someone that can help you with prioritizing.
  • Challenger: Someone who will ask you hard questions and push you to be better.

How Do I Create My Board? 

Start with a list of names. Who are the first people that come to mind when you read the list of key seats for your board? What is it you want them to help you with? The clearer you are the more helpful they can be. For example, if you are looking for someone to help you with work life balance, define what that mean to you. What will success look like? What have you tried and what have you learned? 

Reach out to the individual and ask if you can meet with them. Tell them you’ve noticed their strength in work life balance and ask if they would be willing to help you with your goal. There is no rule about how frequently you should meet. What’s more important is agreeing to a schedule of check ins to drive your accountability and connection. 

You should also talk about the best way to communicate with each other between meetings Are texts ok? Do they prefer emails sent to them at work or at home? Do they like calls during their drive time or hate it? Again, no rules here- just aligning on what works for each of you.

Remember, you are the CEO of You. No one is more invested in your success than you. Finding a board of directors willing to share their superpowers will help you power your goals and your success.

Being Intentional

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

It’s the start of a new year. We always intend to set intentions. We mean to manifest our destiny. Yet the day to day sweeps away our focus. We’ve all read the statistics on how quickly new year resolutions fade. But what if 2022 could be a different? There are lot of ways to set goals and intentions. It’s less about the tool or the process. It’s all about time and truth. My plan for 2022 is to focus on a wheel, how I want to feel, and committing to seal the deal.

Start Your Roll with a Wheel:  The Wheel of Intention is a visual that helps you think about each segment of your life independently. You can find a variety of templates online – find the one that speaks to you. I broke my wheel into Self Care, Career, Travel, Family, Friends, and Community. There are no right or wrong areas of focus. Under each of the areas of focus, answer the following questions:

  • What is currently working well in this area of my life?
  • What would I like more of/to improve?
  • What would l like less of/to eliminate?
  • A year from now, what will have I done?

Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted an allow yourself time for honest reflection and write down everything that comes in your head. 

Fuel Momentum with Feeling: Once you’ve identified your areas of focus and goals, ask yourself, How will I feel when I am living this life?  Write down as many words as you can for each segment of your wheel. My words included strong, grateful, refueled, balanced, and joy. Again, there are no right answers. Write from your heart not your head and let every word onto the page.

Commit Seal the Deal: After about an hour of reflection I have a nice wheel, complete with reflections and aspirations. But I’m not done- I’ve just started. I went back through the list of words that I had listed and noted that fulfillment was a theme. I thought about what fulfillment means to me and landed on building habits that lead to joy. Boom. This year I will commit to prioritizing and fueling fulfillment. This means looking at my home and work calendar and if it’s not a hell yes, saying no.  It means being fully present with my team and my family. It means scheduling my priorities not squeezing them in. And it means doing this for a full year.

It’s easy to make a resolution on January 1st.  The secret is making sure you’ve focused on something close to your heart. A wheel of intention can get you started with the “what.” Tapping into feelings can help you connect to “why,” and reflection can give you a path to “how.” Let’s roll into 2022 with strong intentions. Who’s with me?

Constant Culture During Consistent Change

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

2021 has created rapid changes in our workplaces and our workforce. The pace of change has often left leaders feeling like they are in the rapids of consistent change while trying to steer a consistent culture. In Peter Vail’s book, Managing as Performance Art, he uses white water rafting as an analogy to talk about the challenge of navigating uncertainty and business turbulence. As HR professionals, this is a huge opportunity for us to help leaders create a realistic course, create a clear vision, and create strong rowers so we can reach our business goals.

Creating a Realistic Course

Vail says “Most managers are taught to think of themselves as paddling their canoes on calm, still lakes…(They think) disruptions will be temporary, and when things settle back down, they’ll be back in the calm, still lake. But, as the author explains, we never get out of the rapids — continuous change IS the course.  Knowing this, leaders need to plan realistically. This means understanding when the team needs to pull off and regroup. It means ensuring the team has the right tools and supplies. It also means using the company values to help guide the team and make important decisions about when to stay the course and when to abort mission.

Creating a Clear Vision. The position the leader takes makes a big difference. In a raft, the leader sits in the back so they can give direction, motivate, and get everyone rowing together. This seat also allows the ​leader to see the horizon and plan ahead. To do this successfully, the leader must trust the team to focus on the immediate changes, so they can drive consistency in the way the team interacts and pivot based on their feedback.

Creating a strong team. Rafts can’t go far without everyone working together. ​It’s important that everyone gives equal effort or the boat can flip without notice. One person can steer the entire boat off course​. Leaders need to ensure the right people are in the boat, and that they are sitting in the right seats to leverage everyone’s strengths. They also need to immediately address and perhaps remove people that impact the team rhythm and/or don’t align with the values. Giving real time feedback and coaching is essential to keep the team on course. 

Minnesota Gopher coach PJ Fleck uses the phrase “Row the Boat” to create a never give up team culture. Our teams need the same passion and discipline to create a consistent culture during constant change. We need to create a realistic course, create a clear vision, and create teams to end 2021 strong and be ready for the white waters of 2022.

12 Months of Leadership Lessons

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

March 17th, 2020. The day the world changed as my company, and many others, suddenly became a fully remote workforce. A year later we are emerging with new experiences, losses and lessons, and new wisdom. Here are my Top 12 Leadership Lessons from the last 12 months.

12. Let Others Paint Their Own Picture. Sending my son to college in the pandemic was tough. I focused on what was missing instead of what was possible and had to reframe. As a mom and leader, my job is to create a blank canvas without my perceptions coloring it.

11. Remote Work Works. Why did it take a pandemic for us to trust people to be accountable and responsible enough to work remotely? For years, we in HR insisted we need a program, a form, and a process to manage how people work. Turns out all we need is good communication, clear expectations, and flexibility. Imagine that.

10. “We Are In The Same Storm But Not The Same Boat.” This was one of the most powerful quotes and poems of the last year (full text here). The pandemic illuminated inequity in society, healthcare, and our workplaces. We are far from the shore of the promised land. As leaders we must continue this journey and use our privledge to part the waters for others.

9. Make Mental Health a Priority for yourself and your team. We don’t know what others are covering, experiencing, or mourning. As a leader we need to create safe spaces filled with empathy. We need to build our vulnerability muscle to be a strong team.

8. Really Invite Authentic Selves To Work. This year we have Zoomed in closer to each others’ families, pets, and homes than ever before. We have been forced to bring more of ourselves to work. As leaders, our job is to invite and embrace our whole team as whole people.

7. Constrained Innovation is Breathtaking. Watching our scientists, restaurants, and healthcare workers reimagine working models has been inspiring. We need to give our team airtime for their new ideas and innovations.

6. There is Power in The Pause. The shutdown opened up the opportunity for new routines. Taking time to read, journal, and move our bodies is time well spent. Create the time for your team to build pause into their day – and allow yourself the same grace.

5. We Can Make A Nice Bake. The Great British Bake Off encouraged us to create and try things we never prioritized before. While the sourdough and cakes were delicious, the real lesson is taking time to tap into our creativity and letting our inner star baker out.

4. Learn to Reckon With the Rumble. In politics and at work we don’t all have the views or vantage point. As Brene Brown says, “The reckoning is how we walk into our story; the rumble is where we own it. The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives.”

3. Why Hoard When We Can Help? Hoarding toilet paper, information, or power makes you an ass. As leaders we should reward and recognize collaboration and make knowledge sharing an expectation.

2. Words Matter. The words of a leader incite action. Use them to incite learning not violence.

  1. Connectivity Is Powerful. It has been hard not to see or hug family, friends, and teammates. But we can be connected even if we are not together. As leaders our job is to build the team not the “stuff.” Taking time to connect personally and professionally is what powers performance and engagement.

Twelve months ago, the pandemics we’re facing changed us and the way we work. The losses are many and the heartbreak is overwhelming. We have had to learn new ways of interacting and had the opportunity for many leadership lessons. These are twelve of my leadership lessons from the last twelve months. I look forward to hearing and learning from yours.

Hi I’m Flexadaptmilling. How are you?

sensual slim queer man dancing in modern studio
Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

Every year new words are added to our lexicon- either formally added to the dictionary or adapted as part of our slang. I am searching for the word that describes the state we are currently in. Something that combines our new flexibility requirements given the corona virus. The adaptability demanded in the light of our social justice uprising. The treadmill reality of 22 weeks of working from home. So in the spirt of Frindle (a children’s book by Andrew Clements where they invent the word Frindle) I introduce to you the concept Flexadaptmilling with its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

Flexibility: Bend and break. There have been some pretty amazing changes to our workplaces that without the corona virus wouldn’t have happened- or at least wouldn’t have happened at this pace. Suddenly every job can work from home. No one needs a flexible job arrangement to allow them to pick up kids, bring meals to parents, or to create a personal swing shift working schedule. I have had  3x the number of homemade dinners with my family than we’d have in normal times. Bending our assumptions has been healthy for our culture. But it also has it’s challenges. Zoom is a great tool. But it limits your ability to read the room and really see people, which impacts our discussions and can deter some voices. There are days when my steps are in the 100s – a far cry from 10,000 steps as I spend hours sitting in front of my computer in my small office. As an intense iterator it is hard virtually white board without glitches or delays. My takeaway is bend my thinking and take breaks for my body. Without a commute I have no excuse not to get up early and workout. Taking a Zoom call outside is a good idea. Blocking off a lunch hour to have no meetings and change my scenery is good for my mental health.

Adaptability: Thinking and rethinking. I am invigorated and sometimes exhausted by the new level of energy and interest in racial justice and DEI at work these days. The fire has been burning for years but now we have community, leadership, and student interest in taking action. I am inspired by my son and his friends and their social activism. I am proud of my organization for our commitment to health equity and equity for associates. I am thrilled that instead of asking (begging) to integrate DEI into leadership curriculum as I’ve had to do in the past I now have complete support and a heightened expectation for delivery. Opening our minds and hearts can only make us stronger. It is also tiring. There is a wave of white guilt  motivating action at a pace and speed that may not be sustainable. There is a pent up demand that is overflowing from associates. We want to work quickly, ensure sustainability, and be inclusive which, like the program management triangle, can be hard to balance. My take away is to use what I know and seek what I don’t. The “I” in DEI is for inclusion – we need the commitment and collaboration from every function to examine, question, and rethink our systems and structures. No one person or plan can undo hundreds of years of systemic racism. Tried and true tools like aligning to the organizational strategy, creating clear execution plans and timelines, and measuring progress are critical in this work. The “D” and “E” mean we must check assumptions, push against biases, and ensure we don’t settle for tried and true decisions but instead engage and reflect our full community.

Treadmilling: New ways of moving. As we prepare to go back to another semester of distance learning, continue our prolonged work from home, and manage social distancing there are time when our days feel like a rinse and repeat. What’s been exciting to see how technology really can personalize learning.  I’m inspired by my educator friends and how they are shaping their craft in this new world. I have loved pop up Zoom calls with friends and family from across the world that never happened before.  Then there are times when our social limits are tiring. As an extreme extrovert it does not fill my bucket to be home 100% of the time. I have a sophomore and college freshman who both want to be safe, be social, and be active in their sports. At my worst I pout over feeling like Bill Murray in Ground Hogs Day. My takeaway is control the controllables and enjoy the ride.  @Janice Payton told me having children would be the best IDP I ever had. She was right. Our current environment is my new IDP.  I have to remember I can only control what I can. Instead of resisting or fretting, do what I can and let go of the rest. Setting daily goals both personally and professionally has been a big help to see that it may be a different ride at a different pace but there can still be progress.

I love the term “Corona coaster” to describe the ups and downs of our current reality. In discussions with friends we were struggling to describe both the emotions and actions we are taking everyday. It’s not just being flexible. It’s being flexible while we adapt our systems, structures, and thinking. It’s feeling like we’re on a treadmill and not making motion but then looking down and being impressed with our miles. My description of this concept is Flexadaptmilling and I am working on embracing its good, its challenges, and its lessons. 

 

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

HR- Let’s Own and Use Our Privilege

white-privilege1

We are all collectively mourning, reflecting, and contemplating how to  respond to the heartless murder of George Floyd and the heartbreaking damages to cities like my beautiful Twin Cities. Many organizations are turning to HR to create recommendations and action plans. A tall order given the years of systemic racism in our country.  Challenging to do during a pandemic.  And an impossible task if our function doesn’t recognize our privilege. It’s time for HR to own our privilege and use our privilege to make real change.

The Privilege Institute defines privilege as unearned benefits that accrue to particular groups based on their location within a social hierarchy. Privileges are often invisible to those who have them and are based on power. So HR peeps let’s be honest.  Our place in our organization’s social hierarchy gives us unique access to data, to creating policies, to employment decisions, and to organizational decisions. We didn’t earn this- it is a privilege of our role. We have or are perceived to have the power to influence who is hired, promoted, or terminated. So yes we have a role of privilege. We are also compensated by, what W. E. B. Du Bois called in his book Black Reconstruction in America,  additional , unearned “psychological wages.” In Du Bois’ book he talks about white laborers who received these psychological wages including “public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks… (which) had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them.”  I am not white but I  am in HR, and I am given deference and access to all corners of our organization. Our leaders who “police” our organizations know the role of influence I have which effects how I am personally treated. I don’t have to work as hard as others to earn that access and as a result I start with greater political capital to invest.

Once we are conscious of our privilege it is our responsibility to use it for good.  Brandon Sheffield of the San Francisco Weekly outlines steps we can take to use privilege for good. Here are few important actions we in HR need to take.

  • Listen and Trust.  Ask people what they need. What do they see in our practices that is missing?  What needs to be done differently?  Be open to new ideas and let go of assumptions of what we have to do. It’s easy to feel like you already know what the issues and solutions are. Trust that our associates have valuable wisdom to make our organization stronger. 
  • Words Matter.  It’s (LONG since) time to put away the HR speak. Use real words and emotions. A man was murdered. Systemic racism allowed that to happen. Find authentic words and credible speakers– even if that’s not those at the top. Be vulnerable and empathic. Let this be the start of an ongoing dialogue about race and inclusion, not just a guilt-assuaging memo.
  • Accept When You are Wrong and Learn From it. We make mistakes. We have good ideas that sometime have unintended consequences. Own it publicly.
  • Use Your Voice. In HR we hear lots of things. We are also in lots of meetings where we need to bring the voice of others. In our recent executive talent review meeting I questioned when we used the word “unconfident” to describe a woman. It might be true or it might be an unconscious bias about style… let’s cause the debate.
  • Be the Change. Systems and structures work doesn’t sound sexy, but it is the backbone of our function and needs to be strong. Take the time to inventory the  work, including but not limited to hiring practices, hiring sources, compensation equity, promotion and turnover rates for diverse and non-diverse talent. Then create action plans and accountability to address gaps.

I believe it is a privilege to be in HR. I love the work I do. I am passionate about advancing people and the business to achieve our Mission. I also recognize my role confers unearned privilege upon me and it is my responsibility, now more than ever, to own my privilege and use my privilege to make real change.

Setting Goals for your 2020 Vision

advertising business calculator commercial

It’s January 27th , so according to the New York Post article, most New Year’s resolutions died two weeks ago. That’s right. Strava, a social media network for athletes, analyzed 31.5 million online resolutions, and January 12th is the date when most resolutions drop off. This same article states that just 8% of people achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the year. Given these gloomy statistics, how can you ensure a clear vision for your team in 2020? The key, according to Forbes magazine’s article, Does Your Goal Setting Have 2020 Vision, is focusing on inspiration. This year try a new process to goal setting. Instead of a full day offsite on goal cascades, look for passion, see what matters, and observe what gives you energy.

To Do vs. Can’t Wait to Do: Too often, goal setting is a left-brained exercise. It is the list of items we’ve already committed to on our to do list, that we roll up into elegant phrases on a PowerPoint. But just like a resolution, what is the shelf life of the work I have to do vs. tapping into how I can impact our overall strategy? For example, at Blue Cross Blue Shield, our mission is to Inspire Change, Transform Care, and Improve Health for the people we serve.  Instead of a functional focus on our to do list, what if you asked your team if we were to be recognized on stage for helping to move the mission forward this year, what would we hear? Who would be there? What would they say? By building a vision of success as the starting point, you shift the discussion and thinking beyond block and tackle tasks and tap into what motivates and inspires your team. Once you have a shared aspiration, you can shift to a discussion around what you should do more of or less of in order to achieve this aspiration. That helps us identify areas of focus and actions for the upcoming year.
More Meaning than Meetings: A great concept in the Forbes article is, we don’t become creative because we’re inspired; we become inspired when we tap into new, intrinsically interesting and valuable things. At some point your team will have to leave that safe haven you created in your goal setting session and enter back into the daily world of work. But this year you want to help them work differently. Challenge your team to have at least 10% of their time “On the work” instead of spending all their time “in the work.” This means allowing space and time to stay focused on the stage you’ve created and keeping your creativity fueled by reading articles, attending classes, meeting with others,
and/or making room for interesting and valuable things in your workday. Allowing space in our busy day to keep our eye on the horizon is key to keeping our goals alive.

Making vs Taking Energy:  It requires energy to fuel our vision, and tapping into our passion creates energy instead of sapping energy. For example , we can all be committed to the goal of putting the customer first, and we can achieve it by leveraging the team’s various skills and passions. Let Mary redesign the website and have Bill populate it with data. Chris would be best at collecting customer data and Sue most interested in finding themes. The more we can leverage our collective strengths the more passion and creativity we will get in our results. When people do have tasks/projects that aren’t aligned to their passion, ask them to bring that vision to the work. For example, I don’t love merit planning. But I am passionate about equity and investing in talent. So making this more about the people than the numbers helps give me energy to pursue this task and brings a different perspective to this project.

Project plans and tracking tools have their time and place. As we know, a goal without a plan is only a dream. But dreams can die under the weight of process and practicality. The key in 2020 is for you to create an inspirational vision to meet with your team and look for passion, see what matters, and observe what give you energy.

 

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Gift of Presence

two woman hugging each other
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

It is definitely the most wonderful time of the year- and arguably twice the fun at our house with two holidays and two kids birthdays in the span of 16 days. Our home is alight with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations. I have three school and work gatherings with friends this week, and like many of you, I will be taking time off to spend time with friends and family.  As I was listening to some holiday music this weekend, I realized there were some good coaching tips embedded in Christmas carols. Here are my takeaways from Do You Hear What I Hear, The Little Drummer Boy, and Silent Night which sparked my commitment to give the gift of presence throughout the year.

What do you hear? The very essence of coaching is to shift from a place of telling to the place of listening. We know this is the right thing to do, but we also know that it is so much faster to just tell someone the answer or to do it ourselves. But if we give the gift of being present, we can step back and see that the only way to grow our team is to empower them, and that our role as a coach is to ask insightful questions to guide their self discovery.  Presence also asks us to assume positive intent. What is it that this employee heard, saw, or knows that led them to make that decision? By remaining curious we build trust with others and gain a more well rounded view of a situation. Allowing the time to pause and ask questions is a gift with lasting impact.

Bring Your Gifts. When we are present, we are not judging, just observing. We notice what people bring and can do, and we invite them to be their authentic selves. Too often we fall into the thinking trap that we need fine gifts that are fit for this meeting/leader/training/ (aka King) so only people who meet our definition of “fine” are invited.  What if instead of assuming we know what is needed, we asked our audience what they wanted? If we embrace diversity and stay curious think about what possibilities might unfold. Unwrapping everyone’s unique gifts leads to new discoveries and strengthens teams.

Celebrate the Silence. Finding white space in our minds and in our schedules is one of the hardest things to do. But learning to silence our minds so we can think, not just do, is an amazing gift. As leaders, we should spend more of our time on how to improve, advance, and align the work than being heads down doing the work. The recent post on the Seven Top Leadership Skills for 2020  includes skills such as humility, 360 thinking, being reflective, inspiring, and intellectual versatility. Each of these skills can only happen when we calm our mind, and focus on the important but not urgent work of leadership. This also means taking care of ourselves so we can bring our best selves to work. Prioritizing sleep, exercise, and eating habits should be more that a resolution – it is a gift to bring to ourselves and our team in the new year.

Janice Maeditere said, “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” Wise words that we can reflect on all year. When we open our hearts and minds we can give the gift of presence. We can do this by asking questions, staying curious, and creating space for thinking. So give yourself permission to be more present in 2020 – it is a gift that will keep on giving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Perfect is Out of Focus

photo of woman holding camera
Photo by Jaspereology on Pexels.com

I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately, and found my head bobbing uncontrollably while reading this Fast Company article  on perfection.  We spend a lot of time at work, at home, and online focused on an image of ourselves, one that is picture perfect. Yet let’s be honest – many of us have had the I Don’t Know How She Does It moment where we forgot about the treats for our kid’s school event because we were on a business trip. It’s all part of this crazy thing called life. So why do we make ourselves crazy making life look perfect?  Let’s picture a shift from perfection to a focus on imagination, inspiration, and ideation.

“Logic will take you from A to Z. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein. Think about a key project you have at work. I am guessing you have created a project plan, researched best practices, and analyzed competitor/industry information. This information can take you down a safe, relatively predictable path and will likely make you look good. But what if success means more than that? Imagine zooming out and meeting with someone who can push you to see this from different view point. Or spending a least one meeting storyboarding your project from the end user’s point of view. Yes it takes longer. Yes you can’t control the outcome if you expand your approach. But while logic is helpful to set guardrails for us, the path will be limited unless we bring imagination into view.

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish. It’s about what you inspire others to do.” – Anonymous. We spend a lot of time worrying about how what we do makes us look. Will that project be seen favorably? Does this role put me on the fast track? Let’s adjust our focus from posturing to passion. The best leaders step out of the limelight and coach their team from the sidelines. They build individuals’ confidence and competence by asking questions, lending support, and expecting the team to have a point of view. This does add complexity. It does change team dynamics. It also unleashes all the awesome potential of your team and opens the lens of possibility.

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” Linus Pauling. When we are under stress and overworked we tend to turn into the Little Red Hen and think the best solution is to “do it myself.” We delude ourselves into believing that our unique perspective is critical or that our past experience gives us some special optics. As a result, we are overworked and micromanage the details instead of focusing on the big picture. As a leader our role is to open the aperture and expand the light we let in. Brainstorming is a great way to do this. It breaks down assumptions and brings diverse ideas to the table. When teams co-create it creates trust and engagement. And no surprise when we ask the people closes to the work what might work, it changes the depth of field and our focus.

Let’s let go of the illusion of perfection and embrace the crazy and unpredictable moments in our lives. Let’s share our mistakes and learnings gained by focusing on imagination, inspiration, and ideation. Together can shift our narrow focus from picture to a broader and more personalized picture of success.

 

Safe Water vs. Shark Tank Innovation

Shark-Tank.jpg

Our vision at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is to be the customer’s first choice by reinventing ourselves and the healthcare system.  I blogged earlier about the culture work that we have undertaken to support our new vision and strategy because we know that culture eats strategy for lunch. We also know that today something is getting in our way of being more innovative. I was asked by our executive team to look into how we can drive innovation in the organization. The easy thing to do was a Shark Tank event. That idea had been raised a number of times. Many of the executives called my project the Shark Tank project. But innovation is complex, not easy, and as Mark Cabaj said, in complexity there is no silver bullet, only silver buckshot. In other words if we focus on a Shark Tank bullet we might miss the opportunity to look at multiple approaches to hit our innovation target. To understand innovation we first need a deep dive on the problem statement, to swim around how might we address the problem, then create safe waters for people to build their innovation sea legs.

Deep Diving a Problem Statement.  The first thing I wanted to do was to ensure the problem statement was identified by a diverse, cross-functional group of associates. I got a list of names from across the organization and we spent two hours determining what we needed to solve for. We reviewed survey data, benchmarking data, then used an issue tree to brainstorm. If the issue (tree trunk) is a lack of innovation, what do we see as the impact (branches) and what are the causes (root causes)? The team came up with two powerful ideas to focus on:  We are fail safe not safe to fail, and people aren’t clear on what it means to be innovative.  In other words we focus on perfection not iteration, and our strategy has bold ideas and people aren’t sure how they can impact it in their everyday work. Taking the time to understand our problem was time well spent and got some great ideas flowing.

Swimming with “How Might We.” How Might We thinking is the core of any human-centered design session. So in our next meeting we broke into two groups, thinking about how we might address the root cause issues we identified. After coming up with a long list of possibilities from multiple perspectives, we decided we wanted to focus on helping everyone see themselves as innovative by explaining and expressing innovation as both incremental and transformational. We also decided we need to focus on the importance and value in learning if we want to increase risk taking and innovation. Great how might we sessions generate wild and crazy ideas – and help you diverge and converge on some things that you can do to make the change you seek. The team was clear- they don’t want a big splash – we want a constant flow of communication, tools, sessions, and discussion around this topic.

Building Innovation Sea Legs. In our final session we did a session around visualizing success. We used a story boarding  approach to draw on big flip charts what we want to see in the future. It’s not about art – it’s about engaging the creative side of our brains and expressing things universally. The team had some awesome visuals that I shared with the executive team. And guess what. Not one of them was a shark tank. Because if the problem is understanding innovation, gaining confidence with risk, and celebrating learning,  a shark tank doesn’t solve for those things. In fact our specific recommendation was to create safe water for innovation, not a shark tank. Safe waters mean defining what associates will know, see, and do around innovation – a visual that breaks innovation down, a communication campaign around how innovation is part of our values and our strategy. More importantly new expectations and opportunities for managers to model and encourage innovation. We want more storytelling from executives on risks they took, where they failed, and what they learned. We want leaders to ask in a post mortem what risk did you take and what did you learn so that it is an expected part of every project. Embedding these changes is a lot harder than a one time event, but we are also confident this it is the way to build waves of success.

We also know that reinventing healthcare will only happen if we can unleash the ideas and talents of our associates. I have asked our ARGs (Associate Resource Groups) to see if they can help us in the next phase of innovation through their events. The more voices and actions we can show around innovation -big and small- the better the chance we have of change. Innovation can’t be done in one big bite. Or from one person. As the Shark Kevin O’Leary says, “Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”  We want to build a big stage where everyone can win – all associates, and all our customers. If we do we have a great chance of achieving our mission and reinventing both our culture and healthcare.