In this week’s Coffee with a Coach with Lynda McNutt Foster, CEO, Cortex Leadership Consulting and Kianna Marshall on WFXR News, they discuss why resolving conflicts each party must start with acknowledgement.
Podcast: A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams 050420
Join John Phillips, President of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, along with Mary Miller, Director of RAMP, and the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Lynda McNutt Foster, CEO of Cortex Leadership Consulting and Richard Hammer, Associate VP Cloud Factory, 1901 Group, in an in-depth conversation about the findings of a 5-year study that included over 100,000 data points with more than 3,500 leaders and their teams.
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
John: Good afternoon. I’m John Phillips, your host and along with your co-host, Mary Miller. Thank you for joining us for another edition of Business at Lunch show brought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Each day at the noon hour, we seek to talk with the leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs in the Roanoke and Blacksburg regions, to learn how they are using innovative strategies and just sheer determination to navigate their way through this unique period as we together create the new economy for our future.
It is Monday and that brings in our regular topic, what’s working at work with Lynda McNutt-Foster and today we’re focusing on innovation of ideas in the workplace. In addition to Lynda, we have a second guest today. If you remember Lynda has been labeled a business icon by Valley Business Front and is a regular contributor to Forbes magazine. She is a certified conversational intelligence executive coach which makes her perfect for this talk show and she is joining us live on today’s show.
John: Great to have you join us and we also have Richard Hammer, Senior IT Consultant, Data Analysts, Enterprise Architect and Associate Vice President of the CloudFactory, and also with 1901 group. Richard, I see a vast experience leading teams involved in software development, and you’re certainly an expert in business analytical tools. Please take a minute and introduce yourself to our audience.
Richard: Thank you for that introduction. The thing that I like most about what I do is building and tuning high velocity teams across the industry. I’ve had a successful 30-year career doing it and really enjoy working with this region on growing the companies and solving problems here.
John: We appreciate you joining us for today’s show. Today’s show gets us a great opportunity to introduce a paper that Lynda has worked on. She says the RBTC and Cortex, Lynda ‘s consulting group. A first five part of a five-year study about the ability of leaders and their teams to generate new and fresh ideas. Title of the study A Leader’s Guide to Getting More Fresh High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now, as she labels it “A Wake-Up Call to Any Leader That Needs to Innovate and Thrive”. Especially important in today’s environment as we’ve entered and continue to be in a marketplace where businesses and organizations are requiring constant creativity and problem solving. So, Lynda , tell us about this idea and what fascinated you about degeneration?
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
Lynda: Well, I’m just going to admit it. I am Lynda and I am an ideator. I grew up in a family of ideators. I’m someone who literally has now created an entire career about creative problem solving. So, I was fascinated and very curious about why when I was on some teams that worked, and we innovated and created the sort of break through things if I was in a position of authority. When I wasn’t in a position of authority, why were most of my ideas shut down? So, I’ve always been curious about that and I started gathering research about it.
As I started working with teams, in anywhere from 12 person companies to 1,500 to 5,000 person companies, I started seeing these patterns of behavior. We started collecting data pretty extensively. We had to actually create a brand new software system to be able to collect the data. I wanted to see what’s happening between coaching sessions? What’s happening after the meetings? I wanted to observe teams and take notes on what they were saying to each other.
So, we had to build an entire new technology. We had to figure out how to do conversational mapping and we had to be able to get people to want to and understand why self-awareness through assessments was helpful to them. The data would be helpful to us in helping to solve the problems that they were seeing on their teams. Look, McKinsey & Company came out with 94% of leaders want their teams to generate ideas and be innovative and none of them are for those people like they’re very disappointed.
Well, that’s one of the main reasons they come to me and us is to go, “Wait, when we bring up something and say, ‘Hey, I need new fresh ideas.’ It’s crickets.” So, we have to do all that on a budget and we had to stay viable as an organization. So, none of it mattered at all. It wasn’t like this was theoretical. We had to stay in business so we needed to get results from our clients. There’s not a lot of studies out there like that from midsize and small companies and so this was a very unique set of data points that we’ve collected over these five years.
John: Well, let me allow Mary to jump in here and ask some questions as well.
Mary: So, Lynda, this journey sounds fascinating. Let me ask you what did jump out at you? What startled you as you began to look at the data?
Lynda: There were two things Mary. There’s like two parts. One was the data itself. So, it was very — from a macro level, we were easily seeing that only 12% to 19% of leaders themselves and their team members were strong in idea generation. Only 5% or 6% of leaders were strong in vision. So, it’s a four-part process: coming up with a vision, figuring out which ideas would work, planning and execution. You’ve got only 25% of any of the teams or even leadership groups who were strong in that first part. So, that didn’t really startled me. What startled me is when I asked the data person that I was working with at the time, he kind of pulled reports for me, I said, “Can you tell me, there’s a score that comes out in these assessments that says that people literally actively avoid one of the phases?”
What startled me in the data part was that 58% of the people had their lowest scores in ideation or idea generation, so to speak, 58%. 23% avoided vision. So, you sort of sit there and go, “Wait a minute, they’re not only not doing it, they’re actively avoiding it.” Then the second part was, how are they avoiding it? What does it actually sound like? What was so fascinating and doing the conversational mapping, actually, within meetings and after meetings with these quick touch points of the software that we had them literally like talk to it became a coach in their pocket, was that small things made a huge difference.
If a leader was in a meeting and he was asking for ideas, and somebody threw out an idea, and he or she immediately said, “No, no. We’ve tried that before.” If an idea was shot out and someone said, “Yeah, but –” “Yeah, we’ve tried that before. That’s not going to work.” Then even if someone was strong and the beginning of entering a team with ideation those micro moments, those small conversations that we started tracking were shutting them down. So, exactly what 94% of leaders were saying they wanted, they were actually actively working against the outcome that they wanted to have.
Mary: Wow. A lot to dig into there. So, talk to me just a little bit about why you think that’s the case. Why is it that we say we want one thing, and yet we don’t embrace it when we hear it? Or do we not know what we’re hearing?
Lynda: This is what I think, what’s so hard — this is a great question, Mary, because adult behavior change is very difficult. The success rate on adult behavior change is so low, that it’s studied extensively. So, we’re unconscious of most of our behaviors. In other words, if you for years have been in meetings and you say, “Yeah, but –” You say, “Yeah, but –” You don’t even know you said it. You’re not intentionally trying to shut down an idea. You’re not even aware that small thing just shut down somebody.
You don’t know that just by changing it like to “yes and”, you invite the person, it validates the other person. So, sometimes we’re focused on these big changes, right? These huge cultural changes, these massive, huge, expensive programs and that’s not what our research would say. Our research showed that these micro moments, changing people’s vocabulary, adding rules of engagement that they had to follow in meetings made a huge difference in whether the teams were getting better and better at creative problem solving.
John: Well, let me jump in here and let everybody know that I’m John Phillips and you’re listening to Business at Lunchbrought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Today, we are with Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hammer, who together are the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now.We hope you’ll join in our conversation by calling in at 540-795-2510. That’s 540-795-2510.
We know if you’ve worked with any type of team, you’ve been through interesting situations to create ideas and motivate the team and we’d love to hear what do you have to say on this conversation. Let me bring Richard in to this conversation. Richard, tell me about what brought you into working with Lynda on the project and how you’re experienced in the IT world when it comes to what you guys found in this study how it all relates together?
Richard: Well, John, the truth of it is working with instruments like DISC and Team [strengths? 00:10:13], you get a really good sense of what’s working, what’s not, and why. Having the opportunity to build and tune this model with Lynda, was also a lot of fun. We worked with the teams. We collected the data. We did data analysis. As you as you dive into the data, as Lynda shared, you start to see some patterns and then you start to see some exceptions.
What’s most fascinating about those exceptions is bringing them to light and having those as hard or, as Lynda likes to say, sweaty conversations to figure out what can pivot and what can change and how to better engage the team strengths and ideation in particular. It’s been a really fun journey with Lynda and the team at Cortex and I don’t know that I would change any of those work that we did in helping the region grow.
John: Mary, I’ll let you take it back from here.
Mary: So, Richard, it’s so interesting. It’s all so interesting. So, I want to summarize again, what you saw and I’ve often said this, it’s easy to get some big things right. It’s all the little things that do actually add up and matter. So, what you all saw was some patterns. Can you speak to at all what the big takeaways are besides this –? I like this “yes and”. We can share that. Can you speak to some of the takeaways that you might be employing with the 1901 group?
Richard: I can speak to that at length, but we only have like 45 minutes, so I’ll try and keep it concise. The single largest empowering piece is drawing people in in a way that they’re comfortable being drawn in and creating an environment where that comfort can exist without conflict or the perception of conflict. As Lynda was saying, even something as simple as pivoting “but” to “yes, and” is really important when you’re learning how to interact with and share ideas. Being included or invited to the conversation is also important.
A lot of time folks won’t speak up if they believe their view is already represented or if they believe they’re going to be shut down. The shutdown is a receiving perspective. It’s not the intention generally of a manager or a director to shoot somebody down. They’re trying to be ruthlessly efficient and solve the problem. They have a desire to be short, fast and specific. Taking a moment to create the culture and draw people in in these micro expressions and micro interactions is a really key factor. Keeping things focused on the organizational mission is also critical.
So, if we are tackling complex problems with clients, ensuring that we understand both the big picture and that the devils really in the details of execution is a critical success factor. Having everyone on the same page. Having everyone make sure they understand and can articulate that mission and know they have a voice and we are committed to listening to that voice is a key success factor. Those are just a couple.
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
Mary: So, Lynda, I just want to throw out to both of you. I’m just thinking out loud here in this conversation. Is it helpful to have just a meeting or just a group think around ideation, rather than kind of hitting on it really quickly and moving on to something else? Is that a safer place? Because we would all like all of our team to be able to share their best thinking. I don’t think any leader wants to shut down the best thinking. We want to let it out. I’m wondering what kind of environment — what if we’ve been the leader who has been shutting it down and we want time to think on this and change to become the leader that wants to engage? See if you can help me walk through some of those changes.
Lynda: I think the best way to explain it is through an example. I’m working with literally a team I’ve been working with for the last month. So, they’re in crisis. They’re in a segment of talent acquisition that’s shifting in a big way. The presenting problem that the team leader was having was, “Hey, we’re going to have to come up with some innovation as we move through this and afterwards with our recruiting team, and I’m not getting ideas. I’m getting crickets.” This is a real life story. I just got out of a session, the fifth session this morning to unlock and so I actually had to do a lot of individual one on one conversations with the team members to see what their perspective was.
We identified that there were some trust issues. We did a couple of sessions on trust and what might be breaking down trust, what could build it? Then I had them each get together in pairs with two or three of their team members and do an exercise around trust so that they could have that “sweaty conversation” individually. Also, they didn’t understand clearly what right could look like. They didn’t know how to develop that, that vision. Their team leader was shutting them down I found out, literally just by their body language. So, she would be sitting in a meeting and she’s just a thinker.
So, she was sitting back in her chair and having this sort of emotional space. It was making all these behavioral types that were the opposite of hers think that she was thinking bad things about what they were saying. So, it was the thing that was like, once I got the trust built, once they understood what it was, once I said, “Hey, team leader, smile every now and then.” Use a couple of terms to reinforce that they’re on the right channel.
We just had a session that was one of the most innovative I’ve had with the team. So, within one month, they went from total crickets to they literally today came up with 25 ideas and a specific executable plan for each one of them to start executing. So, that’s an example of what right looks like and what you’re going to need to do. You got to slow down the beat at first.
Mary: So, Lynda, I think we’re going to take a break here in just a second. Maybe I know John could invite people to call in with questions. I’m wondering at this moment, if an outside point of view was what was needed to move that team forward. I’m just going to ask you, I’m going to come back after our break and talk a little bit about some of the other data in your paper. This is five-years worth of what you were observing. We’ve talked a little bit about it. You’re generously providing it as a download off of the newsletter on Wednesday. I think that’s incredibly generous and it opens up a kind of opportunity for a conversation across our region for this ideation that maybe we hadn’t been focused on.
I heard a couple of comments about somebody may be stressed, maybe people aren’t smiling as much, all of those things are possible among any of us right now. I think there’s plenty of stress. So, I can imagine that solving problems might, under this situation, be a little more challenging. At the same time, we need to give each other that kind of — the freedom to be themselves as to how they’re addressing. So, John, you want to invite people to call in and I think it’s almost time for the news.
John: Well, I will. I’m John Phillips, and you’re joined in with the Business at Lunchshow. Today, we’re fortunate to have Lynda McNutt-Foster talking about degeneration along with Richard Hammer, and together they are the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Your Teams Right Now. I hope you’ll call in, join in our conversation at 540-795-2510. Before we go to that break, we’ve got a few more minutes. I’ll ask you, Lynda, to talk a little bit about the string zones that are in generating and executing new ideas, you list out four of them in your paper. It’d be interesting to go through them and see how they relate to this conversation.
Lynda: Yeah, I’m going to run through those very quickly and then I’m going to pitch it to Richard to explain — Mary had a great thought about, is it helpful to have somebody from the outside sort of come in and look and is that more powerful than the leader trying to fix this stuff on their own? I think he can speak to that because he’s worked in those types of environments and had outsiders come in and he can talk to that. I would say, look, visionaries you give them a white sheet of paper. So, that’s the first phase. The people who are strong in vision can answer the question, what do we want to have at the end of all of this?
If it’s in recruiting, it might be we want to have great relationships with our candidates so they remember us. Then what are some ideas on the ways to get there? So people who are strong in ideation are very good at just throwing out ideas. “Well, maybe we could do a software. Maybe we can have a virtual event. Maybe we can do some virtual lunches. Maybe we could –” just all kinds of things that would lead to get you to your vision, and the outcome that you want. Once you have the ideas, the next strength is planning. So, planners love feasibility. They love to be able to go, “Hey, that idea won’t work. I don’t think that will work, but you know what, this one is the one we should start with, and I think we can really make it happen.”
Then finally, execution is these people just have a list. They like to get things done. Tell me what it is. They’re happiest when they can be involved a little bit in the planning because the person who’s faced front with execution is the one who’s right reputation is on the line, right? So, what was brilliant about the work that Richard and I did was where I was strong, he had offsetting strengths and there were some crossovers.
We had people on the team as we did this research that had strengths in each area. That’s really what you want to kind of do is create a team environment with a system to do this. Not relying on people’s strengths necessarily. So Richard, if there’s time bringing in an outsider, what do you think about that? How have you seen that work?
Transcript of Podcast A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams:
Richard: I think that the outsider provides a unique perspective and is able to listen without bias. All of us are in meetings, all of us have coworkers, some of us have had coworkers for 5, 10, 15 years. We know exactly what to expect. We anticipate what they’re going to say. We really kind of listened to reply versus really taking a moment to listen to understand. The value of an outsider coming in is they are truly invested in listening to understand and to better the environment.
New employees are really the best outsiders that you can find because you hire somebody, and you bring them in, and the first four weeks that they come in, their eyes are innocent on everything you have going on. Even if they’re subject matter experts, even if they’re industry leaders, they’re trying to get a sense of where you are, of how you move, of how things move forward, of where the strengths are, of where the gaps are. They’re really trying to identify the culture and the environment so they can be successful as well.
The outside consultants and coaches and trainers do that same thing and they are ruthlessly efficient to doing that. To kind of hit on a really important question that Mary asked, each of the core strength areas that we talked to, there’s a phase for and there’s dedicated time too. So, when you’re putting a vision down, the last thing you want to be doing is planning execution. When you’re doing ideation, the last thing you want to do is be shooting these ideas down, or trying to figure out how they work together or if they will work at all.
So, each step is kind of a critical success factor that’s built on the others. There are small overlaps between them. Visionaries work with ideas really well back and forth to figure out what the master plan is. Ideators work with planners in figuring out where the boundaries are, as long as the planner understands that the boundary right now is ideation. Then executors really love to work with planners on the entry point to the work they need to get done. So, I hope that doesn’t require any further clarification.
John: Richard, that helps. That’s a very good insight there and as we move toward the bottom of the hour, we’re move back over to the news and I I’ll turn it back over to Bill Trifiro here in a moment and we’ll be back after this news break and continue our discussion. I’m john Phillips and you’re back along with Mary Miller and you’re listening to Business at Lunchbrought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council. Today, we are working with Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hamer and together they are the authors of The Leaders Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their TeamsRight Now.
Join in our conversation by calling in at area code 540-795-2510. That’s 540-795-2510 and help us with our conversation. Richard brought up before the break how someone who is new to the organization, a new hire comes in for the first couple of weeks with a entirely different set of eyes and that’s also a benefit of using a consultant in your company, but I’ll ask the question to Richard, to you and to Lynda, either one of you take it, on how to cultivate that new person and not shut those ideas down when they come into that organization.
Lynda: I’ll jump in and then I’ll pitch it to Richard and just I do want to sort of get in here how lucky we were to get to work with Richard. We certainly couldn’t afford him. Thank God, what we do and the projects we were working on was something he found interesting. He’s very much about trying to solve really complex problems. So, I deeply appreciate that and what I — I’m going to repeat some something I said before, which was what’s working at work is mission value statements on a wall, on a poster that senior leadership sort of push out there are not what create an innovative team. What creates an innovative team is welcoming, making time for other people’s perspective.
So, what it sounds like is “Hey, guys, we got a new team member. I can’t wait –” before you’ve been jaded or bias about any of us or this company, “Hey, I just want to have a session where we kind of tell you some of the problems that we’re having. I just want your first brand new thought about what you’re seeing.” So, that’s what I’m noticing is that rules of engagement where you literally say we appreciate other strengths and ability to contribute. We remain curious and issue practices like making time, specific time to gather different perspectives, and especially those that are new and youngest on the team are really valuable. What do you think, Richard?
Richard: I think that’s valuable. I think having the ability to listen to understand is also critical. A lot of us are really in a hurry to listen to reply. We really don’t take a minute to embrace a different view that might be from the person beside us or in front of us. In a work environment, the creative genius that comes out of simply being present and saying, “That’s a really good idea” is rarely heard because we’re always moving on to that next step of execution and drive and solution.
The key in addressing those boundaries with any team is really establishing a trust, as Lynda has rules of engagement are a key success factor, and then an openness to we’re going to fail. We’re going to get it wrong. We’re going to learn together. We already have failed. We’ve had great success at failing a lot of time because innovation comes out of failure. When a new team member joins, they’re going to be terrified and excited. When a consultant comes in, they’re going to be terrified and excited. When a coach comes in — but we’re not really ever terrified. But we are definitely excited because there’s always something new to understand.
That’s where Lynda gets her passion. That’s why she’s an ideator and that’s why she really enjoys engaging these complex problems. I’m more on the technology side, everything is virtual. So, with enough time and money, if it can be imagined, it can be solved from a technology perspective. That can be inhibiting and that can be freeing because the investment is made. The key is really getting your key people to ideate in a safe environment with you.
Lynda: Yeah, I’m just going to chime in and sort of talk about the crisis that we’re in right now as businesses. So, when you have a lack of ideation right now, what it sounds like is the marketplace is basically crashed underneath of us. The customers aren’t calling in. We can’t go see them the way that we used to. We don’t have enough resources. We don’t have enough money. We don’t know if — that’s what it sounds like on a team right now, if you’re stuck.
What it sounds like on a healthy team, and I’m getting to see it all the time right now with some of the companies that we’ve worked with over the last few years, it sounds like, “Okay. Here’s the issue. We need to contact customers, but they don’t really want to hear about our product right now. What are five other ways that we can reach out to them and connect with them? Maybe we could do a newsletter. Maybe we could do a quick Zoom to teach some of our clients. Maybe we can have a virtual lunch with them and just listen to what they’re saying.”
So, there’s differences right now between teams that went into it with tools and teams that didn’t have the ideation generation process in place to be able to get people unstuck from, “Oh, my gosh,” still in shock almost that what’s happening is happening. So, what do you think, Mary?
Mary: Yeah, Lynda, I’ve got all kinds of thoughts. I want to go back [inaudible 00:31:34] our listeners, I want to go back to week after week, early on, we talked about the DISC assessment, and understanding where our strengths are, and how we function. So, I go back as you’re building a team and the team that has these tools, that is who are your team members. I just really love Richard repeating again, listening to understand the importance of that, as everybody is really, I believe, bringing their best thoughts to the problem before.
I want to tie in the paper and some of the data that you saw and hoping that our listeners will download that. The leader reading through that, could you just maybe talk about them coming out of the paper? What could be some real concrete first steps? Because not only are we — unless you talk about the problems and how challenging it is, right now, people can’t necessarily clearly formulate the totality of the problem. Would you agree with that?
That we’re not quite sure when the situation [inaudible 00:32:56], people are talking about timing. They’re talking about needs. They’re talking about customers and how all of us are going through assessments and saying, “What is it we need? What do we have to do next? Who are our critical partners?” So, all of us are kind of in a similar situation and we need our leaders and our teams to step up. So, could you talk a little bit about Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, download the paper, read the paper? How could you bring your team together around the conversation in that regard?
Lynda: Yeah, I think that’s great. What I would say is one of the main conclusions is the ability of senior leaders and their managers to remain curious by actively seeking different perspectives from all levels of the organization. That’s one of the main takeaways. You guys have talked about that and we’ve talked about that. What I would say which is always so fascinating in the research and studies we do is how much money an organization will spend collecting data about their customers and the marketplace and all of this, and how they think their experience with people gives them the ability to instantly be able to identify what people’s strengths, behaviors and motivators are.
I just did a test with a team earlier today where they guessed and all of them were wrong about their leader, and what was motivating her and what her highest behavioral type was and what her strengths was and things like that. So, we don’t guess what the marketplace is going to do, but yet we guess about people. I mean, it’s so cheap. I mean, you’re talking about you didn’t want to do a full study on your team for $2,500 to $5,000. I mean, a full in depth, give a specific outline of what you need to do to be more effective at creative problem solving and what type of methodology you need to apply to be better at experimentation.
Here’s what we realized in the studies is nobody at work wants to seem stupid. So, they’re afraid to throw out their ideas. Why are they afraid to throw out their ideas? Because they don’t want to seem incompetent at their job. So, what can leaders do right now is exactly what Richard was talking about, which is listen to understand, listen for information, not confirmation. Lean in with curiosity. What that sounds like is going up to the youngest person on your team tomorrow and saying, “Hey, I haven’t only really heard your thoughts since this has been going on. What do you think?”
I don’t care if that’s a [inaudible 00:35:45]. I don’t care if it’s the city of Roanoke and it’s the person collecting “Thank you, God” or trash every day, once a week. Go to the front lines of your company of the people who are contacting your customers who are executing and ask them what they think. Just say, “Thank you.” Don’t shut them down. Don’t say, “Oh, yeah.” And give them an explanation. Just say, “What else are you thinking?” and listen for information.
John: I’m John Phillips and you’re listening to Business at Lunch, along with Mary Miller, Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hammer. We’re talking about generating ideas at work and they’re recently published article A Leader’s Guide to Get More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now. We hope you’ll join in our conversation by calling in at 540-795-2510. I’m curious to ask Richard and bring Richard into the conversation. We’ve talked a lot about how to continue ideas and the creation of ideas, but as a manager, how do you assess tolerance of ideas in your culture? If you’re a manager, how would you go about doing that?
Richard: Wow. Assess the tolerance of ideas in my culture? I’m going to try and break that down a little bit. I think ideation is a challenging topic. I think when you’re talking about ideation, I don’t know that there is such a thing as a bad idea, in truth, when you’re when you’re going through the ideation phase. In fact, I actually have an exercise I do with teams sometimes when we’re stuck, when we’re looking at a network problem or a software problem or a cloud infrastructure problem.
I say, “Okay. We’re going to put everything traditional aside here. I’ve got 10 subject matter experts in the room. I’ve got opinions and frustration because we have this connectivity issue or this routing issue or the software issue or this security issue that we can’t get around.” I’ll say, “Throw everything that we know aside.” I erased the whiteboard completely and I say, “I would like to know every bad idea you can think of.” Obviously, the first answer is, well, the only secure computer is a computer that’s not on and plugged in and has no access to it behind the safe and the world can’t operate if compute is put that way.
Now, the least safe computer is one that’s sitting out on the internet for anybody to do anything that they want to publicly. We’re looking for ideas on how to ensure safety, configuration, integrity of data, that processes are followed for access, that all the laws and regulations are followed, but I want every idea. I want the bad ideas. I want the good ideas. I want to spawn and foster thought and communication on solving the problem forward as opposed to shooting each other down or saying, “No, that won’t work.” Or saying, “The process doesn’t work that way.”
So, when you’re really focused on ideation, you’re completely open to anything and everything being possible no matter how ridiculous or absurd it may sound because if I were to say, “Hey, let’s just hook this computer up to the Internet, and let everybody access it.” One of my engineers might come back and say, “We could set up a DMZ, allow routing, provide secondary authentication, and really get by this problem we’re having with security by setting up a jump box or gateway.”
All of a sudden, my stupid idea has become a gateway to understanding and discovery of a possible solution that hadn’t been visible before because it didn’t trigger the brain, the cortex to solve the problem. So, that’s kind of where I go with that endeavor when there are a tolerance issues or conflict issues involved in the team.
John: What certainly puts the —
Lynda: I’m just going to jump in there.
John: Go ahead, Lynda.
Lynda: I was going to jump in there because in the article on Wednesday and in the report you’re going to be able to download Wednesday, there’s actually five specific questions. So, everything that Richard is saying, is an exact way to sort of listen to your team and see what’s happening. There’s these five questions that leaders and their teams can sort of go through on Wednesday and say things like, “How many new ideas to solve your toughest challenges have you considered in the last week? Do the consultants you use work directly with senior leaders and your teams do not just generate ideas, which is the question, but do they teach you how to generate ideas in your teams? If polled, what percentage of meetings would you your people in your organization think are a waste of time?”
Our data is showing that you can literally eliminate 50% of the time in meetings and see only good things come from it. So, if you have an hour long meeting, cut it to a half an hour. If you have a 30-minute meeting, cut it to 15 minutes. Challenge yourself over the next two weeks to cut your meetings in half time wise and see if you don’t get more engagement from the people in that team. You know what? Measure your failure tolerance. Are you measuring your failure tolerance? How many things have failed?
I can tell you in some organizations that I’ve gone into, been a part of if you’re not failing consistently, they literally think you’re not trying. They’re like, “You haven’t considered enough ideas,” Because if everything that you do is working, that means you’re not pushing the envelope of innovation because innovation is messy. It’s just messy. It doesn’t even have to be expensive, as much as it is a little messy because it’s trial, error, trial, error. I mean Thomas Edison, what did he say? I found 1000 ways not to make a light bulb. Nobody just wakes up tomorrow — and it’s innovation. It’s trial and error and we have to have tolerance for that. So, John, you were [inaudible 00:42:09].
John: Recently we had — go ahead, Mary.
Mary: I was just going to say so Lynda, we work with the startup community. Sometimes startups don’t realize how — we look to big companies, and we actually think they’ve got it figured out, but we’re not looking on the inside of big companies. So, many people attended an event with W. L. Gore, we brought someone in from W. L. Gore, who was head of ideation for the company. He literally funds teams to go down a road to develop something knowing clear well that probably only 2 in 10 will actually move to a later phase, that probably 8 in 10 will fail.
So, it’s a really interesting concept in big corporations that get it right, they understand it, but small teams, they just are afraid of failure. They don’t think they have any tolerance for it. So, embracing failure, I love hearing that. I thought it was a really good comment that we have to expect to fail. We can’t be right all the time and we have to have some tolerance for that. So, I thought that was really a good takeaway for some of our smaller companies that might be listening.
Lynda: I mean, the question is, is as you get bigger, are you playing to win? Are you playing not to lose? So, that’s a big thing. The bigger the corporation, the more money the executives make, the more they have to lose. So, they’re literally just playing protectionism with their ideas. They’re, “I don’t want to fail because we’re the number one. We don’t really want to push it.” If you’re a startup entrepreneur, and I’ve been one four times and I’m grateful that I sold one to an international company and every one of them have made a profit, however small sometimes. But, certainly I’ve always made more money than I could make working for somebody else at any given time, which is a success for me.
So, with entrepreneurs, it’s interesting. I mean, you have a certain runway. So it’s like, how long can you keep that runway going so you can experiment enough until you land on something that the marketplace finds viable and valuable. So, you can sustain sort of that customer relationship, whatever that is, for a period of time while you continue to experiment. So, a lot of entrepreneurs I see spend a lot of time in planning. They have an idea, which they think is a vision, or they have a vision that they think is an idea. Then they spend these months, sometimes years, planning exactly how it’s going to be before they actually interact with the first customer.
I know Samantha Steidel in our region has done a ton of research and I think her dissertation is somewhat about this particular topic with entrepreneurship. So, they don’t even do any customer discovery. Then they go out there, they have $100,000, or sometimes a million, and it fails miserably because there was no experimentation in the customer discovery process.
A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams
Mary: Yes. We really do focus that customer discovery and the importance of it and so you can’t develop in a vacuum. You’ve got to engage and find out what your customers, not only what they need, but what are they willing to buy? So, sometimes people need things but they’re not willing to buy them and there therein lies the challenge in and of itself. So, this has been really fascinating. I know we’re getting close to the end, John, I’m going to hand this back to you and let you wrap up with some questions. I look forward to next Monday with Lynda. Thank you, Lynda, so much and thank you, Richard, also appreciate that.
Lynda: Yeah. I think we have a caller on the line.
John: Thanks, Mary. We do. So. I’ll let Bill put the caller through and Simone is on the line from Roanoke.
John: Simone, thank you for joining us today.
Simone: Thank you. My question is related to small teams who have had no exposure at all to ideation. How do you suggest that a safe space is created for teams especially for those teams who have maybe had processes and ideas dictated to them and they have no idea where to begin?
Lynda: I’m going to answer that a little bit, and then also pitch it over to Richard. What I would say is there was a phenomenon that we witnessed in our conversational mapping, which was a learned helplessness. So, if a leader is really strong in ideation and vision, they sort of come to the team with those things, and then the team gets used to., “Okay. We need to plan it. We need to execute it.” It’s like a muscle that had atrophy. So, they just rely on the one ideator in the room who is generating the ideas. So, the ideas are in depth. So, it’s kind of a learned helplessness. What do you think, Richard, from what we’re seeing from our research?
Richard: My favorite exercise in answering the question is the team building exercises where that ideator muscle is asked to make observations only and not speak. You present the team with a complex set of tabletop exercises, or a puzzle to solve or a game to play where it requires out of box ideation and a set of hard rules in what that works. You encourage the playfulness and freedom and laughter and failure in building trust amongst the team members in that fashion. So, it doesn’t even have to be a work related problem. It can be something as simple as or as complicated as we need to get to the movie theater, how do we do that?
As the tabletop exercise and the narrator walk through the process, you discover certain things about how to get to the movie theater, whether you have a vehicle, whether you’re wearing shoes, whether it’s snowing, and you kind of walk through the exercise to see who the thinkers are. The next important piece in that process is observing who’s participating, but not necessarily speaking up and invite and engage them softly into the process.
The number of times, folks sit quiet and observe because they don’t feel like they’re invited to participate is shocking to me. Explicitly inviting, to lightly inviting their participation makes a huge difference, especially if it’s a safe environment where there really isn’t judgment on it being wrong.
John: Lynda, as we move toward the close of the hour and the close the show, tell us, if you were talking to entrepreneurs, for the first time on this subject, what are some of the key things you’d like them to take away from our conversation that we’ve had today?
Lynda: Small things really matter. The way that you engage people in a conversation and invite them in, matters. It’s the small things, rarely the big things, that are affecting your ability to creatively problem solve. Embrace failure, do not shun it. Give rewards for the best idea that failed this month and do lessons learn from it. So, have some fun, and build trust on your team and start finding fun ways to creatively problem solve. That’s what I would take away, I would have people take away.
John: Certainly, in today’s environment, as we move through a very uncharted territory and a restless economy, ideas are more important than ever. As we all come together and find different ways to solve the problems that many of which we have not had an opportunity to be through before, but together, these ideas can help us bring together the future of our businesses and as we move into the reopening of the economy, which we hope is very soon, we’ll be able to put many of those to work. We do want to close today and say I’m John Phillips and I appreciate you for listening to Business at Lunchbrought to you by the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council.
Special thanks and appreciation to Lynda McNutt-Foster and Richard Hammer. Together, they are the authors of A Leader’s Guide to Getting More Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now. We truly value and appreciate our listening audience and appreciate your call in today and this concludes our show for today. We’ll return on Tuesday when we talk entrepreneurship with several technology startup companies from our region. We hope you’ll stay safe and have a successful day and I’ll turn this back to Bill.
An Engineer’s Perspective on Problem Solving During a Crisis
“What’s Working At Work” this Monday, May 11, 2020, on the RBTC Business Lunch Radio program, focused on how engineers of large, essential item manufacturers are solving their biggest problems during the COVID19 crisis.
Bela Jacobson, Director of Packaging Operations for Haskell Engineering joined John Phillips, President of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, and Lynda McNutt Foster, CEO, Cortex Leadership Consulting.
Bela Jacobson is the Director of the Atlanta Packaging Center of Excellence. She has 15 years with the company, primarily focused on Consumer Goods Material Handling with focus on system design, optimization, master planning, vendor management, simulation, emulation, warehouse design, and product handling.
Bela also has experience in Project Management, managing large scale project scopes, schedules, and cost. She has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering with an emphasis in Manufacturing and Warehouse/Distribution Center layout and design. She also is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Packaging Professional (CPP)
Transcript of radio show:
John:Hey, good morning… actually, it’s good afternoon. We’re throwing that song out to Luke Phillips, who’s just returned from Afghanistan after about 11 months of deployment, made his mother very happy this weekend on Mother’s Day, if you got to see her for the first time, it’s quite Earth, Wind and Fire. But we would say thank you to all the first responders, all the military service members, everybody out there who’s doing the work of giants during the very unusual time in our nation’s history.
But good afternoon, I’m John Phillips, I’m your host. And thank you for joining us for today’s edition of the Business at Lunch show, brought to you by the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council. Each day at the noon hour, we seek to talk with the leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs in the Roanoke and Blacksburg regions to learn how they are using innovative strategies and just sheer determination navigate their way through this unique period, as we together create the new economy for our future.
Off to a new week, and we were hopefully closing in on the days when we were able to begin opening our economy. It is Monday, and on Mondays, we bring back our regular Monday feature ‘What’s working at work?’ with Lynda McNutt-Foster. We talk a lot, but we want to hear from you too. So, please join us for today’s show at 540-795-2510. Please give us a call at 540-795-2510.
Lynda McNutt-Foster has been an innovator in business since 1987 when she opened her first company that only 20 years old, designing new processes that became industry standards and pest control, advertising, and now the coaching industry. Lynda is a sought-after executive coach, strategist, and keynote speaker. I’ve asked Lynda to bring on a guest today as we look at managing during a crisis and bring in an engineering perspective. So, Lynda Introduce yourself and introduce your guest to our audience today.
Lynda:Good morning, John. It’s great to start Monday so I know that it (actually) is Monday. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s like Groundhog Day. So, thanks for having me on. Yes, I’m very excited to have Bela Jacobson join us this afternoon, because honestly, she’s busy. She works as a leader of the Atlanta packaging Center of Excellence for Haskell Engineering, which is an international engineering firm. And she has 60 team members that she’s managing through this crisis. She’s primarily focused on consumer goods, material handling with a focus on systems design, optimization, master planning, vendor management, simulation, emulation, warehouse design and product handling. So, I really appreciate Bela joining us. How are you doing this morning, Bela?
Bela:I’m great, Lynda. Thanks for having me on the show. That was quite… that was quite an introduction.
Lynda:Well, I’ve gotten to see you in action. And so, over the last 2 or 2 and a half years with your team, I’ve seen you grow with them, them grow with you. And I remember that a couple months ago when we were having a conversation and I literally said, “Wait a minute, what’s the problem with this toilet paper shortage?” We got into a conversation about manufacturing lines and how fast or quickly (they could be changed). And… and so, what’s your take on the toilet paper shortage from an engineer’s point of view?
Bela:It’s a… funny question. I never thought I’d be on the radio talking about toilet paper. But I guess here I am. So… so, actually a big portion of my career doing engineering manufacturing, I’ve worked in paper facilities actually making toilet paper. And… and, you know, you heard a lot of people saying, “Well, everybody’s still using the same amount of toilet paper. Why is there such a shortage?” And the… the reality is, there’s a couple things that played into the shortage. And part of it is that most people are out of their house for a lot of the day, whether it’s at work or whether it’s out at stores, or, you know, just not in their homes. And so, they’re using somebody else’s toilet paper.
And what’s interesting is that, when you’re at home, you have a specific kind of toilet paper that you can use at home, right? You can use the single roles that you buy at a grocery store while at a… you know, at a supermarket or at a restaurant, they might have those… those industrial-sized large rolls that have those specific dispensers that come with them that you probably wouldn’t really know what to do with if you had one of those rolls at your house.
And so, when everybody ended up staying home, everybody was spending 100% of their time at home and 100% of the toilet paper they needed had to be a specific type. And the industry really has a method for how they’re… they’re manufacturing, and each of those manufacturing lines have specific capabilities. And so, you might have a set of lines that are particular at a particular paper plant that’s making home use toilet paper.
And, and the… the facilities that are making those… those away-from-home as they call them, the away-from-home types of toilet paper, those big industrial rolls. They might be at a standstill without a whole bunch of people buying the large rolls. But the… the lines where they make those large rolls can’t just be switched on and off to go from large rolls to small rolls. It’s actually quite an undertaking to change one of those lines.
Lynda:That’s one of the things I think I learned from you is how many months it can take to change a line, a manufacturing line, right? Like, anywhere from 3 months to 6 months or something, depending on whether you need to make a minor change or you need to build a whole sort of different apparatus. Is that correct?
Bela:Absolutely. The equipment that does each of the functions on a manufacturing line is very specific to the function and the size and the specifications that it needs to function… that needs to work at. And so, if… if we tell a machine, “You need to make a roll of toilet paper that’s 4.2 inches long and has, you know, whatever it is, 400 sheets of toilet tissue,” that’s what it knows how to do. And to retool a machine or to change out a machine altogether, retooling is what takes, I would say, the least amount of time, you know, changing kind of change parts on a machine to help it adjust to a small change in a product.
But really, replacing machines, which is what you need to do when you make large changes to the type of product you’re making, those machines generally have between a 6-months and 9-months lead time from when you design the machine to when you can install it. And then there’s beyond that sort of commissioning startup phase where it’s slowly growing into its final speed and capability which, like you said, it could take even up to a year or more to get aligned functioning in a new… in a new product.
So, it’s not something you can just turn on when they run out of toilet paper at the grocery store and say, “Quick, get some more.” You’re talking about almost a year turnaround for something like that.
Lynda:Well, that’s why I really wanted to speak with you today and have… have a conversation. Because to change… sometimes to change something that appears to the outside world as being very small is actually a very complex thing to change. So, I’ve… I worked with a lot of engineers and coach a lot of them. And… and your ability especially and with your team (who’s amazing, talented team out there in Atlanta) is about creative problem solving. Like, you have major changes that need to happen. There’s time constraints. There’s money constraints and those type of things. So, when you work with these man… these big manufacturers that you guys do, and you’ve been in this for a while, and what’s the biggest, most impactful things that you’re seeing from like your manufacturer clients… clients right now that your teams are working with?
Bela:So, a lot of our manufacturing is a… a little bit of background. In general, we work to design new manufacturing lines for all sorts of different customers in the… in the food, beverage, consumer products industries. And then we also help them when they’re trying to change their manufacturing or improve their manufacturing. And if you look at the… the grocery store aisles and you look at the changes that have happened over say the last 10 years, and you probably have noticed that many manufacturers, they used to be in a, you know, in a 64-ounce container, and then it’s in a 61-ounce container, and then it’s in a 58-ounce container, and they’re selling it for the same price, right?
And, but to go from 1 container size to the next container size, believe it or not, is a huge undertaking on their part in their plants to change the equipment and to change the processes. So, that’s usually, you know, 6 months to a year-long process to get the new equipment and start it up. And then the planning for that is even longer ahead of time. So, in looking at our customers trying to change their production or change their processes, it takes a while. So, you know, they’re all right now thinking about, “How do we react differently based on what’s happened over the last couple months?” And to just throw a wrench into it, most of them aren’t allowing non… non-employees into their plants. And so, for folks like us, we’re considered contractors, so we are not allowed into many of the plants right now just to keep… you know, for health, safety, all of that. They’re trying to keep their plants at a minimum level of… of exposure.
But what we are seeing is that the plants that have invested a lot in automation and… and, you know, maybe a whole manufacturing line only has 1 or 2 operators, they can socially distance on those lines and keep those plants running pretty well. You know, you’ve seen a lot in the news about the meat and chicken plants getting a lot of news… news time because they’re getting a lot of people… there’s a lot of people coming home sick. And part of that entire industry is that you’ve got a lot of people working in close proximity to each other, so it’s not as automated as a lot of the other consumer goods packaging. It’s a lot more manual and a lot tighter quarters for the… for the of people working side by side.
So, you know, in the industries where we see fewer… fewer operators and more automation, they’re getting hit much less hard than the ones that have a lot of… a lot of manual operations and people next to each other, shoulder to shoulder.
Lynda:No, that makes sense. Well, so you’re talking about your team. So, you’re used to, right, disperse your teams to the manufacturing plants. And what I heard you just say is, they’re not able… you know, if they’re not essential to that operation, then they’re working from home now. And you had to make that change, you know, sort of rapidly fast. As your customers were changing, you were changing. What kind of challenges with the customers are your teams seeing right now with having to work with them remotely?
Bela:So, I’ll certainly say, on the flip side, a lot of the work we do is not… even though many of our team members are based in Atlanta, most of our work is based around the country. And so, our team is pretty prepared in terms of having video-conferencing tools and, you know, shared spaces over the cloud to share documents and share pictures and share… share all sorts of files with our customers and from our customers.
And so, in that… in that sense, we already kind of had the… the framework set up to be able to work remotely with our customers. But a lot of what we do with our customers is we get in front of those machines and we look at them and we figure out what’s going wrong, or we figure out how to improve them. And we talk about opportunities and we talk about what… what needs to happen, and most hands on is actually getting those machines installed and started up.
And so, many of our projects were put on hold where folks have to go back home from our team, and we’ve seen sort of a new… a new opportunity in supporting our customers remotely. So, we’ve found some… some tools that have helped us do that. And so, there’s… there’s just a handful of different… of different companies out there that… that are supporting with… with being able to remotely access the… the… the line control. So, how do we adjust the line controls from a remote site versus being in the plant?
And so, we’ve been using some of those tools remotely just to help us help them. Also, having them, you know, videotape a problem that they’re having and send us the video and we can then diagnose and tell them how to fix it. And so, it’s been a different… a different set of challenges, but I think, you know, our customers are… are adapting just as… as… are adapting just as we are. And we’re all kind of learning through this together.
Lynda:Okay, awesome. Yeah, because I was thinking about all the customers you guys kind of represent and there’s definitely some alcohol… alcohol manufacturer. So, I’m wondering, besides your toilet paper people having to sort of amp that up quite much, have you seen any changes in the… many of people would have heard of these types of alcohol. You know, I’ve definitely seen that consumer spending for alcohol is up significantly. Anything on that front?
Bela:You know, we like to joke that our business is very stable because when the economy’s bad, people drink, and when the economy’s good, they just drink better alcohol. And so, they keep us busy regardless of what the economy looks like. And, you know, even our own team, we’ve set up happy hours for our own team, virtual happy hours. And we… we say, “Support our customers have a drink.”
So, you know, it’s our… our alcohol customers, for the most, part are very similar to the other customers and that they’re… they’re doing what they can to continue to produce and get what they can on the shelves. And we have seen some of our customers step up, and especially the distilleries, and folks like that that are making, you know, sanitizer available for… for, you know, hospitals and for local communities and things like that. So, a lot of the manufacturers and alcohol are actually kind of putting on pause some of their alcohol production and helping in the community get some alcohol out for sanitation purposes.
Lynda:Yeah. And, you know, that’s funny because earlier, it was like, you can’t really retool that quickly for like toilet paper from the commercial. But like GM and some of the distilleries are doing sanitizer. Can you quickly explain that to me? And then I’m going to jump back to John so he can break in with an… you know, an update.
Bela:Sure. They’re… they’re not really retooling for the sanitizers, right? They’re using the same size bottles and they’re just changing their formula of what’s going in the bottles. So, they’re not… they’re not creating sort of that gel sanitizer that you might buy in a pump. They’re rather providing like the liquid alcohol so that you can use it to sanitize. So, it’s sort of just a change in their process system of what goes into that tank before it gets filled into the bottle.
Lynda:And same thing with…
John:Well, I’m John Phillips and… oops, sorry there. I’m John Phillips, and I thank you for listening to Business at Lunch, brought to you by the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council. And we’re talking problem solving during a crisis with Bela Jacobson, director of the Atlanta Packaging Center of Excellence for Haskell Engineering, along with Lynda McNutt-Foster today. Bela, I’ve got a few questions for you. I really like to learn how your… if you take a systems approach to problem solving, and if what you do normally changes during a crisis, what… how do you balance these 2 situations and making good decisions?
Bela:That’s a good question. So, you know, internally for our team has been probably equally as challenging as externally for our customers. So, you know, we have a team that generally is working face-to-face in an office or face-to-face with our customers in the… in the field. And so, it’s a… it’s a very team-based problem-solving approach. We do a lot of peer reviews to make sure that the problems that we solve, we don’t solve in vacuums, we get the right experts in the room to help bring those solutions to be as good as possible with the knowledge that we’ve got available to us. And so, you know, in any given week in the office, we’ll have 2 or 3 peer reviews with 20 or 30 people sitting in for an hour to give their expertise or their feedback.
Doing that remotely, has been a new challenge for us. But like I mentioned before, you know, doing the video calls, getting all of the information on a video call is… was part of the process before. And so now, it’s just, “How do we make sure people who have comments can get their comments in and heard when you’ve got 30 people on a call together?” But that process has been continuing forward and continuing to happen as it has been before which is… which is good.
You know, we have slowed down a little bit as customers have said, “Hey, we’ve got to pause projects. Hey, we can’t have you in our facilities.” But as of about a week and a half ago, they started calling back and saying, “Okay, we’re ready to start getting rolling again.” So, we’re still doing what we do, just from our home.
John:Well, do you see that trend accelerating? And are folks going to make some changes from where they were perhaps a month ago or 2 months ago before all this broke out? Are they going to take on different products or do some changes in their strategy? What… what is their approach?
Bela:You know, I think you’re going to see a lot of changes in strategy, whether it’s being able to change… you know, if you… if you look at the… the folks that are selling products to restaurants or to big distributors, you know, you get a 200-pound box of chicken legs, you know, a single consumer might not want to buy a 200-pound box of chicken legs. And so, now, they’re stuck with that box. How do they get that to the customer when there’s a shortage in the grocery store of the, you know, a 3-pound container?
And so, I think some of those bulk providers might want to look at, how do they quickly changed from the size production they’re making today to a smaller… a smaller production, whether that’s having a contract manufacturer, you know, do that offline or whether that’s adding capabilities to their facilities? I think that’s a big discussion in those in those plants.
I think the other change I think you’ll see a lot of is some more automation. I think you’re going to see some of those manual tasks get changed to tasks where it doesn’t matter if there’s a pandemic happening outside the walls of the facility, you’re still making what you need to make successfully.
John:Manufacturing has certainly been on the forefront of affected by the crisis, either through having to shut down, adjust their products and services quickly, or even be called into national service, as we saw GM do with the ventilators. Those are quick changes and having to be made in real-time. And a lot of decisions go into that both financially and structurally. One of the big adjustments that’s being talked about of course is the adjustment from offshore production, and how much production America has lost over the last 30 years or 20 years. How do you see that affecting your customers? And what are your thoughts on those types of changes?
Lynda:So, you know, a lot of our customers have… have a… we have a split, you know? A lot of manufacturing is still happening in the US. There’s particularly for things that are difficult to transport overseas and offshore, you know? If it takes a long time to get here and there’s a short shelf life, it’s not going overseas right now. If it’s something that takes up a lot of space on a boat, like toilet paper, we’re not shipping that in from overseas because it’s… it’s not worth the cost, right?
But there is some… some things happening overseas and, you know, we’re working right now with… with a company to build mask manufacturing in the US. We were engaged a couple weeks ago, almost a month ago now to… to re… relocate mask manufacturing from China to the US, which is I think a big trend that we’re going to see happening soon is more manufacturing here for things that potentially aren’t as reliable when things affect the world economic situation and traveling capabilities of the world.
So, you know, we’re looking at building a facility that makes millions and millions of masks a week bringing it here to the US. And, you know, in terms of turnaround time, that’s actually one that they’re looking at have that running masks in just a couple months. So, that’s an interesting project that we probably wouldn’t have anticipated 3 months ago.
John:Certainly a very quick change for that kind of volume, and one that I… that is very impressive and necessary to bring back on to our own shores. As we move down to the bottom of the hour, where we’ll take a break here in about 4 minutes for the news. I’m curious just to know what you think on that trend, also on supply chain and how that’s going to be affected… how that’s going to affect the manufacturers. We’ve had a lot of manufacturers in our region. They’re very important, both lot of transportation manufacturing facilities with Volvo and the new Mac facility coming in. And we wonder about that supply chain, whether that… that will be opportunities for us from an economic development standpoint to bring additional manufacturing into our region, and how companies will approach those types of decisions. What are your thoughts on that as we close out the bottom here?
Bela:Well, I’ll say my expertise is not on the manufacturing of automobile side, it’s more on the consumer goods side. But I think in general, the… the savings of doing things overseas is… is for the most part where it’s labor intensive. You know, if you… if it’s… if you need a lot of people to do something, it’s currently cheaper to do that in a lot of other places around the world than it is to do it here. When you start automating, and you’re able to do things without people… without the same quantity of people, maybe not without people at all, but without the same quantity of people, it becomes more realistic to bring it in-house when you start talking about the cost of transportation, and the cost of quality, making sure all of that happening in-house might be a lot more reasonable when you’re starting to remove the… the… the human element from it.
So, if you can… if you’re going to automate… if you’re going to change your processes overseas, I think there’s going to be a big push to, if you’re going to change the processes anyway, change them to be here.
John:It certainly will affect the types of training and the skills and background we want to bring on to these manufacturing floors. How do you see that being affected by any of the manufacturing realm over the coming… coming year?
Bela:Yes, absolutely. So… so, a lot of… I’ll say that the lower-skilled jobs that are on the manufacturing floor are probably the ones I would say most… most at risk. The… the ones that we’re going to need a lot of that we don’t have currently are, are people who … can do mechanical and electrical maintenance, you know, on the machines, on the… on the… on the different equipment that’s in the facilities that might not be there now. So, maintenance is going to be a big opportunity for people to, you know, be trained in mechanical, electrical maintenance to… to be line operators.
You know, the line operators to understand how the machines work and to be able to make that line work the way it’s supposed to work takes some training and takes some I’ll say on-the-job experience that… that you can get when you’re running a line. Those are the people that are going to need… need to be available and be able to be either hired, already trained, or train them.
And, you know, one of the things we do is we do training in a virtual environment. We put the entire manufacturing facility in a virtual reality setting to let somebody learn how to run a line without ever touching one of these 10-million-dollar manufacturing lines and risking… you know, risking shutting it down or anything like that. We let them train offline. And that’s a big help to just make sure they come on ready to… ready to rock and roll with it with a brand-new line.
John:We’re now at the bottom of the hour and we’ll kick it back to Bill with the news. And I’m John Phillips and you’re listening to Business at Lunch, brought to you by the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council.
Great music there, Bill Trafiro. Thanks for bringing us back in. And I’m John Phillips and you’re listening to Business at Lunch, brought to you by the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council. We’re discussing an engineer’s perspective on problem solving during a crisis with Bela Jacobson, director of the Atlanta packaging Center of Excellence for Haskell Engineering, along with Lynda McNutt-Foster.
We’re having an interesting discussion there on the talents and skill sets that are going to be called upon in the future and how to train and be ready for those. I think we know that automation… you made a great point here, Bela, that automation is the way of the future. And it is fantastic when you walk into these high-tech manufacturing facilities and see the robotics and how they are putting that to work. We have a very active robotics community in our region. And we recognize that a lot of the types of jobs that were being done by multiple people are now being taken over by robots. So, there’s going to be maintenance of those robotics, facility requirements, but there’s also going to be the folks that program them and make sure that they’re operating during the lines operations. Tell us how folks should adjust for the future as that becomes much more important, and what types of training they should be… that will be in demand in the future?
Lynda:That’s a good question. So, I think there’s… there’s a big range, right? So, there’s… there’s the people who are designing the machines. So, the mechanical engineers, electrical engineers that are designing and programming each of those machines to do what they need to do in the bigger picture of that manufacturing setting. Then there is people like… like my team, where we design the… the entire line where we pick the and choose which unit operations need to go on that lines to make the entire line successful, and we program the line to work as a single unit and… and be integrated together as a single unit. So, you’re getting the end product from all those individual machines, you’re getting that end product out.
So, again, mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, control engineers, mechatronics, depending on the school, they call the programs different. But I’m really looking at PLC programming, mechanical engineers using… using different types of AutoCAD and 3D… 3D CAD software are… those are going to be the types of jobs that are helping drive this industry. But at the same time, you’ve also got, those are… those are, for the most part, 4-year degrees in most universities, right? But you’ve also got technical school degrees and technical school apprentices… apprenticeships that are going to be in high demand as well.
So, you’re looking at, like I mentioned earlier that the maintenance crews been the mechanics, the… the electrical maintenance of the line operators. You know, those don’t require 4-year degrees to get into that work. And so, you… you can start by, you know, getting some of that training ahead and then doing on-the-job opportunities to, you know, hone that skill set and starting in it now. But in every plant we go to, the folks that they can’t get enough of are skilled maintenance workers for that equipment. So, I think that’s a huge place where people can start looking at getting some training to get in early now on the ground.
Lynda:Bela, this is… the information you’re providing is so dense and rich and… and helpful. And I’m sure… honestly, I’m… I was trying to think of the headline so far, which is like, “You don’t have to be an engineer to learn a lot from this conversation.” In fact, I think that the average person going, “What’s next?” I mean, you’ve really given some nuts and bolts, and really some point people in the right direction of, “Hey, if you’re looking to get a degree of any kind in this field,” you’ve given a lot of options there.
You know, what I’ve been impressed by a great deal since the crisis started and we’ve had conversation is about the ways from the very beginning that you created engagement with your team. And I’ve really been taking note of that. And I’ve actually been distributing to a lot of my other clients, those techniques, and they’ve picked them up and they’ve used to them with the kind of success you haven’t. I think some of the things that you have done, especially at the beginning are now almost commonplace. But they certainly weren’t the day that everybody was starting to work in their living rooms.
So, I was… I was wondering if you’d be willing to share some of the techniques that works best for your team. So, what’s working on keeping your virtual team engaged right now?
Bela:So, it’s funny. You get 60, 65 people and you tell them all, “Go work in your house.” And for some people, that means they’re alone in their apartment, and for some people, that means that they’re trying to work from their house while their spouse also tries to work, and their children are trying to school and or… or just maybe screaming in the background. And so, it’s… it’s very different for each person what working from home looks like.
And so, a big part of what I’ve tried to do is try to normalize it, right? It’s not wrong if you’ve got a kid in the background. It’s not wrong if you… if you… if your house is messy. And so, from the very start, all of our meetings have been video chat. So, I’ve asked everybody to turn on their camera. And it really makes people feel more human to each other, you know? I’m leading a team and when my… my 4-year-old son walks into the room and tells me he has to go to the bathroom, you know, everybody kind of laughs on the call, and then we get past it and we keep going, right?
And so, I think one part is… is having those… having everybody be on video. And it’s a kind of a conversation starter to say, ‘Oh, what’s not in your background? Who’s that a picture of? You know, what’s… what’s that ornament from? Where did you go?” And so, I think that… that was one of the very first things.
The other couple things that we started from that very first week, it was… it was sort of a 3-part effort. First, we set up check-in meetings. So, I set up every other week, a check-in meeting with about 6 or 7 people per meeting. And there was no agenda work-related to the… the check-in meetings are set for 30 minutes. And the idea was just to make sure people are doing okay.
Different people have reacted to the stresses of working from home differently. And… and, you know, some people… some people love it. Some people are introverts and they say, “I love this. This is the best thing. I wish I’d done this earlier.” And some people are very lonely and, you know, looking forward to that opportunity to interface with other people. And so, having an opportunity, not just for me to check in on them, but for them to talk to each other and see each other. And so, we’ve been doing that since the beginning.
The second has been happy hours. So, you know, to support our customers, of course, we have… every week, we set up about 4 happy hours a week. And 2 of them are, you know, 5:00 or 6 o’clock. And then we’ll have 1 at about 8:30 or 9:00 at night. And then 1… 1 of the young women on my team has actually set up an 8 o’clock AM happy hour, and she instead calls it a healthy hour, and she leads the workout for our team.
And… and it’s interesting because the… the happy hours aren’t so much based around drinking something. They’re more based around just getting to have that social interaction with the rest of the team that you don’t normally get. Where you would normally have that in the break room or at the watercooler or, you know, walking by somebody’s cubicle, you don’t have those opportunities now. So, those happy hours has been a lot of fun to just get to have an opportunity to talk to other people. And they’re all… they’re all themed, which is kind of funny. I can talk about that maybe later. But they all have a theme, and each person volunteers to host a happy hour comes up with a theme. And there’s… there’s been quite a wide range. It’s been pretty funny.
And then the third part has been I’ve been sending daily emails. And so, those daily emails sometimes have very important information about what’s going on in the business and, you know, what’s changing and what’s coming up, and things they need to know. And sometimes, it’s just something to keep them occupied and keep them laughing. So, we… last week, we had a baby picture contest, and we had everybody send in their baby pictures, and then we had everybody guests whose was whose. So, it’s any… it’s sort of the whole range of opportunities to have an outlet for a social interaction.
Lynda:Yeah. I mean, it’s really what… what I’ve seen make a difference in your division. I mean, it really is obvious the engagement level you’ve been able to… to keep going. And the other thing I would say… and I think we have a caller. I think we have Jeannie waiting on… on the line. So, I want to… want to get her into the conversation and see what her question is. But you have virtual lunches. And you don’t have to respond to this before we bring Jeannie in, but I just want to say I was very impressed from the very beginning where you… you instantly realized about the need for engagement. And you’ve made it a point to say, “I’m going to have lunch with a different team members, set of team members every day. And I want my other leaders to make sure they have virtual lunches.”
And I remember from the very beginning, thinking, “Oh, I just… I just loved that.” So, I want to go ahead and, and bring Jeannie in and see what your… her comments or questions or thoughts are about all this. Jeannie, are you there?
Jeannie Newby:So, this is Jeannie. I’m here, yes. I’ve really been enjoying this conversation and love all of the things to keep your teams engaged virtually. But I wanted to go back to talking about kind of the shift in the need for the skillsets of employees, you know, as the… we do more automation and, you know, we’re changing how we’re working. How do you kind of build a culture where employees have a sense to own their own professional development and how to gain new job skills to keep up with that? You know, some people just get so entrenched and… and kind of set in the comfort zones that, you know, they’re going to become unemployable. So, what have you seen that successful there to help these employees?
Bela:Oh, good question. So… so, to be transparent, my team is made up of engineers. And so, I don’t have a bunch of folks who are… are going to have to change their approach and what they’re doing because what our team is currently doing, I think it’s going to continue to be in demand. But you know, looking at the people who are working in the facilities where we support, how do they… how do they make sure that their team members get those opportunities?
And… and, you know, it might be a little bit a little bit crass, but you kind of hit it on the head where you said your job’s not going to be here if you don’t get those skills. And I think that’s… that’s… if that was said to me, “Hey, if you don’t name these other skills, you’re not going to have a job in 5 years, or maybe in 2 years,” that would probably push me over the edge to say, “I should probably go and start earning some new skills.”
You know, there are people out there that… that think that, you know, “This is what I’ve always done, and this is how it needs to always happen or else it can’t work as well as it does currently.” And the challenge there is that they haven’t seen it work somewhere else. And so, you know, we see that in a lot of the plants we go to is they’re doing… they’re doing a process that we’ve seen it happen much better in another customer’s or another facility’s plant. But because they’ve never been exposed to it, they’re just not aware of it. And so, I think, you know, being more vocal about look at what… what’s out there and look at the opportunities that are. Because if they don’t know that it’s out there, they’re not going to pursue it.
And so, you know, even… even within our own company, you know, we do a scholarship program for the children of our employees going to college. And about 5 years ago, that scholarship program changed where it used to be, you had to go to a 4-year university. And now, it’s you can go to a 4-year university or a trade school and get that same scholarship. And so, I think even with our own… within our own company, recognizing that there’s a lot of jobs out there that we need from trade school graduates, and… and that are not necessarily 4-year degrees, but are going to be in high demand as we keep going forward.
Jeannie Newby:Thank you. And I…
Lynda:I’ve got another question… oh, go ahead, Jeannie.
Jeannie Newby:I was going to say I’m… even with your own engineers, they’ve got to be constantly working to keep up with the latest technologies and trends as well just to, you know, be at their top performance. So, sounds like you’ve…
Jeannie Newby:… been successful helping them do that as well.
Bela:Yeah… And. and we do that. We have… so, we set up goals at the beginning of each year for every one of our engineers in terms of where we see our business going and where we see the gaps in each of our individual employees in terms of compared to their peers, and compared to the industry of where we’re going and where we think we’re going to need more… more skills.
So, if there’s an area that we’re starting to see opportunities in that we haven’t in the past, then we say, “We need to… we need to get some people trained in this,” and give up those… those opportunities to the people who are showing interest in and a drive to get that training. And you see it pretty fast. You see those people who are… are, I’ll say that they jump at new opportunities and new responsibilities. You know, some do it faster than others. But as long as you keep having those conversations of where the industry is going, people are going to continue learning.
You know, we… our team stays up to… up to speed. There’s trade shows… well, currently there’s no trade shows, but… but normally during… during the… during the year, you know, specifically Pack Expo is a big trade show that we attended. It’s at the end of, you know, Fall of each year. where a lot of equipment manufacturers are there showing their equipment, you know, trying to get new customers to buy their equipment.
And our team’s biggest task at that show is not… we’re not generally buying a whole lot of equipment for any of our customers there. We’ve got a few people doing that. But usually what our team is focused on is, “What’s the new technology out there? What’s the new trends? What do we need to be focused on? Because they’re going to… they’re going to be the next opportunities for our project.”
John:Well, I’m John Phillips and… I’m John Phillips and you’re listening to Business at Lunch. Jeannie, we appreciate you calling in. Businesses at Lunch is brought to you by the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council, and we’re discussing an engineer’s perspective on problem solving during a crisis with Bela Jacobson, director of the Atlanta Packaging Center of Excellence for Haskell Engineering, along with Lynda McNutt-Foster. And we do hope you’ll join in our conversation by calling in at 540-795-2510. That’s 540-795-2510.
I’m interested, Bela, as we’ve talked about building teams to talk about collaboration and how to build a collaborative environment in a period where we are social distance and Zoom is becoming our primary means of… of interacting with each other. What do you see is some of the challenges and some of the best methods to overcome that?
Bela:So, it’s funny. Our… as a company, we use Microsoft Teams, and we’re, you know, consistently, you know, post… and Teams is good, not just for the video conferencing, but there’s a lot of other capabilities there too. But one thing that Teams lacks currently (I think it’s coming out soon) is a vis… a visual on everybody that’s on the call. And if you’ve ever used Zoom, Zoom is a little bit different, whereas Zoom has pretty much everybody on the call, their face is on your screen all at once.
And so, when I’m having a collaborative meeting, I don’t like to use Teams because I feel like I’m just presenting to the group. You know, I can’t see everybody’s face. I can’t get those… that feedback from the group unless they actually speak up, which, you know, if you’ve ever worked with engineers, not all engineers want to speak up all the time. They like to be quiet and then answer when asked.
And so… so, using zoom, I’ve had a little bit more luck where I can actually see the people on the team, look at what their reactions are as we’re having conversations. And that really helps collaborate a little bit more. If I’m actually presenting something to the team, which I do every couple of weeks, you know, I give a presentation to the team, Teams works well for that because I don’t have to actually see everybody’s face.
But on the flip side, the rest of the Teams platform we use a lot in terms of collaborative editing of files. So, you might put a Word document or an Excel file onto Teams, and everybody accesses it at once. There’s 1 latest version, you’re not having to ask somebody to close it to get into it, and you’ve got multiple versions hanging around. When you’re all at home, it’s hard to kind of catch everybody in a centrally located document and make sure everybody’s got it updated.
So, using some of those collaborative tools has been helpful. And we have other tools like that internally as well. You know, Blue… Blue Beam is great for that for drawings, you know, for PDF drawings of… of you know, CAD and all of that. We use Blue Beam to mark it up as a… as a collaborative tool.
So, you know, we… we continue to do the things we do in the office, as well as we can virtually by using a lot of the tools as much as we can.
John:We have another caller on our line. I believe it’s Brandon from Rocky Mount. Brandon, welcome to the show, and please let us know your question.
Brandon Scott:Alright. So, speaking of building teams, I’m the number 2 at a… at a small growing professional services firm. And we’re at a field that has not really experienced a downturn as a result of the pandemic, and we don’t expect that either. How would you look at growth in scaling a company at an uncertain time like this when meeting face-to-face with prospective employees really isn’t an option?
Bela:That’s… that’s interesting. We’re having the same conversations. So, we’ve seen, you know, there are other firms out there right now that don’t have the… the capacity to keep all their team members employed right now. And so, we’re seeing a lot of good engineers, good employees being laid off and being downsized right now because their firms can’t support it. And so, we’re looking at that and saying, “This is an opportunistic time for us, right? There’s people who could be great additions to our team. How do we engage them and bring them onto our team or even have an interest in our team when they can’t really meet our team and they can’t see our offices? How do we do that?”
So, we’re having that same conversation right now. And we’ve already started doing interviews on… on video chats. So, we’ve already started that process. One of the things that we actually started last year that’s been successful is creating assessments for our higher-level engineers. And so, you know, an interview works really well to understand their personality and how maybe they would get along with the team. But it doesn’t necessarily give you that depth of how they would solve a problem.
And so, we’ve actually created some assessments that give them real scenarios that we would see in a real project and… and ask them to go in and tackle them in… in, you know, a 30-minute segment and then come back and give us the response, then we give them another question. So, we have sort of an interactive assessment where it’s not a sit-down test, but rather, “Here’s something we would see from a customer. Come back and present to us how you would… how you would approach that problem.”
And when we got to, for, you know, engineering managers and senior engineer levels, a pretty good… I think it’s 6 questions now and… and we get a group of about 5 or 6 of us on the lines for them to present to, the same as they went to a customer if they were presenting a pro… project to a customer. So, we’ve been doing that. I think, you know, bringing them into even one of those happy hours would be a good opportunity for them to get to know what the team personality is like too, and… and vice versa.
So, right now, we’re doing everything virtually. But we’ve had a couple people actually start on the team knew that had offers out before this pandemic hit. And they’ve had to sort of start their process remotely and doing as much as we can remotely to bring them in. I think the biggest thing we’ve done for new hires, we started this about a year ago where we have every new hire, set up a 30-minute knowledge transfer with every current employee, or they’re supposed to do a 30. And so, they set up about 2 a week where they sit down with somebody on our team and they get to know them on a personal level, and then that the legacy team member teaches them something unique to their job, so that they kind of get a little bit of knowledge during that… during that session. Those have been a beneficial as well for the new hires just to get to know different people on the team and learn something as they’ve been doing this from home.
Lynda:Hey, Bela, that’s… I mean, this has been so rich. Brandon, that was fantastic. I love the questions that came in from the callers. And, you know, I think we’ve all learned a lot from the time that we’ve had with you today. So, I mean, I really appreciate you taking…. I know how busy your life is. Like, you have 2 kids, your husband’s working from home too, and you’re running a division of 60 engineers. So, I deeply appreciate you taking this… this virtual lunch, so to speak, and given us a future look. So, I’m going to hand back to John. He will take us out.
Bela:My pleasure… my pleasure, Lynda. Thank you for having me on the show today, John and Lynda.
John:I appreciate Bela. And I do want to make a couple more comments. I’m curious about the future and what you see on the future bringing to us. When you look out over the next 6 months, what types of struggles you think that the manufacturers face? And what are some methods to get through that? And then take us maybe even further out than that.
Bela:Well, I think in the next few months, it’s going to be, “How do we just keep up with demand as people have… have reduced the amount of time they’ve spent going to restaurants and going out? How do we keep up with this demand in the grocery stores and in the convenience stores to make sure people have the… the necessities to continue living from home or living a higher percentage from home than they have been?” That’s going to be the immediate question, and maintaining the health and safety of the employees in the manufacturing facilities.
You know, long term, it’s going to be each of those facilities looking at how to address another situation like this, right? Even if we all get back to work in a couple months and… and the economy is 100% back open, there could be another… another swing of, you know, stay-at-home orders coming in the fall potentially. So, how do they… how do they prepare themselves to be ready for the same thing happening again if that happens? That’s going to be, I think, the top of their… their concerns. The
other is they’ve probably all made a lot of money during this time trying to… you know, they’ve been sold out. So, they’ve got a quick influx of cash, where do they invest that into their… into their existing facilities? Or do they build new build new facilities or production capabilities, so that in the future, they’ve got maybe duplicate capabilities to ramp up when they need to? I think that’s going to probably be part of that discussion as well.
John:Well, we know lots of folks are out there wrestling with these types of decisions and trying to figure out their best way to make it through those decisions and… and get set up for what is undoubtedly an unpredictable future. When you’re working with an engineering group like yourself, what kind of goals do you set for yourself over the next 6 months? And how far out do you plan when you’re in a pretty unpredictable environment?
Bela:You know, it’s the… the manufacturing environment for us… so, Haskell does, not just manufacturing, but also facility design and construction and also the… the… the process and packaging systems inside of those facilities. And so, for us, it kind of goes in waves where customers, when they’re tight on cash, they might not be building a new facility, but they might be making improvements to their existing facility to let it last, you know, just another couple years so that they can bridge that time until they can build a new facility.
So, our focus sometimes changes between, “Are we building new facilities and new manufacturing lines? Or are we adjusting and improving and trying to get every last drop out of the existing lines and the existing facilities?” And so, regardless of whether we’re building new, or improving existing, that really… both of those hone our skills for our engineers and it keeps us busy. And so, you know, it’s… it’s… it’s a… it’s a blessing in disguise, you know, but… but the economy shifts doesn’t shift people’s need to eat or go to the bathroom or… or drink. They still do all of that regardless of the economy. It just depends on what quality of product are they buying. Are they buying the expensive toilet paper? Are they buying the cheap toilet paper? You know, are they buying the nice bourbon, or are they buying the cheap, the… you know, the cheap wine? You know, what… what they’re buying does change. And so, it does change for our customers where their focus on… is in manufacturing. But for us, the manufacturing tends to stay pretty steady in terms of what’s happening in our world.
John:Yeah, Bela Jacobson, Lynda… Lynda Foster, I appreciate your all’s time today as we move to the top of the hour. And thank you so much for coming on the show. I’m John Phillips, and I thank our audience for listening to Business at Lunch brought to you by the Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council. This concludes our show for today and we’ll return on Tuesday where we get the chance to interview the Center for Innovative Technology CEO, Ed Albrigo. Thank you very much and have a safe and successful day.
New Study: 58% of leader’s and their teams actively avoid listening to new ideas
A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now
A wake up call to any leader that needs to innovate to thrive
By: Lynda McNutt Foster and Richard Hammer
Issue: Teams back in the office.
What if they don’t feel safe coming back in, someone says in the meeting.
Ok, why don’t we ask employees what they think.
No, we don’t have time for that.
Sure we do.
Yeah, right, like we have time to talk to every employee right now?
No, we don’t have to time talk to every person.
Maybe we could use our text system or google forms or something to take a for sort of pulse survey on what they’re thinking right now.
What? No. That would take too much time. We’ve never done that.
Let’s just stick to the plan we have.
And there it is. BAM! Death of an idea in less than 30 seconds. Maybe it was a bad one. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked, and who knows if there was a better one that could quickly be built on from that one.
There’s no time for that.
You need to understand how things work around here.
Sometimes the death of a new idea comes from people in the meeting simply ignoring the suggestion or other times by someone in authority just not responding to the email that it was sent in.
These were the key types words and exchanges in small, micro-conversations we studied that occur when people try to share a thought or different perspective in meetings at work, and that occur between managers and their team members during a crisis like the one we’re in right now. These words and phrases seem to quickly shut down exactly what 94% of senior leaders say they want more of – fresh, new ideas to solve the biggest issues that their organizations are facing, especially during a crisis and transition of the type all organizations are going through right now.
These are 4 main conclusions from the newest research just released by Cortex:
A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now A wake up call to any leader that needs to innovate to thrive, released in partnership with the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council
about how to get teams to work more collaboratively together to more effectively problem solve:
- Micro interactions and conversations are the key factors in creating a high trust working environment that leads to team members being willing to co-create and share their new ideas and for others to experiment with them.
- A high emphasis on organizational values, mission, or goals don’t create engagement or an agile work environmentunless the senior leadership team, along with their managers on the frontlines, are held accountable to practicing them.
- The ability of senior leaders and their managers to remain curious by actively seeking different perspectives from all levels of the organization is a key factor in the volume and quality of idea generation that leads to profitable innovation.
- Specific types of team training, coaching, reinforcement, and individual support that is designed to build trust and accountability in adhering to the new behaviors, can make almost any team capable of generating more and higher quality ideas.
Cortex has spent the greater part of the last 5 years tracking the impact of almost unnoticeable interactions between team members during meetings. We collected more than 100,000 pieces of data from assessments of leaders and their teams and mapping conversations in meetings they were having while also tracking the evolution of leader’s thought process in solving problems at work over long periods of time.
The studies found that it doesn’t take long for new team members to learn that sharing fresh ideas and perspectives came with a label of being a waste of time, resources, and could result in being seen as not a good cultural fit. We found the results counter to what leaders say they want in Leadership and Innovationby McKinsey and Company which stated that:
70% of senior executives said that innovation was going to be the main driver in their companies, yet 65% of them were “somewhat”, “a little”, or “not at all” confident about the decisions they make in that area, According to the McKinsey & Company report Leadership and Innovation. The report went on to say:
The structures and processes that many leaders reflexively use to encourage innovation are important, we find, but not sufficient. On the contrary, senior executives almost unanimously—94 percent—say that people and corporate culture are the most important drivers of innovation.
From McKinsey’s reportregarding what leaders need to do in order to create agile transformation for their organizations, they stated that leaders should learn to help teams work in new ways and to do that they needed learn how to build enterprise agility into the design and culture of the whole organization. It needed to start with the leader adopting new mindsets and behaviors. What Cortex found was that changing those behaviors had a significant impact on the ability for the leader and their teams to quickly adapt to marketplace and other significant flucuations.
One of the data points pointed to the root of what may be blocking established organizations from being able to shift to a culture comfortable with experimentation that is at the heart of agility.
The number was 58.
58% of leaders and team members actively avoided the generating of ideas and those people with a strength in ideation were often avoided as well. This avoidance of the brainstorming of new ways and perspectives of looking at problems lead to a stagnation of forward progress necessary for maintaining a competitive advantage.
Sometimes the people on teams in the study that did had new ideas were ostracized by their fellow team members. This avoidance to the generation of new ideas and of the ideators themselves isn’t recognized by some leaders. When this type of culture persists on a team or becomes the corporate culture, innovation becomes almost non-existent except at smaller tactical levels. In some cases, when an executive leader or even a manager with authority is strong in idea generation, there seems to become a learned helplessness type of response by team members. It appears that the team expects their leader to generate the ideas and they believe there job is to plan what they are told to execute.
Assess Your Ideation Tolerance
As a leader, ask yourself these questions to determine the ideation tolerance level in your organization:
- How many new ideas to solve your toughest challenges have each of your leaders considered from their team members in the last month, 3 months, 6 months?
- Do the consultants you use work directly with senior leaders and their teams to generate new ideas?
- If polled, what percentage of meetings would people in your organization think are a waste of their time?
- Measure your failure tolerance by finding out how many experiments do you actively support in a year and how many have failed?
- Do you budget for and provide the resources of time and support for experimentation?
You can find useful information that can increase your team’s and organization’s ability to creatively problem solve and be more agile in the full report that you can download for free here.
In the FULL report, A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now you will be given the following tools you can put into use right now:
- An Idea Generation one sheet you can use to start generating ideas with your teams right now.
- An example of rules of inclusion that can be used by any team.
- Instructions for a Team On! exercise that teams can use to creatively problem solve.
- An Idea Generation one sheet you can use to start generating ideas with your teams right now.
You’ll discover solutions like:
- What leaders can do to get their teams in an idea generation state of mind
- What type of leadership behaviors build trust and which types jeopardize it
- What leaders can do immediately to create more effective meetings
- The types of pivots a leader can make in their behavior that have the biggest impact in the creative problem solving results from their teams
- And so much more!
To receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the entire report of findings for
The Case for Ideation in a Work World That is Obsessed with Planning
A wake up call to leaders that need to innovate to thrive in today’s marketplace
Click the below:
Authors of: A Leader’s Guide to Getting More, Fresh, High Quality Ideas from Their Teams Right Now
Lynda McNutt- Foster
Cortex Leadership Consulting
Lynda McNutt Foster has been an innovator in business since 1987 when she opened her first company at only 20 years old.
Designing new processes that became industry standards in pest control, advertising, and now the coaching industry, Lynda is a sought after executive coach, strategist, and keynote speaker.
Lynda is the CEO and founder of Cortex Leadership Consulting and was named a Business Icon by Valley Business Front magazine. Lynda’s work has been published on forbes.com and an expert executive coach commentator on WFXR news in Southwest Virginia. She is the founder of www.goMonti.com, an innovative coaching enhancement tool designed to increase retention and implementation of leadership practices.
Lynda is a Conversational Intelligence® certified coach and trainer.
Lynda has conducted more than 3,000 executive coaching sessions and trained more than 10,000 professionals in the areas of communication, change management, time mastery, conversational intelligence, leadership coaching, facilitation, and executive presence. She has used the research she has gathered and analyzed from those sessions, trainings, and goMonti, to advise international coaching firms like Axialent, a firm Cortex partners with who work with clients like Amazon, Google, Proctor & Gamble, and Facebook.
Lynda is the author of two ebooks. Time Mastery: 7 Simple Steps to Richer Outcomesand 4 Keys to More Effective Leadership Behaviors.
Lynda is the mother of a daughter much smarter than she is, a husband much kinder, and she is the CEO of Cortex Leadership. She is a brain-focused trainer. Practical author. Slow runner. Day hiker. Enthusiastic zipliner. Pathetic speller and bowler.
Senior IT Consultant/ Data Analyst/ Enterprise Architect
Cortex Leadership Consulting
Associate Vice President, Cloud Factory
In his current position with 1901 Group, Richard leads a 45 person team of experienced SMEs and researches and defines industry best practices and people, process and tools approach to implement an assembly line approach to software development and migration.
Richard has over 30 years of experience in consulting, data analytics, and management of technology teams. From directing $400K to $3M initiatives, to managing over $20M in VC/equity funding, Richard understands how to achieve success and what to do when you have it. One of his greatest successes was the transition he made from advertising and marketing to a new project resulted in moving the needle on children’s’ education throughout our country. Richard’s work building Interactive Achievement allowed him to make a powerful impact and one he expects will continue with the PowerSchool organization, who recently acquired Interactive Achievement.
With experience as an enterprise architect with organizations like NASA, AOL, Discovery Channel, and Freddie Mac, and 1901 Group Richard has led teams that consistently delivered the right innovation at the right time.
Richard has a talent of transforming low performing IT teams with his ability to synergize the worlds of technology, business, and people.
Richard is an expert in SQL and other business analytic tools that allow him to find holes in data that others can’t and presents them to clients in a language they can understand. Combining this with his “big picture” understanding of success, it is not surprising that Richard is highly regarded as a community technology leader.