Monday, April 24, 2017

Disruption and Innovation – Identical or Fraternal Twins?

Are disruption and innovation different?

In business today, both words have been hyped to the point of becoming generic qualifiers or buzzwords. Checking the dictionary does not help; the meanings do not provide a context in which a person or company can promote their idea or product.

In March 2017, I had the opportunity to chair a conference where many of the panelists touted the ability of their institutions to disrupt and innovate. We had a panel on "Lessons from Disruptive Industries" but no one could define disruption and what made it unique from the innovation and evolution seen in every industry. How can we share a lesson when we are not agreed on its message and application?

I proposed a working definition for disruption as:
A smaller group with fewer resources - and a radically different business model /unconstrained by current business model - challenges the incumbent(s) for business/customers. When a non-participant, community or customer adopts the new entrant, disruption occurs.

This presents basic assumptions which further draw a line between the two concepts:

·        Disruptors begin with few or no customers/consumers
·        Disruption takes the community beyond an individual product offering to include the process and all surrounding infrastructure, from technology to governance and related industry(s)
·        Disruptors experiment, introducing uncertainty or chaos to related industries and may birth new ones
·        Disruptors may fail completely, including the fragile new infrastructure being built
·        Disruption brings new habits and behaviours for all participants - disruptors and their consumers
Therefore innovation implies product/process introduction or iteration and has a precedent in an established business model and resourcing.

Why does this matter?

Like their hard-working cousins "transformation" and "change," the concept of disruption and innovation only has tangible meaning when we can articulate their scale and context - which then allows us to understand successful application.
1.      Language sets expectations.
·        We can use the words we want as long as we check that we have assigned the same meaning and implications. We may both say "red" but that does not mean we are envisioning the same colour
2.      Exploration of an idea must include a discussion of assumptions.
·        We can't share a goal if we don't agree to its terms
3.      Most importantly - by its very nature, the risk profile of disruption is different from innovation (large or small).
·        How can we plan and navigate a process if we cannot understand the inherent risk and benefit structure?

What could this definition look like in real life?

Music: People have been listening to music for centuries. Music has advanced and expanded - from its styles to its instruments, evolving over millennia.

In the late 1970s, the Sony Walkman made music portable. I remember my dad being one of the first adopters and his painstaking hours spent moving his reel-to-reel collection to cassettes. While my son would view anything less than wireless streaming as hopelessly outdated, he will never know the joy of being literally unplugged from a stereo system.

There are some who would claim that this began a rejigging of the entire industry – a disruption. However, it was (and streaming remains) an innovation. The business model was established – manufacturing, branding, licensing, etc. models were in place. While the business model has continued to evolve in response to consumer demands and habits, it is still an innovation. Walkmans (and streaming) don't require new audiences or conversions of non-music lovers. The distribution of the money may be in flux but that is business-as-usual.

If the Walkman had failed, the music business would have kept chugging along. The risk was measurable and absorbable in the bigger scheme of the industry.

Light bulbs: We have been using light for as long as we've been listening to music. Personally, I bet music has been around longer. The gentlemen who perfected the lightbulb (approx. 1878) created disruption.

While electricity existed, there was no electricity grid or electric transformers in place; that would come over the next 50+ years, from installing NYC streetlamps late 1882 to the passing of a Federal Power Act and The Public Utility Holding Co Act in 1935. That year, a baseball game was played under electric lights for the first time.

With no were no lamps waiting with empty sockets, no government or safety standards for use or manufacturing (AC or DC?), new industries and infrastructures were created.  Housing, city and factory design was rethought. Consumers emerged from all communities.

If the lightbulb had failed, imagine our world today. We might still have computers and light (and music) but with the introduction of the lightbulb, electric development pace increased, new business models emerged and the gas light industry is dead.

Put your idea to the test
Disruption and innovation are both necessary. Help supporters understand what you are doing and the risks involved.

Disruption aims to…
Innovation aims to…
Transform (full fairy-godmother-to-the-ball-effort)
Change (something different on a large or small scale)
Introduce element of chaos
Introduce element of uncertainty
Begin with few or no customers/consumers
Begin in established industry
Turn  non-participants into participants
Deepen relationship with existing community and invite new participants
Envision a new business model
Operate within an existing business model
Experiment & accept failure
Improve  & accept measured risk profile
Introduce new behaviours, policies, thinking, etc. to multiple and potentially unrelated communities and industries
Influence, change or replace habits and policies in limited, related communities, industries
Is often a catalyst for innovation in other areas
Reflects evolution and can spur change in related areas

So what's next?
At the conference, it became obvious that those of us being disruptive and/or trying to push an innovation agenda can work together. The workforce is changing, along with technology and global politics to the point where status quo means sliding backward. To embrace and embed the fraternal twins, Disruption & Innovation, we need to understand their different natures and measurements and then apply our ideas as hard as our risk tolerance allows!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Questions are the key to answers

Duh. I know. However, in today's environment, we tend to skip to the answers without asking enough questions to really dig into the problem. This is a great discussion to have in the mentoring relationship.

We attend meetings with prepared answers for questions that have not been asked. This may be good preparation but only if we still listen to the questions that also are actually asked during the discussion. Politicians answer with what they want to say vs. what was asked. This doesn't work well in problem solving or gaining approval for a new idea. 

For example, researchers say that good sleep is key to better decision-making. Terrific. Yet, getting a good night's sleep is only one factor in  being able to make good decisions. 

Once the issue of good sleep and all the questions it opens are examined, then answers can be debated and fixes prioritized.  Then, we can look at other issues affecting our decision-making (control, confidence, aptitude, etc.).  Fix is rarely as simple as the +/-140 character statement: "I'll get better sleep so I can make better decisions."

When we keep asking "why" before jumping to who/what/how, all the issues emerge. Then we can solve based on the most pressing/necessary - which is not always the order in which issues are uncovered.

We often look for shortcuts - not necessarily because of laziness but because time is so short. Plus (inner voice) does everything have to take so much effort!? Questions don't take extra effort, just extra time. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Network with people you already know

Oh my goodness! Stop thinking of networking as meeting *new* people only. That’s constantly buying fresh fruit and letting the old stuff rot in the fridge!

Spend a little time this week deepening your existing relationships! Coffees. Emails. Thank yous. Follow up. It’s not the quantity of folks in your community; it’s the quality of your relationship with them!

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Reposting: Mentoring vs Coaching - a manager's guide

This is a paper I presented at the International Mentoring Institute five years ago. I'm wondering if the conversation has moved ahead since I first published this...
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First, let’s establish a common lexicon.

Many organizations will talk about mentoring and coaching without defining what they mean and use the two words interchangeably.

With mentoring and coaching as hot topics in today’s workplace, we run the risk of losing all meaning – much like the over-hyped word ‘green’ or the or the nonsensical, amorphous use of ‘cool’.

Look at some of the words we use when discussing either topic:
* intern / internship
* apprentice / apprenticeship
* placement
* protégée
* mentoree
* coach
* mentor
* advisor
* manage / manager
* network
* relationship management

Would you call a chicken a turkey? It’s important to highlight the distinctions in definition to many of these words.

Apprenticing: Every medieval church in Europe was built by apprentices. Today, Trump has made the apprentice concept famous with his TV show – you find a successful sponsor who will teach you everything they know and you follow in their footsteps till you either have their job or have enough ‘whatever’ to build your own path. It’s a method that has been around for hundreds of years and has produced some great artists and thinkers.

I lump in internships and placements here.

In this scenario, the sponsor/master/manager is accountable for the success (or not) of their assigned apprentice, intern or protégée. They may work them hard but tasks are dictated, paths are set for juniors and success or failure is a personal reflection on the sponsor.

This is also how most companies run their teams. The executive or manager is held directly accountable for the efforts, choices and success of their employees.

Mentoring, as I see it, puts the work and the success back on the mentoree. The mentoree owns their actions and decisions at all times. They choose – or don’t – to take the advice or challenges given by their mentor. They are answerable to no one but themselves on their progress. The mentoree sets the direction and the mentor guides. It is like an independent study at university.

Managing and coaching are what a supervisor or boss does; mentoring is what a mentor does.

So why does it continue to be used interchangeably in the workplace?

Two reasons:
1.      Cultural values of a workplace
2.      Lack of education around the topics

Cultural values:
There is, according to the newspapers, a “war for talent”. (Google yields 220,000,000 results in 0.23 seconds on that search phrase.) North American companies are competing for a shrinking pool of candidates and some are opting to promote their employee experience as superior. Many sources suggest that companies that offer and support such programs as diversity, mentoring and flexible options may succeed over those with more traditional work environments and approaches. Google itself is a success story in this regard.

However, a company’s first concern is not the long-term career aspirations of the individual but the company’s goals as delivered through projects, tasks and subject matter expertise. If the goals of both match, it is a bonus.

According to the US Department of Labor, the average worker changes careers three to five times. As well, a 2008 study by the US Department of Labor cites a person will change jobs every 4.1 years, making it seven to ten jobs across the multiple careers.

A company is not interested in supporting the individual through all those changes. A direct manager, even with genuine concern for supporting a worker to a promotion or new assignment, is first and foremost occupied with getting the current job or assignment done to the best of the employee’s abilities.

This can create uncertainty of where the mentoring relationship fits/does not fit in the workplace. Unfortunately, often the manager is asked to look at long-term “mentoring” – that is in direct opposition to the manager’s immediate performance needs.

Like the earlier word list, many words are used interchangeably without stopping to ascertain their meaning for any engaged party. (When you say “vanilla” do you mean “plain” or do you mean “the standard” or “Madagascar” or…)

Because both “mentoring” and “coaching” are common words we are used to hearing, managers and/or mentors need to reaffirm their use and definition when acting as either a manager or mentor.

This requires making another set of distinctions: How do you know if you need coaching or mentoring? What’s the difference?

First question to ask – are you looking for coaching on your current job/challenge or are you looking for mentoring on your ongoing development or career plan?

Mentoring is more about long-term solutions and expanded education. Coaching is often about an immediate issue that can be a specific/one-time question.

Mentoring is also about trust – you will stray into grey zones all the time as your relationship develops. An open conversation, while respecting boundaries of those not present, assumes a high level of disclosure. (It is like being under NDA every time someone says “of course this stays in this room”.)

Both a manager and mentor will create dialogue, encourage you and correct you. However, while both your manager at work and your mentor "coach" you - there are some differences in the approach.

Your manager will clarify your existing job & accountabilities for you.
Your mentor will explore broad career options.

Your manager will create objectives for your current assignments.
Your mentor will encourage self-reflection and learning goals.

Your manager will teach with a desire to have good performance on their team and for their projects.
Your mentor will ask questions and share personal anecdotes around perceived barriers, challenges and fears with only your development in mind.

Your manager will support personal & career development – usually inside your organization.
Your mentor will support personal & career development for anywhere you choose.
Your manager will hold you accountable for following direction and achieving your objectives.
Your mentor will cheer you on, while pointing out when you are not being accountable to yourself.

Your manager will assign actions.
Your mentor will suggest actions.

Your manager will listen and escalate issues as they impact the team or project.
Your mentor will listen and keep information as confidential.

Your relationship with your manager is fundamentally one of obligation, driven by your manager.
Your relationship with your mentor is fundamentally one of choice, driven by you.

Manager - coaching
Mentor - coaching
Clarify your existing job & accountabilities for you
Explore broad career options
Create objectives for your current assignments
Encourage self-reflection and goals
Teach to have good performance on their team and for their projects
Ask questions around perceived barriers with only your development in mind
Support personal & career development – usually inside your organization
Support personal & career development for anywhere you choose
Hold you accountable for following direction and achieving your objectives
Cheer you on, while pointing out when you are not being accountable to yourself
Assign actions
Suggest actions
Listen and escalate issues as they impact the team or project
Listen and keep information as confidential
Fundamentally one of obligation, driven by your manager
Fundamentally one of choice, driven by you

Most importantly, mentoring is not coaching for an immediate job issue. Mentoring doesn’t require lists of skills around which the workplace would like us to better ourselves. We are coached on workplace values by a manager. Career and personal self within that career is where a mentor comes in.

Yes, the workplace should get involved. The more who espouse personal growth and insight, the better. But it is not mandatory and no manager or company owns our careers; we do. No company owes us development; it is ours to seek for ourselves. We owe the companies the best of our current skill set. Both the individual and the company should be vested in growing the skills and leadership. It is up to the individual to set their path and hold themselves accountable for long-term growth.

Now the heart of both successful mentoring and excellent coaching is in the relationship. (I add the caveat that while you do not have to like your manager, you should like your mentor.)

Rodger Harding defined an “engaged mentor” as someone who will:

• Provide the mentee with opportunities, not specific outcomes
• Assist in the exploration of options, not necessarily solutions (a mentor does not teach)
• Explore and understand different perspectives strengths/weaknesses
• Respect and preserve unique mentee thinking, competencies and impact
• Accept value and priority differences (the ability to transcend personal or projected goals) as well as changing realities as the relationship progresses
• Work with uncertainty – mentors will not care more about outcomes than their mentees
• Understand that mentorship oftentimes only bears fruit in years to come – when the mentee is ready and able to fully absorb the mentor contribution

I believe mentoring is:
·        Building a community for others
·        Relationship-based
·        Collaborative
·        Fluid and inclusive

Like dating, mentoring relationships don't always work out.

Sometimes the chemistry just isn't there; the two people involved just don't "get" each other. Perhaps one party doesn't respect the other. Maybe things never get past that "awkward" phase. Maybe neither can agree on a definition of "success" or what actions are required to get there. Maybe someone is just looking to show up while the other expects a big effort.

That's okay.

You can learn something from a bad relationship and/or you can "break up" and find one that does work. We're human. This isn't a mechanical process. It requires trust and vulnerability.

Besides, you never know when something you said /offered /did will come around. Sometimes people just aren't ready to hear what you have to say but will find it valuable months later.

Be true to yourself. Be ready to do some work (on either side of the relationship). Be prepared to date a little until the right fit comes around.

There is another key difference in mentoring vs. coaching. A mentor should not be someone who is a direct or indirect reporting line with the mentoree. If there is a potential line, the issue of current performance and/or promotion can cross the line with the NDA/trust atmosphere one builds with a mentor. One must share fears and ideas but it becomes difficult if the mentor wears two hats and must chime in on a year-end bonus or promotion discussion. My own team knows my support for their individual career aspirations, as genuine and loud as it may be, must always come second to us delivering this quarter’s objectives.

Going outside your own company for a mentor can be a great advantage.
* There is no danger of having someone influence your career (promotions, raises evaluations, etc.) without your knowledge. Power should not be given lightly.
* You gain valuable exposure to how things work elsewhere
* It keeps everyone from being 'too close' to the problem/issue/question, so you gain fresh perspectives
* It offers different and sometimes broader resources and career exposure.

The downside is they might not see the nuances with which you are struggling. It does put more of an onus on you to be a better communicator in the relationship.
The blurred line perceived between the mentor and the day-to-day manager will not disappear overnight.

The words mentoring and coaching will remain for the foreseeable future:
1 - interchangeable
2 - undefined
3 - thrust upon the individual who enters a potential mentoring opportunity because they feel they must or that it’s politically savvy to do so

Mentoring and coaching are not the same effort by the same party. If we can start spreading the word then mentoring can fit into a work environment if definitions are established and reporting lines are not grey zones.

Education for the organizations, managers and mentors, is required for both coaching and mentoring to exist in the workplace.
Mentoring, coaching and keeping the two distinct means work for all parties. It will take time and effort. Mentoring is about the big picture, not coaching for the immediate job held. Mentoring doesn't even have to be about a job but a mindset – an exploration of a craft – a transition or an emergence. Being mentored includes taking accountability for one’s own career; it is for one’s own good. Being coached includes surrendering temporary accountability; it is primarily for the company’s good.

Coaching is about success today. Mentoring is about a relationship, choices and success tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Hot Potato approach

I’m flippant and irreverent on the best of days. Sometimes, I’m called to task on things I never really thought about before I opened my mouth. Sometimes, the strangest things I say become the coolest ideas. 

Thus the ‘hot potato’ was born. 

It was about 10 years ago and I was attending one of those very packed, very loud industry events. People stood talking in small groups or lingering on the edges, trying to look engaged while knowing no one. Beyond flashing my bra or pushing into a crowd of strangers, I could not figure out how we were to get anyone’s attention. 

So I grumbled in the corner. I grumbled through the week. I grumbled until someone asked me how I would solve this very typical networking dilemma.

I’d put one basic guideline in place: networking events are not the place to hold long involved conversations.  

The premise is simple. You have a 2-3 minute conversation with as many folks as you can or want. You must then introduce the person with you are conversing to someone else - you “hot potato” them and you move on. You never walk away from a conversation without first engaging your partner in a new one. Events are a great place to discover you want to have a longer conversations - have the short one, then book the one/one time to do a private expanded one and move on.

Hot potato ensures you:
• are never trapped in a lengthy conversation 
• appear to be a masterful and smooth networker
• meet a lot of folks
• are remembered as a considerate conversationalist

You can introduce virtual strangers. We’re all just hanging about wondering how to meet new people anyway. Wade right in! 

You can introduce people to people you’ve just met. You appear thoughtful and considerate.

You’ll find folks feel comfortable bringing folks back to you!

Imagine if we all played hot potato at events. No more line ups. No more standing on the edges. It would be expected to have introductions made and to ease in and out of conversations on a regular and comfortable basis. 

ah… my perfect world…

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