Fostering Innovation

5 Ways Leaders Foster Innovation

Fostering Innovation

Leadership innovation happens all around us. As technology and tools improve exponentially over time, the ways that dreams come true continue to amaze.

Last week, innovation took the stage at the Frankfurt Automobile Show.  Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of Daimler, sprang from the back of a Mercedes S-Class that had no one in the driver’s seat.

Autonomous driving technology, once a dream of science fiction writers and filmmakers, may be accessible to consumers in the next 10 years.

This is innovation in motion!

Organizational Innovation

Dieter Zetsche isn’t alone in trying to build an organization that innovates.  We live in an innovation driven world. Leaders must know how to create an environment that fuels innovation.

So what are you doing to encourage innovation in your organization?

Here are 5 ways to get you started…

5 Ways Leaders Foster Innovation

1) Allow Time to Experiment 

Overloaded employees focus on the basics.  They have to get it done and move on to the next task.  Ask people to focus on innovation and then give them time – and some mental space – to focus on how it could be.

2) Create Diverse Teams 

Hearing another point of view is a great way to spark innovation. Teams of people with different backgrounds, passions, and capabilities have an added edge in developing innovative ideas.

3) Reward the Right Kind of Failure 

Sometimes, people hold on to their ideas because they don’t want to rock the boat. They are concerned about being viewed as a failure, or worse, if their idea is not successful.

Finding fault and assigning blame, on the other hand, creates a situation where people become stuck and paralyzed. It’s a negative approach that assumes neglect or malfeasance that requires punishment. This type of attitude produces a risk-averse organization where people play it safe instead of stepping out and trying new ideas. – Ken Blanchard, Fast Company

You’ll never find the ways things do work without finding the ways that won’t work first.  And no one will help you find the things that will work if they are afraid of the consequences of failure.  So reward innovative ideas and behaviors, even when the results is less than expected.

4) Manage Risk 

Innovation can’t happen without risk, but leading innovation doesn’t mean you are willing to entertain any and all risks.  It is critical that you identify risk in your plans and then work on risk management.  Being proactive in this area can build your confidence to tackle bigger projects with even bigger payoffs.

5) Focus on Trust 

Trust is required to challenge the status quo.  Trust also facilitates idea sharing and increases speed of partnerships.  How important is trust in innovation?  The authors of Nanovation: How a Little Car Can Teach the World to Think Big and Act Bold discuss trust as a key ingredient that helped the team that designed the Tata Nano do what seem impossible:

To do what Team Nano did, there had to be a steady flow of seemingly off the wall ideas among its members.  But people are willing to be vulnerable and “put it out there” only if they trust each other.

Finally, leaders who want to foster innovation must be role models of innovative behaviors.  Think about all the ways you can demonstrate to your team that you are personally committed to innovation.  Pick a few and put them into action.

Have you worked in an environment that encourages innovation?  What helps you generate new ideas?  What do you think the best bosses do to help their teams innovate? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
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Finding Your Leadership Secret Sauce

Secret Sauce

Authentic leaders inspire us.  They build strong teams with complimentary skill sets. They drive high levels of trust and commitment in the groups they lead.  

Authentic leaders can generate results over the long-term.

What Makes an Authentic Leader?

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Discovering Your Authentic Leadership, by Bill GeorgePeter SimsAndrew N. McLean, and Diana Mayer discuss the research they conducted on how leaders become authentic leaders.

What did they find?  The found that there is no secret leadership sauce.

After interviewing these individuals, we believe we understand why more than 1,000 studies have not produced a profile of an ideal leader.

Analyzing 3,000 pages of transcripts, our team was startled to see that these people did not identify any universal characteristics, traits, skills, or styles that led to their success.  – Discovering Your Authentic Leadership

Many of us strive to be a successful leader.  Unfortunately, sometimes conventional wisdom and corporate culture conspire to steer us in the direction of the generic leader.

We may think “Jane in Accounting is successful – I’ll try to be more like Jane”. Or “Steve Jobs was awesome, I will do more of that.”

You will never become an authentic leader by emulating others.  When we describe authentic leaders, we use words like “genuine,” “real” and “true.”  You can’t become any of those things be trying to be someone else.

Inherent in authenticity is leading on your own terms in a way that is aligned with your personal values and beliefs.

How to Be an Authentic Leader?

Authentic leaders know themselves and use their self awareness, life experience and passions as a foundation.

 “The medium for developing into an authentic leader is not the destination but the journey itself – a journey to find your true self and the purpose of your life’s work.” – Bill George, Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value

Are you developing as an authentic leader?  Here are some ideas to help you on the journey:

1. Write your Leadership Philosophy

Make the link between how you want to lead and the personal values that guide your life.  Once you have it written down, share it with others.  Need some inspiration?  Listen to a few personal credos at

This I Believe, Inc. was founded in 2004 as an independent, not-for-profit organization that engages people of all ages and  from all walks of life in writing and sharing of brief essays about the core values that guide their daily lives.

It is a great resource to help you find and articulate your core beliefs.

2. Turn Your Passion into Inspiration

Authentic leaders know and can articulate the passion that drives their life.  They can use this passion to light the fire of inspiration in those they lead.  Howard Schultz is a great example of how an authentic leader inspires.

  • He tells his personal story often.
  • He is the son of a struggling blue-collar worker.
  • He grew up in the Brooklyn projects.
  • He experienced what life was like without enough money and without health insurance.
  • He had a vision of neighborhood coffee houses and building an ethically responsible company that cared for it employees (actually called “Partners”) and provides benefits to part-time workers.

3. Cultivate “Professional Intimacy”

Authenticity comes from knowing and accepting who you really are.  This includes accepting both your strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect or infallible and we don’t trust people who pretend to be either of those things. Let people get to know you.

Be willing to reveal some things about yourself that are not perfect.  You don’t have to give the people at work a blow-by-blow of deep personal problems, but you could talk about common day-to-day struggles.

I worked with a highly authentic C-level executive who had a great story about how hard it was for her, personally, to relocate.  I heard her tell it numerous times.

It let people get to know her, without revealing details that would make – or the listener – uncomfortable.

4. Do What You Say You Will Do (DWYSYWD)

Authentic leaders follow-through. Simply stated, your team will judge your credibility by the degree to which your words and actions align.  That’s not all.  The simple practice of attention to follow through generates big business results.

Tony Simmons, Cornell Professor and author of The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word, found that in organizations where employees believe that managers follow through on promises were substantially more profitable than organizations whose managers scored average or below average to follow-through.

These organizations also enjoyed deeper employee commitment, lower turnover and superior customer service.

Remembering the Clock

Finally, make sure you have left yourself the time to be authentic.  Are the things you call important the things you give your time, effort and energy?  Is your calendar aligned to your leadership philosophy?  If the answer is no, you must correct this disconnect.

Authenticity is a journey of self-discovery.  We are all unique and every person takes a different path.

Are you on a journey to become an authentic leader?  What are you doing to develop? Are there specific life experiences that have helped mold you as authentic leader?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
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8 Steps to Help Teams Master the Waves of Change

Crashing Waves

Helping your team thrive during change takes a plan that is certain and reliable. After all, change is difficult enough, so the best way to lead your people through times that seem turbulent is to provide them with a clear and steady road map.

Otherwise, they will feel tossed around in a sea of confusion.

A Sea of Change

I grew up on the beach (almost literally) in a small town in North Florida.  I remember being in the ocean with my sisters when we were children.  Sometimes it was choppy,  and the waves came down on us one after the next. They were so powerful – knocking me down and sometime stealing my breath.  But I would pop back up to face the next wave.

In this “post great-recession” world, change can pound us like the ocean pounds away at the beach.  We feel the erosion and we understand the risks.

We can’t keep up with the pace of change, let alone get ahead of it. At the same time, the stakes—financial, social, environmental, political—are rising.Accelerate ~ John Kotter

Change is the Only Constant

Leaders know that change is a permanent part of the business landscape. In fact, if you work in a large organization, you may be dealing with several significant change issues simultaneously. You are experiencing the waves, every day, with no end in sight.  You are also charged with helping a team of people navigate this ocean of constant change.

One of the best things a leader can do is help understand and develop the skills that will be required to be successful as the organization changes. After all, nothing kills the desire to try something new faster than the fear (or certain knowledge) that you will face the waves and drown.

People can’t do what they don’t know how to do.   – The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner

Mastering Change

Help your people build the skills they need master the crashing waves of change.  Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Identify skill gaps on the team

As a leader it is important that you know where your people have the skills to succeed and where they need development.

2) Ask people on your team what you can do to help them

People will share their thoughts on how they could best master new skills.  Start the conversation.

3) Be specific about the skills that are required

In a situation where people are facing something completely new, they may not know where to start.  Managers should be specific  about the new skills that are required for team success.

4) Shape roles and assignments to develop skills on your team

Powerful development happens on the job so maximize the opportunity for your team.  Provide support to help build skills in a stretch assignment.

5) Help people find resources to grow

Books, training and mentors are just a few options.  You may also consider local professional groups, higher education programs and cross training.

6) Commit the development plan to paper and hold each other accountable to work the plan

There are a number of good models for creating development goals.  It is a safe bet to focus on goals, actions and measures.  If you define these, you are off to a great start.

7) Provide feedback as people try new skills

Tailor feedback to meet individual needs.  Don’t forget to take advantage of “coachable moments”.

8) Maintain your own enthusiasm

Change is hard and your people rely on your to bring positive energy every day.  You must believe the team can be successful.  They will share your optimism.

Change Starts Within

Don’t forget to be committed to your own development. Leaders at all levels have an opportunity to be a true model of personal development. Talk with your team about your development plan and invite their feedback.

If you are working with a coach, let people know that you have one.  Finally, be open about both your success and your failures and make sure you address the important lessons that can be learned from both.

What are you doing to help your time thrive during times of change?  Are you working on developing any specific new skills?  Do you have a personal development plan? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
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Leadership 2013: Resolve to Increase Employee Engagement

Bored Employee

Hey Leaders: Imagine a brand new team providing excellent results for your initiatives. Imagine high productivity, increased production, and sky-high loyalty.

Is this something that you would like to work with 2013?

Your Brand New 2013 Team

Well if this is what you are looking for in 2013, then I have some new recruits for your team.

How would you like to lead people who:

  • Generate new ideas
  • Show up enthusiastic about work
  • Take initiative
  • Solve problems
  • Consistently exceed expectations

Sound too good to be true?  Wondering where you can sign up? Asking “How do I get some of that!?!?

Finding Your Players

This isn’t a whole new team.  These are the people you already have – engaged in their work at your organization.  There are quantifiable benefits to creating a work environment where people are highly engaged.

According to the Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study:

  • 6.5 Fewer Days Absent

An average of 7.6 days lost per year for employees with high engagement vs. 14.1 days lost per year for the disengaged.

  • 41% Lower Retention Risk

Only 17% of employees with high engagement are high retention risk compared to 58% of disengaged employees.

  • 3x Operating Margins

High sustainable engagement companies’ operating margins are 3x higher than those with the lowest levels of engagement.

Who Build These Teams?

So who is responsible for building these newly dedicated and engaged teams?

  • Immediate managers hold the key to engaging their teams.
  • HR certainly plays a role in developing great employee benefits.
  • Corporate communication can also help out with timely messages about the direction of the business.
  • And even the CEO can boost engagement with a clear organizational vision.

But my experience in organizations has proven time and time again that it is the manager who makes or breaks the engagement for their team.

If you don’t trust your boss, you’re not likely to stick around for the outstanding dental plan.

The Manager’s Role

What can you do engage the people on your team?  Since we’ve just started 2013, I’d like to suggest 10 resolutions – each one can help up the engagement level on your team:

  1. Demonstrate a sincere interest in the individual well-being of the people on your team
  2. Show trust and confidence in the job being done
  3. Explain how the work your team does contributes to the goals of the organization
  4. Manage stress levels at work
  5. Create flexible work arrangements
  6. Staff to do the job “right”
  7. Encourage new ideas
  8. Initiate effective career development conversations
  9. DWYSYWD – do what you say you will do
  10. Keep your-self engaged

Is your team ready to take on the challenges of 2013?  Are you engaged and motivated?  What are you doing to increase employee engagement? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Web

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Leaders: Making Performance Appraisals Matter

Performance Assessments

The end of the year is just around the corner.  Are you preparing to write performance appraisals for the people on your team?   

According to the 2012 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Report, only 55 percent of the HR leaders who responded to the survey think annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal for employees’ work at their organization.

What would that number be if we asked the people receiving the appraisals?

Year-End Results

The 55% level is a dismal statistic.  But as a manager of people, you can’t opt out of your organization’s year-end review process.  And even more importantly, as a leader, you know that people need feedback to develop.

Every learner needs feedback. It is the only way to know whether or not you are getting close to your goal and whether or not you are executing properly. – Kouzes and Posner, The Truth About Leadership

Getting Feedback

Sometimes you may not have the full picture to provide helpful or balanced  feedback.  In many cases, it is helpful to seek feedback from peers that see your team members in action on a daily basis.

In fact, some companies find peer feedback so useful that they are making it a part of their ongoing performance management process.

For example, Hearsay Social Inc., a San Francisco-based social-media software company with some 90 employees, began doing peer reviews for all of its employees in 2012.

In this approach, employee chooses reviewers and department leaders also request input from others who might be able to provide relevant feedback.

Peer feedback, incorporated into the performance review, can be an important tool in the development of the people you lead.  But like any other tool, you should understand how to use it to get the best results.

Benefits of Feedback

There are many benefits that can come from peer feedback.

Here are a few examples:

  • Input from peers can round out your perceptions of a direct report’s performance.
  • Feedback from multiple sources allows you to give each person on your team more complete feedback.
  • Specific examples can add detail and clarity to the appraisal.
  • You may gain insights about previously unknown conflicts.
  • Misses brought up in peer feedback can give the opportunity to reinforce the idea that sometimes we learn best when we  try new things and make mistakes.
  • Comments that focus on strengths can help to identify successes – great examples of people living your organization’s values or meeting critical goals.

Seeing the Whole Picture

It is important to note that peer feedback may not paint a total picture.

Here are some reasons:  

  • Peers may have concerns about being revealed as the source of negative feedback.
  • Some may have concerns that a manager will share raw data or quotes.
  • You many encounter fear  that open feedback will lead to friction on the team.
  • Sometimes people are asked to provide feedback on a peer they do not know well or on behaviors they do not have a chance to observe.
  • Finally, sometimes reviewers provide very cursory feedback as they are pressed for time and don’t want to decline to participate.

Making the Most of Feedback

So what can you do to make the most of peer feedback for your team?

Here is what you can do:

  • Ask your direct reports for 3 names of peers to provide feedback and then add others you think would add value.
  • Request feedback from those that employees work with consistently and who have a chance to observe their day-to-day behaviors.
  • Be aware of friendships in the organization and request feedback from those most likely to be unbiased.
  • As you use the data from the feedback in the performance review, focus comments on behaviors rather than individual personality traits.
  • Adapt the feedback to the situation.  Feedback is most effective when it is provided in the content of the person and their situation.

Giving Feedback Over Time

Personal insight and development is not the result of a single instance of shared feedback.  Developing your team will happen over time and will be the result of ongoing, meaningful conversations.

You don’t want to save up feedback until somebody fails. –  Blanchard and Ridge, Helping People Win at Work

In fact, you may want to continue the process of asking for peer feedback throughout the year. This type of ongoing feedback can help you know how to coach the people on your team to success.

Your Opinion Counts!

Q: Do you think annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal for employees’ work at your organization? 

Participate in this quick poll and share your thoughts!

Do you think annual performance reviews are an accurate appraisal for employees’ work at your organization?  Are you using peer feedback as part of your appraisal process? Do you have other tips to make performance appraisals more accurate and relevant?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Web

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