People Innovation: A New Vision to Innovate

By Luigi Morsa, Ph.D. 

Nowadays, companies are very conscious that if they want to be competitive, they have to innovate. The conquered market shares can rapidly disappear or drastically be reduced. The only way is to keep pace, to be reactive and introduce new solutions, ideally before their competitors. It is worth quoting a sentence of the father of the Open Innovation concept, Henry Chesbrough: “Most innovation fails. And companies that don’t innovate die” [1].

In the complex companies’ world, as is well-known to the experts (contrary to what is broadly thought), innovation is not only linked to a new product; the innovation can be also relative to a new process, a new company asset, a new procedure, or a new business model. In a nutshell, we can agree that innovation is all about bringing improvement and efficiency; and affecting the development of a company in a positive manner.

It is also true that there are innovations with different importance, namely there exist innovations with different impacts on a company and on a market; for instance, the strongest innovations are the ones able to replace an existing market or create a new one. This leads to the fascinating economic concepts of “Creative Destruction Innovation” by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 [2] and “Disruptive Technologies” by Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen in 1995 [3].

On the other hand, a less important innovation does not really affect the old scenario but brings some benefit to the company. It is clear that a company has to focus on innovations at each level. In order to efficiently pursue this task, companies have adopted several tools, procedures and strategies that help the birth of new ideas – in addition to adopting the classical Research and Development department (especially if we are speaking about product innovation).

The ideas are clearly generated by people and therefore the companies realized that a secret to obtain as many new ideas as possible is to create the “ideal condition” to allow people to bring their contribution. One interesting way to accomplish the task is represented by the so-called “Innovation Management Software (IMS)”. This has been developing during the last two decades and it can be seen as the last evolution of the “suggestion box”, introduced more than 100 years ago and still present in some offices.

The Innovation software programs are usually conceived in a way that there is a common platform where all the users (basically employees of the company) have access and can freely leave their proposals or opinions about a possible new idea. Then, each new proposal generates an online debate or discussion with the effect to improve it. Once a certain number of ideas is reached, the selection phase starts. This is conducted by innovation project managers with the support of sector experts and business unit people. Their intent is to evaluate the feasibility from a technical and business point of view, respectively. Finally, this committee selects the ideas which are worthy of an investment [4].

In most cases, even though the IMS is very fascinating, a good percentage of employees are reluctant to contribute their ideas to the company. Possible reasons may be because they have not developed a sense of belonging, they simply do not believe in the company, or they think that an idea given to the company is a kind of gift without a sure repayment. In order to avoid such inefficiencies, the latest tools like IMS should be supported by an additional software that we could baptize “People Innovation (PI)”. The purpose of this article is not to give a detailed description about the software concept, but to discuss the main guidelines and benefits.

The starting point is the slight change in the philosophical approach between the IMS and People Innovation (PI). We can say that the innovation management software is based on the assumption that the main heritage of a company that wants to innovate lies on the ideas of the people of the company; therefore, the software “simply” helps the development of ideas. In the case of PI, the basis goes beyond: the main heritage of a company to innovate lies on the people of the company; therefore, the software helps people to innovate themselves and, consequently, also the company.

If the company believes in the employees, the employees feel more motivated to give their contribution to the company and, finally, to innovate.

The weak side of the IMS is, on one hand, it favors peoples’ connections and discussions to help generate ideas. On the other hand, it does not care about how an employee can develop himself or herself during this time. How can a sense of belonging or the desire to participate in the innovation process of a company be generated in employees? The answer is the following: through the idea that a company wants to take care of its employees, wants to bet on them, wants to donate a future vision and want to define professional development for them.

We can imagine that the PI software could have a special section where all the employees’ profiles are stored and for each of them, the possible career paths are shown, the courses needed to achieve some results are advised, as well as how their innovative ideas can be supported or promoted. 

The other important aspect is, who are the players that ensure PI works properly? In this regard, we are talking about people in Human Resources, the project innovation managers and the line managers. All these players have to have access to the PI shell, and they have to help employees in their development in the company. In general, HR could monitor if an employee is satisfied and understand all of his/her needs, the line manager could define what can be done for their professional development and the project innovation manager could stay alert in case of new potential ideas.

The software could definitely be a powerful tool to motivate employees. One of the biggest challenges in organizational management is how to provide recognition (and possibly rewards) to workers that make a significant contribution to the business. There are two critical issues with recognition systems.

  • First, not all employees are in a position where their performance can be directly related to business success. This can alienate workers who believe they are missing out on these opportunities because of their current work assignment or position.
  • Second, the company must decide if the recognition will be done monetarily or non-monetarily. Believe it or not, having a diagram with the visible professional development, with the past achievements and above all with the future targets for an employee is priceless. People could believe that regular meetings with HR and managers of various kinds are enough, but they are not. Software is needed since it is important to have a visible, professional situation and clear prospects.

In conclusion, we observe that PI’s purpose is not to replace traditional innovation software management. On the contrary, PI actually completes the IMS by enlarging potential. The IMS encourages cooperation for the development of an idea, creates the useful connections and improves the concepts promoting discussions. PI accompanies and drives the employees during their stay in the company in order to find out the best way to be motivated and to better express themselves, and it creates more suitable conditions to generate ideas. It is something that a company (devout to innovation) should have and develop according to its needs.

About the Author
Luigi Morsa (Ph.D.) is an Aerospace Engineer and Project Manager working in Germany at the consultant company SII engineering & IT. Luigi’s passion for project management has led him to contribute to two books by Dr. Harold Kerzner, the pioneer and globally recognized expert in project management. More in detail, Luigi wrote the case study “The Airbus A380” and the chapter on “Innovation Management Software” for the books Project Management Case Studies, Fifth Edition (Wiley, 2017) and Innovation Project Management (Wiley, 2019), respectively. In 2018, he was a speaker at the Project Management Institute (PMI)® EMEA Congress to discuss the complexity of the aircraft-industry market, with particular emphasis on the relationship between the product and customer needs.


References: 

[1]. Henry W. Chesbrough, “Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology”, Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

[2]. Joseph A. Schumpeter, “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”, Harper & Brothers, 1942.

[3]. Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen, “Disruptive technologies: catching the wave”, Harvard Business Review, 1995.

[4]. Harold Kerzner, “Innovation Project Management”, John Wiley & Sons, 2019.


Joanna Durand on Why Passionate Leadership Matters

Joanna Durand is Global Head of the Enterprise Project Delivery Excellence Office at TD Bank. As a keynote speaker at IIL’s Leadership & Innovation 2019 Online Conference, she gave us an understanding of what passionate leadership looks like in practice and shared indispensable tips on how we can become passionate leaders ourselves.

We received so many great questions during the 15-minute Q&A that we didn’t have time to get to them all. Thank you to Joanna for taking the time to answer each and every question. This blog post is a compilation of some of our favorites.

The recording of Joanna’s keynote, and all other speaker presentations, are available to watch on demand through June 9. Log in or register here.

Can you deploy your solution to poor leadership?
How can a leader learn to not instill fear into employees? 
How can one of my leaders earn back the trust they have lost to their employees?

We detect a theme in these questions so will answer all of them together.

The person in question has to be receptive to feedback and coaching in order for any change to be successful and lasting. There is an opportunity to give constructive feedback if a feedback loop exists. The leader needs to be able establish and work through a trusted feedback loop to receive candid feedback, or leverage company structures like HR coaching or formal 360-degree feedback mechanisms. If this does not work and the organizational culture is not aligned to the leader’s behaviour, you are likely look at an exit scenario. Otherwise, as outlined in the keynote, you will risk the loss of the team members who work under that leader.

What would be some actions you identified successful to change the organizational culture to reflect and foster passionate leadership? 

The organization itself has to have a view that the people side of the equation is valuable to its success. If that is true, passionate leadership will flourish. If people are seen as interchangeable or disposable, then only a microculture could exist around a specific passionate leader or team.

How can a leader make sure their passion is reflected to others?

By being authentic, listening openly and reflecting back. Use a feedback loop to understand how you are being received by others.

In many organizations the team members report to a functional manager, so this can diminish the authority of the PM. Do you think passionate leadership of a PM can help?

Absolutely! The project manager owns the virtual team – the tension is the value and commitment to the project versus to the functional manager and resource pool. The Project Manager can change the full dynamic – for better or for worse.

How do you come across as authentic and positive without being fake?

Always BE authentic. Understand how you are perceived by others by asking and listening to feedback.

Does mindfulness meditation have a role in passionate leadership?

I think that depends on the individual and how they derive their energy.

What if the employee is not passionate about their job and not looking for ways to improve themselves? 

A direct career discussion is timely in this situation; indicate clearly how the employee is being perceived by yourself and others and try to understand that person’s desires and motivators, or potential causes of an interim abnormal behaviour.

How do you encourage team members who do not feel the passion? 

You need to have individual conversations with those team members to determine what motivates them, understand where they want to go and discuss what it takes to get there. However, you should also consider that some people just want a job…is this a really a problem for that person, role, or organization?

Can a person choose to portray “passion” and continue to grow a successful team, in a competitive environment? Without being a victim of company culture and the need to have a more tough approach?

Absolutely. Within a competitive and political culture, the passionate leader needs to set a vision based on fact and understand how they leverage their passion to achieve the organization’s goals. As the leader, you get to choose the how, not the what.

How do you steer your team to buy into this notion of keeping leadership accountable, especially to remain “passionate” consistently? 

You need to be authentic – then the passion follows. Everyone has ebbs and flows, so people may manifest varying levels of passion in different ways day to day.

Do you have any suggestions on how to work with a leader who may be passionate but mainly passionate about their personal success? Sometimes we don’t want to leave the job/position because of the leader and need suggestions on how to best work with them and maybe help them. 

It is important to recognize that the demeanor of your leader is important, and you may need to spend energy helping to make that leader successful. In turn, it is important to let the leader know what you need yourself, and if that is not forthcoming, you may need to leave and find the kind of leader you need for your own development and satisfaction.

What do you when you realize your immediate senior management (director) is not necessarily a “passionate leader”? How do you navigate through that? 

See the answer to the question asked above.

Do you have a business idol/mentor? What makes them so special and unique? 

I have had many mentors. A superior ability to engage is something I admire; observing people who are intensely committed is inspirational to me.


Acknowledging the “Unseen” for their Contributions!

By Judith W. Umlas 
Sr. Vice President, Author, and Trainer – IIL

Before the holidays, I asked IIL VP of Worldwide Distribution Steve Osborn for the home address of someone in our company who had truly gone above and beyond for the Grateful Leadership initiative, and to whom I was extremely grateful. I thought that a gift would be the best way to express my gratitude. Instead, Steve then suggested that I consider all of the “unseen” people who worked tirelessly to make the Grateful Leadership courses, eLearning programs, materials, the gift packages available for people in order to help make the difference it has been our intention to make. These people, he said, are unseen, but their work is absolutely necessary to the success of this effort! And what was I going to do about this “condition”?

Hmmm…I wondered.  What would I do about it in the context of “walking the walk” and not just talking the talk? This was becoming a familiar theme for me by now, but one I hadn’t recognized as taking place in our own company. In a wonderful book called The Book of Awakening, author Mark Nepo wrote this in one of the passages: “I See You! …I Am Here!” was the title of it.  “For centuries,” he wrote, people “have greeted each other in this way. When one becomes aware of his brother or sister coming out of the bush, he exclaims, ‘I See You!’ and then the one approaching rejoices, ‘I Am Here!’ This timeless bearing witness is both simple and profound… for with this simple and direct affirmation, it is possible to claim our own presence to say, ‘I Am Here.’” When I read this beautiful passage, it spoke of the critical nature of seeing people – of acknowledging their value, their gifts and their talents. But how was I to acknowledge those I could not see?

Another example of this had occurred when I led a Grateful Leadership webinar for a Scandinavian company recently, and a participant named Knut shared that there is a Norwegian expression: “Det er viktig å bli sett” eller “Viktigheten av å bli sett,” which means “the importance of being seen.” Knut said, “Everyone needs to see and be seen…recognition, appreciation and feedback are important for each and every one to maintain a sense of humanity, personal worth and the feeling of being part of the surrounding social groups.” I thought this was totally correct, but I had missed it where it truly mattered – at “home,” in my own company!

But how was I going to be able to see…and acknowledge the unseen supporters of this important work in a place that I don’t work on a day-to-day basis? At the suggestion of the VP, I spoke with Melina Africa, Production and Administrative Support Manager at IIL Worldwide Distribution there. “Who are the unseen supporters of Grateful Leadership?” I asked. I now wanted to acknowledge each and every one of them, even though I hadn’t really thought about them (shame on me) a lot previously. Here’s what Melina had to say:

“I think I am a Grateful Leader,” she said a bit tentatively at first. “I know absolutely I couldn’t get the major projects we do at a moment’s notice for IIL companies and customers around the world, without our whole team. Just this week we got an order for IIL Printing on Friday afternoon that had to be completed and shipped and delivered by Monday morning, and everyone worked until the job got done. I know they would do anything for this company!” I started getting a guilt attack, but encouraged her to say more. “If even one of them were gone, I would be dead in the water. The team starts answering my emails and fielding phone calls when they know I can’t come up for air. The administrative group drops everything to come help out on IIL Printing jobs whenever needed. The virtual team was here all weekend to help support a pilot for a new client. The sales team tirelessly makes phone calls and helps our customers with their educational needs. The FedEx driver, Eddy, waits as long as he possibly can for our packages so that we don’t have to drive them hours away to St. Louis. They are all just amazing people, and almost no one ever sees or knows of their existence.”

I was shocked by my own lack of appreciation of all of these tireless, committed, loyal and happy workers. So I decided to express it tangibly, and sent a whole bunch of chocolate covered strawberries, which, I am told, were gobbled up in about 60 seconds! I included a heartfelt note that expressed my gratitude and appreciation to the IIL Monett team for all their hard work that goes essentially unnoticed.

So here are some of the wonderful people who work night and day to support all of us who benefit from IIL’s transformational Grateful Leadership initiative, and all the other wonderful courses and products that IIL offers.

monett-team

Join me, please, in thanking and appreciating and expressing our gratitude to all of these wonderful people.  And learn from my mistakes and do seek the unseen in your organization, family or community…and acknowledge them for what they contribute to your life and work!

Judy_Umlas_-_Headshot

Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. She is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment  and two other books which have been credited with changing workplaces and lives.

Judith delivers inspiring, motivational and transformational keynote addresses, course and webinars on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment are Judith’s passion, mission and her purpose!


Behind the Scenes of my International Project Management Day Keynote Taping: From Cowardly Lion to Lionhearted Leader!

By Judith W. Umlas
IIL Senior Vice President, Trainer, and Author of Grateful Leadership

I worked as a television producer and writer at WCBS-TV for about a dozen years. I know the workings of a TV studio inside and out. So that should make my keynote videotaping a piece of cake for me, right? Wrong! I worked on the “other side of the camera,” so I can’t begin to describe the agony I always put myself (and everyone around me) through in past years to make sure my IPMDAY presentation is perfect, and then I never feel like it is!

But this year, I made a choice: I was going to be as passionate in my presentation to the IIL Media crew and cameras as I would normally be before an audience of hundreds, or even thousands of people, which doesn’t throw me much at all. I would let my passion, mission and purpose come through even though I was addressing inanimate objects (the cameras).

I have to tell you that IIL Media, headed up by Emmy award-winning producer and director d.b. Roderick, cared as much about my presentation as I did! Coordinating Producer Andrea Skipper worked with me for weeks getting the script just right, the visuals dramatic and attention-grabbing. Leroy Patton was meticulous with the lighting and camera work. Andres Valencia (I later learned) was operating the teleprompter for the first time due to a last minute substitution. He did a great job, considering! Then there was Andrea Johnson, Production Manager, who made sure to tell me that the darts in my skirt were crooked and to please fix them. She also made me change my outfit to something all felt was much more suited to my “colorful” personality. I did as she suggested!

The really great part, though, was that I actually felt as though I was addressing live people when I spoke, due to the attention and true listening I received from this delightful crew. And at the end, they spontaneously broke into applause. I was exhilarated and felt like I had broken through my own barriers to full self-expression in front of cameras rather than people. This crew – this wonderful group of people – made it possible for me to connect, and I saw that my message resonated with all of them.

I also give my thanks to the whole IIL crew outside the studio that made this year’s production work so well for me: IIL Marketing, including ShaunMara Begley who found some of the great images used in my presentation; Kaylin Berry, who works with me on all social media projects so successfully with me on social media projects and posts (such as this one!); Lori Milhaven, EVP of Marketing who takes everything in her stride and just gets the word out to the world; Nolan Voss, Sr. Graphic designer who makes everything look so artistic and beautiful; Gregory Johnson, VP Enterprise Solutions who is always a great sounding board/idea person for any of my new and venturesome content creations; and CEO E. LaVerne Johnson who tolerated my trepidation and numerous pleas for her to read my updated script “just one more time…”

Now I will ask you to be the judge of the final result when you attend International Project Management Day 2015: Ensuring a Sustainable Future on November 5th. I would like YOU tell me if I have truly grown greater than my constraints. As noted author Jack Canfield wrote, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” I think I really took that message to heart with this year’s presentation, and hopefully all of you will take it to heart and be the beneficiaries as well!.

There will be a live Q&A at the end of my keynote session during which we can all have some conversation! And you can register now for this great event (there are 38 other thought leaders and Project Management, Leadership and Sustainability practitioners who are presenting). If you do register now, you can get exciting updates from IIL about and until the Big Event! Hope to see you there!

Until the next time…

Register for IPMDAY Here »

IPMD2015