Archives April 2023

Getting Back to the ‘Good Old Days’ of Innovation

Brainstorming Session

The pace of disruption has required an increase in the pace of innovation.

Unfortunately, the pace of innovation means leaders seem to spend much or all of their time fighting the fires of disruption, slowing your ability to innovate and create. Can you as a leader relate to the situation below?

A strange thing happened Tuesday in the supply chain planning department of ABC Company. Between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., there were no crises, no fires to fight. Everything worked. The leaders took a deep breath, looked up from their computer screens and thought: “What now”? It had been several months since their pants were not on fire.

John checked his LinkedIn account and found 143 messages and 47 invitations to connect. Mary peered into her data science reports that she had not had a chance to review for several months. Bob dove into his file cabinet and eliminated a whole trash can of files. Now, once again, he can file things without his fingers sticking between the folders.

And then there was Anna, who stared out the window and reflected on the old days of 2019 and before. Prior to the advent of perpetual disruption, Anna spent several hours a day trying to innovate and create enhancements in productivity and customer satisfaction. She reached for her innovation folder and discovered that she had not touched it in 9 months.

Do you recall the good old days when you had time to be innovative and creative? When on a regular basis you actually worked on making your company better? That seems like so long ago.

Everybody agrees innovation is important – here are 13 good reasons alone from The Business Journals. And here is some information from Forbes on how to encourage employees to innovate.

But for yourself as a leader, why don’t we just pretend that between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. today (or next Tuesday if today’s calendar is already booked with fires), there are no crises – that we actually have the time to THINK about innovations and how to add value.

I know, a weird thought, but it may be interesting to give it a shot. You may turn an hour of thought into a solution to a problem. Not having that problem next week will actually create two hours for innovation. Just like the good old days.

The Layoff Conundrum: Dishonesty Will Kill Productivity

staff reduction

A friend of mine told me he recently lost 50% of his team when 7 out of 28 found new jobs.

The math, at first, did not make sense – last time I checked, 7 was not 50% of 28.

“Yeah Jim, but those 7 who left contributed 50% of my team’s productivity,” he said.

That’s a conundrum facing employers everywhere these days. As Business Insider just reported, despite all the hubbub about how employers seemingly are back in charge, companies simply do not have enough talent for the tasks they need done.

Yet we still get articles like this, discussing how “the bosses” feel more empowered to claw back some of the power they had before the pandemic-fueled remote/hybrid work explosion. Even worse in my opinion, The Wall Street Journal’s Chip Cutter notes, companies are laying off people without laying them off – shifting back to requiring workers back in the office, reassigning employees to other projects or even other locations, requiring managers to give employees poor performance reviews – in general, treating employees poorly enough that they want to quit.

Besides that, entire sectors seem to have settled on an arbitrary percentage of workforce reductions. For tech CEOs, it seems to be 6%, even though the companies in question have different business models, income statements and balance sheets. It’s like industry leaders are just following the herd, as Fast Company magazine reported.

Look, I get it. Dire economic predictions abound, and the economy of early 2023 is not like the economy of 2022, 2021, 2020, etc. You want to keep investors happy; you want your company to increase efficiency; you do not want unnecessary costs, employee or otherwise.

But arbitrarily picking a headcount and driving people out the door is, frankly, dumb, dishonest and can backfire.

How do you think I feel about how you just treated Charlie? I’ve worked next to him for 10 years. We’ve secured multiple deals and run many a successful project together. You’re going to make him move from Chicago to San Francisco to keep his job?

Seeing this, I might start looking for my own exit. Others on Charlie’s team might feel the same way. Cohesion and institutional knowledge fly out the door with key team members, and that stellar team’s performance plummets. That’s how you lose 7 out of 28 people and half – or more – of your team’s productivity.

To be fair, these reports do note that risk – your highest-performing employees are often the ones who can easily find work elsewhere. And in a world of “known uncertainty,” finding people who can do the work is still a struggle.

So do not follow the herd. Look at your balance sheet, cash flow, productivity, what projects your teams are handling, and make a decision. And if you must trim your workforce, do it honestly.