Monthly Archives: May 2016

Let’s Learn About How Senior Executives Find Time to Be Creative

The number-one attribute CEOs look for in their incoming workforce (according to an IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEOs across 33 industries and 60 countries) is not discipline, integrity, intelligence, or emotional intelligence. It’s creativity.

After all, every company wants to be at the forefront of its industry and on the cutting edge of innovation. And for that, you need highly creative employees.

While much of the advice on becoming more creative is known, what’s harder to figure out is how busy executives actually find time to put it into practice. To find out, I spoke to some of the most innovative leaders across key industries, from technology to consulting to manufacturing. Here’s what they said.

Seek out unfamiliarity. Research shows that we are at our most creative when we are in an unfamiliar environment. One study showed that spending a few days out in nature disconnected from all devices — an unfamiliar and unusual experience for most people — led to a 50% increase in creativity.

But if you don’t have several days to retreat to the woods, how do you make time for new experiences? Terykson Fernando, former Creative Director at Hubbl (which sold to Airpush for $10 million) and now Creative Director at Sattva, tries to integrate observation into everyday activities. “The entire universe is filled with ideas and has in it what I am trying to create, so I take clues from everyday life by observing every little thing and being inquisitive about the how, why, what of things around me.”

If that’s not quite enough of a push, Lars Bastholm, global CCO at Google, offers a tip: “I used to tell creatives who were stuck on a brief to go to the magazine store and buy three magazines that they’d never in a million years buy. Like Orthodontist Monthly, The World of Monster Trucking, that sort of thing. Then I’d suggest they read them cover to cover and try to reframe the brief they were trying to crack with the target audience of those magazines in mind. Usually it would not only be super fun, but it would also open up new avenues of thought that could then be applied to the original brief.”

Simon Mulcahy, interim CMO at Salesforce, recommends an exercise he calls “flipping the binoculars around.” For example, if you’re a bank branch trying to increase customer loyalty, look at a company in a completely different industry, like Starbucks, and ask how it keeps customers coming back.

Get feedback from diverse sources. While not every study agrees, there is a good amount of research showing that diverse groups are more creative. The leaders I talked to not only made an effort to bring together people from different backgrounds and perspectives but also took the time to talk to people outside their industry about their ideas.

Rufus Griscom, serial entrepreneur and CEO and founder of Heleo, puts it this way: “Ideas are like people — they don’t like to be isolated or treated jealously. They like to mingle, interact with other ideas.”

“Like most young entrepreneurs, I used to be worried that if I shared a new business idea too broadly, someone else would run with it, and I would lose the opportunity,” he told me. “Now, when I have a promising business idea, I literally share it with every smart person I encounter who has any interest in it. This results in introductions and new information, and it increases the likelihood that the idea will one day turn into a business.”

Phil Harris, SVP and Chief Strategy Officer at Riverbed, adds an important reminder. Inside an organization, really listening to this feedback is just as important as soliciting it: “When we are in a room, there are no titles, grades, seniority. All voices have equal weight and all have equal time. Everyone knows they are listened to, and their contribution is always given time. Everyone is in a relationship that is based on trust and honesty, and not always the easy kind of honesty.”

Give yourself space. Creativity requires space. This may explain why meditation has been shown to increase creativity as well. “I meditate so that I can let go of existing thoughts and patterns in my mind and make space for new ones,” Fernando told me. “To me, creativity is all about letting things well up from within.”
While many executives do meditate, I understand that lots of business people feel like they just can’t take the time. If this applies to you, there are other ways of capturing the benefits of mind wandering.

Taking walks has also been shown to increase creativity, because walking frees your mind up to daydream — which, it turns out, is our brain in active problem-solving mode. As Peter Sims, CEO and founder of Parliament, Inc., put it, “If you want people to be inventive, they need space. Steve Jobs took lots of walks. I see Mark Zuckerberg taking walks on the roof of Facebook’s new HQ.”

Google’s Bastholm recommends any physical, relatively mundane activity: “Vacuum the house. Get on an elliptical at the gym. Paint a fence. Anything that will allow your brain to work in the background.”

Griscom concurs. “If I am working through something, I like to engage in low-intensity activities — walking, bicycling, driving, doing the dishes. I think because I am accomplishing something, however trivial (dishes are getting cleaner! blocks are being walked!), while ruminating on a given subject, it takes the pressure off the thought process and enables me to free-associate.”

Embrace constraints. You might wonder whether the need for “space” and the need for “constraints” goes hand in hand. After all, those seem like very different ideas. Yet research shows that creativity activates both a part of the brain that is associated with daydreaming and a part of the brain associated with “administrative control.” After all, success takes the ability for free-flowing insight combined with the ability to turn that insight into a thoughtful product.

The constraints should be part of the work itself, not arbitrary limitations. As Mulcahy says, “You don’t just say ‘take that hill,’ you say ‘Take that hill in order to do something else,’ so that if the situation changes, your soldiers know they no longer need to take the hill.”

For example, the Nike Flyknit shoe is designed to combine sustainability goals with athletic performance. Hannah Jones, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of the Innovation Accelerator at Nike, Inc., describes how they set out the project’s constraints: “We set a guiding principle called Zero Compromise. We’re going to make a great product that is beautiful and sustainable….We gave the team irritating constraints — you have to do double business in half the impact. These are unusual bedfellows, and you’re going to clash these two together. Those constraints drive a creative tension that forces a different conversation.” The company considers the project successful: According to Jones, the Nike Flyknit delivers on athletic performance while producing 60% less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods.

If you want to be more creative yourself, or to foster more creativity on your team, the data and expert advice is clear, and putting it into practice may not be as time-consuming as it first appears. Step out of your comfort zone, give yourself room to think, learn about things beyond your niche, and identify useful constraints — all in the course of a normal workday.

Why You Should More Energize Your Coworkers

How much energy do you have at work? Do you feel invigorated and engaged or down and disengaged? Either way, the reason might be your coworkers: They are infecting you with their energy, positive or negative.

We “catch” energy through our interactions with people – something called “relational energy”— and it affects our performance at work. This is what my colleagues Bradley Owens, Dana Sumpter, Kim Cameron, and I learned in an article we published earlier this year. We were motivated to do this research because energy is a vital personal and organizational resource, but research on the sources of energy have neglected a source that everyone experiences in everyday life — our relationships with others. In a series of four empirical studies, we sought to establish relational energy as a valid scientific construct and evaluate its impact on employee engagement and job performance.

To understand how this works, think of people in your workplace who buoy you up, who lift your spirits. What do they do? What do they say? Some people are energizing because they give off positive vibes. As an employee in a large company told us about his boss, “She energized me because she loved her job and was in general a very happy person. She always came in with a smile on her face which created a positive atmosphere.” Others energize us because they create genuine connections. In conversations, for example, they devote their full attention and listen carefully.

If you have an energizing boss, chances are that you feel engaged at work. Focusing on relational energy between leaders and members of a large health care organization, we found that the experience of relational energy with a leader increases one’s motivation at work, attention to tasks, and absorption in work activities. This translates into higher work performance. Members of this health care company who experienced relational energy with their leaders were more engaged at work, which then led to higher productivity.

Interactions are energizing in several ways, as Rob Cross, Andrew Parker, and I learned in a series of studies of energy in organizations. They include instances when we create a positive vision, when we contribute meaningfully to a conversation, when people are fully present and attentive, and when we have an interaction that gives us a sense of progress and hope.

You are a source of relational energy as well as a recipient. When you generate relational energy in the workplace, your performance goes up. Rob Cross and I discovered this in research we did on energy mapping, using organizational network analysis to reveal the network of energy in the workplace. The more people you energize, the higher your work performance. This occurs because people want to be around you. You attract talent, and people are more likely to devote their discretionary time to your projects. They’ll offer new ideas, information, and opportunities to you first.

The opposite is also true. If you de-energize others, people won’t go out of their way to work with you or to help you. In the worst case, they might even sabotage you at work.

What can you do to increase relational energy in your workplace? Here are four actions you can take personally and as a leader.

Build High-Quality Connections. By definition, high-quality connections generate relational energy. Jane Dutton and Emily Heaphy suggest several ways you can grow and improve high-quality connections, such as taking on a challenge at work with a group of like-minded people. In one case, two operational leaders at Kelly Services, a workforce solutions firm, created a Business Resource Group to promote leadership development and increase employee engagement. As Dutton and Heaphy describe, the leaders focused on building high-quality connections and strengthening social capital as ways to improve the leadership pipeline.

Create Energizing Events. Organize and run events with an explicit focus creating energy, not just delivering content, products, or services. Consider how Zingerman’s, a renowned community of food-related businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan, infuses energy in their seminars and events. I often bring groups of executives to their restaurant, the Roadhouse. After dinner, CEO and co-founder Ari Weinzweig or one his managing partners will present on a particular topic, such as visioning, open book management, or the natural laws of business. The content and delivery are fantastic and energizing themselves. But energy goes up another level when a panel of frontline staff come into the room and field questions. They can answer any question, but what matters even more is the energy they exude. They are positive, enthusiastic, and clearly love their work and the organization. The executives leave the event abuzz with energy because it’s so contagious.

Use Tools that Promote a “Giver” Culture. The act of helping someone at work creates energy in the form of positive emotions — the “warm glow” of helping. Receiving help creates energy in the form of gratitude. Gratitude for help received encourages paying it forward and helping others, as Nat Bulkley and I documented in a large-scale study. The Reciprocity Ring, a group-level exercise involving giving and getting help that my spouse Cheryl Baker, CEO of Humax, created, elevates giver behaviors — and energy. In a pilot study Adam Grant and I conducted, we found that participation in the Reciprocity Ring increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions.

Try Mapping Relational Energy. Organizational network surveys map the invisible network behind the organizational chart—the real way people interact. Some years ago, Rob Cross and I started adding an energy question to the usual set of network questions we asked in our organizational research and consulting. Presenting each respondent with a list of names of others in the organization, we asked, “When you interact with each person, how does it affect your energy?” Responses could range from “very energizing” to “neutral” to “very de-energizing”. The resulting data enabled us to draw relational energy maps of an organization. The results are quite revealing. In a large petro-chemical company, for example, we found a lot of de-energizing relationships — and most of them emanated from the leaders. With this objective map, they could identify where they needed to make positive improvements. Energy maps help you target where to focus on building high-quality connections, creating energizing events, and using tools that create an energizing giver culture.

So if you feel like you have an energy crisis in your organization, the good news is that you can do something about it by focusing on relational energy — the energy we get and give in our daily interactions. Every action and word, no matter how small, matters in boosting productivity and performance.

Some Tips To Quit From Your Job

Every day, employees resign from jobs. In the United States and Western Europe, annual resignation rates hover at just below ten percent, with much higher rates found in parts of Asia. Those currently entering the workforce are expected to engage in even more job hopping than prior generations, suggesting that employers may want to move beyond the simple notice policy in the company handbook and learn to encourage employees to resign in constructive ways.

Despite the prevalence of resignations in today’s workplace, researchers know little about how employees tend to go about quitting their jobs, and what causes workers to depart in ways that are more destructive or constructive for organizational functioning. Understanding what drives resignation behavior is particularly important for companies, given recent examples of employees using high profile forums to announce their resignation and tarnish their former employer’s reputation (e.g., Greg Smith’s resignation from Goldman Sachs that was published in the New York Times, and Marina Shifrin’s video resignation from her animation company that went viral). Employees themselves are often confused about the right way to resign, too, as evidenced by the abundance of websites offering tips and advice for employees who want to know how to quit their jobs.

To better understand the different ways that employees resign and why employees may resign in more constructive or destructive ways, we collected and examined the accounts of nearly 300 recently resigned employees, and over 200 managers of employees who had recently resigned.

We found that employees use one of seven different resignation styles when they quit. The two most common resignation styles were what we called “by the book” and “perfunctory” resignations. By the book resignations involve a face-to-face meeting with one’s manager to announce the resignation, a standard notice period, and an explanation of the reason for quitting. Perfunctory resignations are similar to by the book resignations, except the meeting tends to be shorter and the reason for quitting is not provided. Although not as frequent, many employees resigned using a grateful goodbye approach, in which they expressed gratitude toward their employer and often offered to help with the transition period. In the loop resignations were also fairly common, and these are typified by employees confiding in their manager that they are contemplating resigning, or are looking for another job, before formally resigning.

On the darker side of the resignation spectrum, some employees choose to resign in an avoidant manner, or by bridge burning. Avoidant resignations occur when employees let other employees (e.g., peers, mentors, or HR representatives) know that they plan to leave rather than giving notice to their immediate boss. Perhaps the most notorious way to quit, about one in ten employees seeks to harm the organization or its members on their way out the door, often through verbal assaults, thereby burning any potential bridges between themselves and their former employer.

The final, and rarest, resignation style is arguably not a resignation at all. That is, some employees simply walk off the job, never to return or communicate with their employer again. This impulsive quitting can leave the organization in quite a lurch, given it is the only style in which no notice is provided.

Beyond identifying the different ways in which employees quit, we wanted to understand why employees chose one resignation style over another. What we found is that employees often view their resignation as the final chance to get even with their organization and their manager, for better and worse. Indeed, the two factors that were most predictive of resignation styles involved whether or not employees felt they were treated fairly by their organization, and the extent to which they felt their direct supervisor acted in an abusive manner toward them. Employees who felt that they had been treated well by their organization or their boss were more likely to go the extra mile when they quit. But when they perceived that they had been treated unfairly or abused by their supervisor, they tried to get even by resigning in a more harmful way.

In short, how well you take care of your employees does not just predict whether or not they will voluntarily quit their job, but it also determines how they will go about leaving. Not surprisingly, we also found that while most voluntary turnover tends to be unpleasant for managers, they are particularly frustrated and angry when employees leave in a perfunctory, avoidant, or bridge burning manner. So employees who want to leave on good terms should steer clear of these strategies.

There is also another lesson for organizational leaders and HR personnel to be gleaned from our findings. When a company experiences a rash of ugly resignations, rather than blaming those harmful departures on employees’ character, organizations should instead consider the possibility that their employees feel mistreated and explore whether the managers involved need to learn to supervise employees more adeptly.