Innovation: Everyone’s Job

  1. August 2nd, 2022  | 

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Published in Leadership, Productivity

In my book Accountability, the seventh of The Seven Pillars of Accountability is Evolving.

The Seven Pillars are based on my research and interviews with leaders at several of Fortune magazine’s Most Admired Companies plus interviews with leaders at small and mid-sized companies who outperform their peers year after year.

Evolving is defined as, “We continuously adapt and change our practices to grow our marketplace leadership position.”  

The book’s chapter on “Evolving” examines the work of seven leaders—two from multinational companies, three from large national companies, and two from smaller companies—who harnessed innovation during The Great Recession to drive their companies’ performance to new levels of success.

Steve Dalton of Sony transformed the company’s business and he transformed his highly talented team—just in time to face a worldwide recession and come out ahead.

In Peter Drucker’s 1964 landmark book Managing for Results, Drucker says leaders must accept that customers’ needs are always changing, and so two important questions to ask and answer are “Who is our customer?” and “What does the customer value?”

These were two questions Steve Dalton asked at the time.

“When did we last survey our customers?”

“What would they tell us is the most important thing we do for them?”

Steve twice invited me to deliver workshops in Wales, and we reconnected last week. Steve shared a few things he’s doing today as a leader to nurture culture and emphasize innovation.

Before you take care of your customers’ needs, you must take care of the needs of your colleagues.

During the past two years, Dalton has emphasized safety and honesty.  

It’s the leader’s responsibility to “make your team feel safe,” he told me. “Safe in their health, safe in their job, safe in their future (as much as we can), and to make sure their families know they are in safe hands, that you take care of their loved ones when they come to your workplace.”

Dalton treats people like adults.

“Always be honest,” he says. “If you don’t know something or are unsure, tell them. If you’re going to change direction, then do it and tell everyone why. Keep the focus on the end goal [with the belief] we’ll get to our destination, but we may not know exactly when. Communicate, communicate, communicate. You must keep everyone informed and let them know how you personally feel. As leaders we’re really no different: We have families [and] we want a future.”

Dalton believes innovation is “led from the top, so ‘walk the talk.’ Talk about it a lot, talk about change and why it’s important, encourage change and new ideas, reward and praise innovation and change.”

Here are three ways Dalton and his team at Sony adapted:

  1. Engineers wrote software at home and came together on site only when they needed each of their pieces to be combined and to confirm what was expected to be done was actually done.
  2. Hiring continued even though it was done remotely. Once people could return on site, a series of “departmental coffee and cake greetings and introductions of everyone” were scheduled around the office in huddles.
  3. Communication increased to “keep everyone involved/updated—both customers and our own Sony internal groups around the world that we collaborate with. As we couldn’t host visitors to show what we can do, we created a virtual factory tour to showcase and demonstrate our capability and progress.”

“When you are the leader of a relatively high number of people,” Steve says, “there really is very little influence you have on the operational day to day. Getting the right people and getting them in the right positions so they can thrive with some freedom is key.”

What one thing will we change in the next 60 days that isn’t delivering the expected results or that customers no longer value?

Innovation is Better With Collaboration

Two columns from last Saturday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal caught my eye.

Dee Hock’s obituary told how his “unorthodox ideas” vaulted him to the top of a group of leaders whose companies were licensing BankAmericard, Visa’s predecessor company. Against “considerable odds,” Hock overcame rivalries, bad debt and red tape to transform the organization into a financial services juggernaut.

His 2005 memo, “One From Many,” encouraged the banks that were closest to customers to drive innovation versus expecting ideas to be handed down from headquarters. “Mistakes died quickly without affecting more than a single bank, while successes were swiftly emulated and improved upon as they spread through the system,” he wrote.

Peggy Noonan’s column, “The Lonely Office Is Bad for America,” echoes the idea that growth and development—whether in people, products or organizations—owes much to collaboration.

“I don’t want to see office life in America end,” Noonan wrote.

“People starting out need offices to learn a profession, to make friends, meet colleagues, find romantic partners and mates.”

Working remotely may help commutes, but remote work threatens enterprise culture, the creative process, and limits personal experimentation, learning and growth.

“My guess,” wrote Noonan, “is the end of the office will lead to a decline in professionalism across the board. You learn things in the hall from the old veteran. You understand she’s watching your progress, and you want to come through with excellence. Without her down the hall, who will you be excellent for?”

Supply chain issues. Inflation. Global competition. The war for talent.  

It’s a time for leadership. “Never stop encouraging,” says Sony’s Steve Dalton.

Innovation is everyone’s job.

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 200 strategic planning sessions, he’s delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents, and he coaches leaders inspired to take their career to the next level. His fourth leadership book—Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill) — is a Soundview Executive Best Business Book.

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