How Can a Manager Develop Creativity and Innovation?

One of the key challenges facing organizations is the need to create new value through creativity and innovation. Can the ability to create (“creativity”) and introduce new ideas and methods (“innovation”) be learned? The answer is definitely a yes for both. Managers and leaders are key in taking the initiative.

Where can a manager/leader start? One can get initial ideas by Googling for articles and reads on the internet. There are plenty and the trick is to pick out ideas that resonate with you and your team. Creativity and innovation at work is best developed as a team competency and not just an individual one.

Begin with a strong intention followed by action. One can begin with a strong desire to be more creative and innovative and learn as much as possible about the context and processes that enable and strengthen these in one’s self and team. That is, the motivation must be strong enough to move one to transform intention into taking action. Wanting to be more creative and innovative but not taking any action will not develop this magically. Write down what your specific goal/s is/are.

Identify the specific areas for creativity and innovation. One does not operate in a vacuum, so the question is where is new value possible, and a must, to level-up the products and services given to customers/stakeholders? Where and what are the pain points that can be addressed? What unmet, and maybe not so conscious needs and wants, exist in customers/stakeholders that have yet to be addressed? No product, service, or process is perfect, and sometimes one solution causes a new problem, so there will definitely always be opportunities to create and innovate. The point is that one must have specific areas of interest and focus to create new value.

Think outside-the-box, but what box? Often, one does think of the need to “think outside-the-box” but is not clear about what this “box” is, really. One box may be the familiar, the way things are, the status quo, with which one becomes very comfortable, making it difficult to think beyond the familiar. Another box might be one’s self-limiting beliefs and assumptions about what is, can be, cannot be, what is right, what is wrong, and so on. A useful activity to gain insight on the the boxes that constrain us is to have a brainstorming session about “What are the boxes we live in?” Then a discussion of where these boxes come from, how these limit our thinking/ideas, and how to break out of them may give fresh perspectives. Another activity might be to brainstorm “What have we not tried yet? What if?” You get the idea.

Read broadly, not just about one’s specialty. To percolate or catalyze new ideas, one needs to read about many things of interest outside one’s specialty. New ideas are waiting to be discovered or given birth to, facilitated by immersing one’s self in different fields. Different helps to nudge new ideas. The concept of parallel thinking or lateral thinking from Edward de Bono can help one master a more curious and exploratory mindset to think about “what can be” instead of just “what is.”

Make the journey a team challenge, not just a personal challenge. As the adage goes, more heads are better than one, Yes, alright, sometimes, and in developing creativity and innovation, diversity can be a catalyst. Appreciating and encouraging diverse perspectives can fertilize new ideas. Part of the process is to identify what success measures the team can hold itself to so as to ascertain how it is progressing towards its goal to become more creative and innovative. The team can get inputs from its key stakeholders about such measures. For example, a new or reengineered process that cuts down cost by 80% and reduces transaction time by 50%. Whatever the success measures that makes sense in one’s situation, it helps to apply SMART.

Sharpen analytical and critical thinking skills. One can read references on how to achieve these, or take short training, plus learn about and apply Systems Thinking. Systems Thinking is built on both analytical and critical thinking skills. Learning and applying Systems Thinking requires more commitment and discipline, and may take more effort to master. Nevertheless, it would be well worth it. Check this out The Systems Thinker. To make the learning process more fun and exciting, check what programs may be available, public or customized for in-house needs, are available in a graduate school of business near you.

Recognize and reward creativity and innovation. Finally, work with your senior management and HR folks to design and implement a recognition and reward program for creativity and innovation for teams that deliver the goods on: new ideas = new value for customers/stakeholders = measurable business value.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

One pitfall and self-defeating habit some managers have is that they want to do most, if not everything, themselves. What are the impacts of doing this? To such a manager, it can gobble up all their time and add to their stress. Often, there is not enough time to finish everything, and sometimes, the more important priorities are left undone while they struggle to complete urgent though less important work. Such a manager may stay stuck in this unexamined routine and find themselves irritable and angry at their teams/members.

To the team/members, they get used to passing the buck to their manager to get things done. Often, they may not even do any homework, e.g., initial data gathering, analysis and recommendations, to discuss with their manager. The manager may unwittingly reinforce this by fretting and then gathering the data, doing the analysis, and then instructing the team/members what to do. And so the cycle goes, the team learns to needlessly depend on and escalate work to the manager.

To break the cycle, the manager must make the first moves to enable them to focus on what must be their own priorities vs. those that can be delegated to empower and develop the team/members. In other words, separate the work only you can do because you have the requisite knowledge, skills and experience vs. the work that can be delegated to the team/members. Delegation is a tool to free the manager to focus on her priorities, as well as a tool to develop the team/members.

An experience that I had many years ago as a young management consultant was that one time I went to my boss to tell him about a problem I had on a project, he scowled and annoyingly said, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” I never forgot that bit of admonition. In other words, do not pass the buck to your boss and first work on resolving problems at your level. Consulting with the boss is fine, but first do your homework. Do not see him empty-handed. Escalating should be the last resort.

An important thing to remember is that maybe team members think they are doing the right thing by bringing up problems without solutions to the boss for her to solve. So, the manager must set very clear expectations about this, i.e., say something like, “I expect you to do your homework and resolve this problem at your level. If you need help, see me but be sure to have done your own thorough analysis and be ready to present your recommendations with well-thought out pros and cons.”

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Some considerations:

STOP: Stop thinking that you must do everything yourself to get work done well. Stop doing all the work, especially those that can and should be delegated. Stop wasting your time on work that should not be a priority for you to do.

START: Start working with each team member to identify and agree on specific developmental goals, e.g., knowledge and skills to be acquired, mastery to be achieved, etc.. Reflect on work that can be assigned/delegated to support the achievement of these goals. It may be a waste of your time to do it yourself, however, it may be the developmental assignment/experience that your team member needs.

Remember that you may need to teach, mentor and/or coach your team member depending on their current level of competence and motivation. Have a sit down with the person and discuss the assignment, your expectations, what support they may need from you or others.

CONTINUE: Continue believing that you have a capable team/members who need your confidence in them and your support to bring out their best and their talents. Continue to identify work to delegate and do so, and discuss with the team member the specific knowledge, skills ad experience that they will develop or sharpen to increase their own competence.

How Managers Can Create Psychological Safety

One common concern managers have is when they ask their people to share their ideas and people do not speak. This situation may have its variants and typically managers ask questions like, “What do you think? or “What do you think about . . . ?” Or, “Do you have any questions?” A little more prodding from the manager may not work so the meeting or conversation ends. The manager thinks that things are clear later feels frustrated that work was not done right. She mistakenly assumed that things were clear because her people had no questions.

Why do people not freely share with their manager what they are thinking and feeling about something? A common reason is that they do not feel safe with the manager. When the manager is one who frequently shows impatience, gets angry, or worse, says nasty things that offend and hurt their people, that manager is truly an expert in creating a deep divide between her and her people. Instead of building a solid professional and collaborative relationship based on mutual trust and respect, the manager creates ever bigger and deeper gaps. Often, managers are not aware that their annoyed or ominous facial expressions, or hard tone of voice, or perhaps dismissive manner, create fear that prevents openness and taking risks with you.

Psychological Safety means that people believe and feel they can open up and engage, be honest with what they think and feel, be vulnerable with what they know or do not know, without fear of negative impact to themselves. That is, there is no fear of being judged and suffering consequences that may hurt their image, status or career. Greater Psychological Safety enables more open and candid discussions, enhances team collaboration, and enables a more high performing team.

Psychological safety is said to have been researched and written about by Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis (1960s), by William Kahn (1990), and has recently become a buzzword perhaps because of Amy Edmondson’s (2018) work. Check out her book The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth and her talks/videos.

For the many busy managers who may not be inclined to read, or if you are more of an auditory learner, here are some short videos about Psychological Safety by Amy Edmondson. For the short article, you can listen to the audio version if you prefer or if you are commuting to/from work.

In a nutshell, here are some tips to consider about what can managers think, say, and do, to create Psychological Safety:

STOP: Stop being annoyed, angry, and verbally abusive with your people. Stop thinking that they know what you know because if they do not have your knowledge, aptitudes, education, and experience, they are not as “seasoned” as you are. Stop judging them. Stop making them feel incompetent or stupid.

START: Start thinking of yourself, and behaving, as their coach and mentor, so that together, you and your team can create greater value. Start thinking of how effective your team/group will be when they feel safe to open up to share their ideas and feelings. Start practicing a few things that make people believe and feel safe to take risks with you, e.g., show that you are a vulnerable and imperfect human.

CONTINUE: Continue developing greater self-awareness on what you say/do that make people avoid being open with you vs. what you say/do that make them believe and feel it’s ok to take the risk of being mistaken, admitting lack of knowledge, looking ignorant. Continue reinforcing that you and your team are learners on the same journey with a shared vision and that you will learn and figure out the best possible approaches and solutions to achieve your team/organizational objectives. Continue building up their confidence in thinking on their own, and honing their problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Photo by fauxels from Pexels

Is Coaching the Silver Bullet for Managers to Achieve Higher Levels of Engagement and Productivity with their People?

The pandemic has made life and work tougher for mostly  everyone in many ways, and it seems that these situational difficulties have dampened employee engagement in many organizations. Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, wrote that only 20% of full-time employees worldwide are engaged in their work. He goes on to observe that there is a chain reaction where low engagement results in lower individual productivity that hurts organizational productivity that negatively impacts country Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (Clifton, 2021)

This chain reaction seems credible enough especially when it happens at a critical mass. What can organizations do to increase employee engagement that is good for its employees’ well-being and performance, its customers’ happiness with its products and services, and thus, the organization’s success? Employee engagement is good for business is good for customers.

One interesting “breakthrough” insight is offered by Clifton in his blog. These conclusions deserve a closer look so that we can ask ourselves how true it is for ourselves and the people we work with. And if these are true, what are we going to do to turn things around if we find ourselves stuck with less engagement and productivity that we know we and our people are capable off?

Clifton: “Gallup has discovered — through studying what the best managers do differently — that great managing is an act of coaching, not one of directing and administrating.

One of Gallup’s most famous leadership breakthroughs, based on meta-analytics of 100 million employee interviews, is that a full 70% of the variance between highest engaged teams and persistently disengaged teams is just the manager.

There really is a silver bullet to running a culture of high performance and high development.

It’s always the manager.”

Or perhaps, you might think, that you knew this already, i.e., that the manager has a lot of influence on employee engagement and productivity.

While many organizations and HR practitioners may not agree with the bold statement to cancel all rating forms, meaning performance ratings, many may agree with this statement about how the practice of management must be changed. Reinvented.

Clifton: “We lead through a habit of having one meaningful coaching conversation per week with each team member.”

Many managers and leaders we have trained on coaching skills for the workplace typically complain that they do not have time to coach, so their default management style is the traditional “command and control” approach that they believe saves time. But does it really and what are the tradeoffs? Here is the big BUT about just telling people what to do instead of developing their thinking skills and accountability.

Managers and leaders who fail to develop their people/teams may have overlooked that they have been training their people/teams to be dependent on them for solutions to challenges and problems that they may be capable of handling at their level. How much time and productivity are lost when people/teams wait for the boss to tell them what to do? Or, habitually pass the buck to the boss instead of taking responsibility? Another impact could be the boss becoming the bottleneck.

Coaching helps develop thinking and problem-solving skills, a more proactive mindset, and accountability. It not only helps people be more productive at work, but it also helps them rediscover their purpose, their passion, and focus on what are most meaningful and important to them, thus re-energizing their commitments.

So, would you agree with the title of the article, “Gallup Finds a Silver Bullet: Coach Me Once Per Week” from Jim Clifton, The Chairman’s Blog, May 27, 2021?

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

The Leader as Coach

A predictable reaction of some experienced managers and leaders when learning managerial coaching is that they worry about how their teams will see them when they adopt a coaching approach vs. a tell-them-what-do approach. Their teams have gotten used to going to the boss for the answers.

Many have gotten used to giving their teams the answer instead of helping them learn to think for themselves and come up with excellent solutions to challenges. Managers and leaders need to really know their staff/teams well. Remember, you will still need to adapt your approach depending on the your staff’s/team’s needs and readiness.

Are you unsure about how coaching your staff/team can make a difference? Reflect on your own development as a leader. How did you get to be where you are now? Did your superiors give you all the answers or did they give you more freedom to analyze and develop your own solutions?

https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-leader-as-coach/

Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management?

In a nutshell, the 2018 study conducted by Human Capital Institute (HCI)
in partnership with the International Coach Federation (ICF) show that organizations that use coaching by a professional practicioner and build a strong coaching culture have improved talent and business outcomes. Coaching helps change leaders implement more successful change initiatives and projects.

Here is a short video from the ICF with the research highlights. To expand the Vimeo video below to full screen, please click on the four arrows icon on the lower right side of the embedded video.

If you are an ICF member, click here to visit the ICF webpage where you can download the complete report for free.

Discover “The Last Mile Technique”

If you are a coach, you most likely want to continuously grow, expand your coaching knowledge and help your clients get better results to make a bigger impact in the world.

And, you may also resonate with the feeling that many of the coaching frameworks you’ve learned are too restrictive, or structured, not taking into account the individuality of the person you are coaching. 

Have you been called to find a more natural, holistic way of working with your clients? One that gets to the heart of the matter, without following a strict script to get from A to B?

Then I hope you will join me for Dr. David Drake’s 90 minute workshop called “Discover the Last Mile Technique.” This is complimentary and I am looking forward to attending myself and learning how to help my clients see results with a more holistic approach. If you’d like to be my guest, please join me here – https://coach.wbecs.com/nc-2019/a160505

Project Management for the LGU Integrity Circles

Countrywide Development of a Culture of Integrity Through Multi-Sectoral Local Government Integrity Circles Second Workshop, Project Management Sessions, January 14-16, 2019

One initiative in the Philippine Local Government Unit (LGU) to strengthen integrity in the public sector is the Partnership for Integrity & Jobs (Project I4J) which is a project co-funded by the European Union and its partners. It is implemented by the consortium composed of European Union (EU), Konrad-Adenaur Stiftung (KAS), and the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (eccp), in partnership with the Centrist Democracy Political Institute, League of Cities of the Philippines, the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, and the League of Provinces of the Philippines.

The AIM Team Energy Center for Bridging Leadership, Asian Institute of Management (AIM), in partnership with KAS and the LoGIC Networks Philippines, has provided two capability development workshops thus far to support Project I4J’s Countrywide Development of a Culture of Integrity through Multi-sectoral Local Government Integrity Circles. The first workshop held on August 7-9, 2018 introduced using the Bridging Leadership approach of ownership, co-ownership and co-creation of possible integrity mechanism solutions to address the problem of corruption. The second workshop held on January 14-16, 2019 focused on co-owning integrity mechanism and project initiation/project management.

Project management sessions were included to equip the LGU Integrity Circles participants to learn some fundamental project management concepts and tools to help them plan and implement their integrity projects. Compressing key project management concepts and tools in a less than one day workshop is challenging. Nevertheless, focusing on selected fundamentals on project initiation, such as preparing a project charter, in the given six hours is better than none and can help Integrity Circle members better articulate their specific project objectives, scope/deliverables, schedule and cost/budget.

Such a short introduction may not be sufficient, however, and providing more intensive practical project management training with coaching and mentoring on application as a follow-up can support the Integrity Circle members a longer way. The LGUs that are not used to the discipline and best practices of project management can definitely benefit from such training and coaching and mentoring. On the other hand, the top executives, our governors, vice governors, mayors, vice mayors and other key officials can benefit as well from project sponsorship training.

It is heartening to learn that while perhaps many LGUs may not yet have a Code of Ethics and programs to develop a culture of integrity, some have identified developing such a code as one of their integrity mechanism projects.

To learn more about the initiatives and organizations mentioned in this post, here are some links below.

Accenture Philippines Annual Partners’ Get-Together December 6, 2018

One of the things that’s nice during the Christmas Season is the continuing initiative of Lito Tayag, Accenture Philippines, to keep in touch with its former Partners through the Annual Partners’ Get-Together. This year’s get-together was held on December 6, 2018 at the Accenture CVC at Uptown 2, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

2019 Accenture Annual Partners’ Get-Together at Uptown 2, BGC, Taguig

Every year, Lito Tayag give short updates on how Accenture Philippines has evolved and grown over the years. As of December 2018, Accenture Philippines has exceeded 50,000 employees deployed to eight clusters within and outside of Metro Manila.

Left to Right: Manny Estrella, Jimmy Singson, Fred Figueras, Tony Lim, Maricar Testa, Manny Guillermo, Po Tim Ang, Bal Endriga
Left to Right: Bing del Rosario, Lito Tayag, Audie Pili, Orly Zorilla, Bobby Tablante, Fred Figueras, Teddy Asuncion, Ding Aquino, and Johnny Zalamea

Accenture Philippines was formerly SGV Consulting which spun off as Andersen Consulting Philippines in 1992 composed of the Manila Consulting Office and Manila Solutions Office. In 1992, some of the Consulting partners decided to stay with SGV&Co. while most joined the spin-off Andersen Consulting. I was one of those who joined the spin-off. Andersen Consulting later changed its name to Accenture in 01/01/2001. The name “Accenture” was the winning entry from a global contest to rename the company at that time. “Accenture” stands for “Accent on the Future.”

Way back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, SGV Consulting-Andersen Consulting was a pioneer in IT Outsourcing services for onshore clients. In 2002, as Accenture, it grew its services to include Voice and Non-Voice Business Process Outsourcing. Accenture Philippines has certainly come a long way from less than 300 people in the 1990’s to a 50,000-strong people organization in 2018.

Coaching and Mentoring for ALS Teachers in the ALS Teachers’ Summit 2018

Last November 22, 2018, I had the wonderful opportunity of being one of the resource persons for the first ever ALS Teachers’ Summit 2018 sponsored by the Cebuana Lhullier Foundation, Inc. (CFLI) in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd).  The partnership was established by CFLI in 2013 with the DepEd.  CFLI adopts local government units and public schools to make ALS available in their area.

“ALS” stands for Alternative Learning System (ALS) and is a parallel education system that is an option for those who do not or cannot have access to the Philippine formal education system.  ALS provides Academic, Livelihood, Spiritual and Social Education to former out-of-school youth and adults in the elementary and secondary levels.  Mobile ALS Teachers provide the alternative education and, at the secondary level, this is aimed at preparing youth and adults to take and pass the Junior High School and Senior High School equivalency tests, respectively.  Equipped with the knowledge and skills at said equivalency levels, test passers are helped to become more job-ready.

First ALS Teachers’ Summit 2018 Sponsored by Cebuana Lhuiller Foundation, Inc. in partnership with the Department of Education

Back to the summit, the overall intention of the summit was to provide ALS Teachers more opportunities for personal and professional development.  One day during the 2-day summit was devoted to helping them learn more about Coaching and Mentoring skills for ALS teachers and how they can use these to help youth and adults develop their full potential.  The role of teachers as coaches and mentors was explored and a coaching and mentoring approaches and skills were discussed.

We started with differentiating several helping modalities as these are often confused with one another.  The most succinct points that sums up the difference that I’ve found so far are the following.  In a nutshell…

  • Coaching is about generative change and enabling self actualization
  • Mentoring is about guiding from experience
  • Consulting is about giving advice and expertise
  • Training is about teaching and drilling in new skills
  • Counseling and therapy is about remedial change, i.e., solving problems, healing hurts, resolving traumas and building up ego-strength so the person gets up to average and becomes “okay“
    (L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.)

The GROW/TGROW Performance Coaching Model (John Whitmore) and the Narrative Coaching Model (Dr. David Drake) were introduced and discussed.  GROW/TGROW stands for Goals, Reality, Options, Way Forward, and T stands for Topic. GROW/TGROW is an approach for guiding a coaching conversation and may be used to guide a mentoring conversation as well.  Narrative Coaching “is a mindful, experiential, and holistic approach that helps people shift their stories about themselves, others, and life itself to create new possibilities and new results.

We live our lives according to the stories we tell ourselves and the stories that others tell about us.” (John M. Winslade and Gerald D. Monk, 2007.)

One insight during the interactions with ALS teachers is that more felt that the Narrative Coaching approach can support them more in helping out-of-school youth and adults, who typically come from disadvantaged backgrounds, to re-author the stories of their lives to develop and strengthen their positive self-esteem and self-confidence.  The stories we tell about ourselves and the stories that others tell about us are very powerful indeed, and often the impact they have on our thinking, feelings, choices and actions, remain blind spots for many who are clueless about their influence.

For example, an illiterate 15 year old youth may not have the motivation nor confidence to learn how to read and how to do simple math, believing that these are beyond his abilities. Such a limiting self-belief may continue to be perpetuated with his self talk and stories about himself that learning is beyond him and that he does not have what it takes to learn.  Stories about the times he tried but just did not learn are those that are most salient in his mind.  Others in his life may have the same beliefs about him expressed as stories about his lack of ability, motivation, and so on. Such stories also being most salient in their minds.  The vicious cycle continues and he has given up on himself.

With the help of an ALS teacher using a Narrative approach, he can explore areas where he may have higher self confidence, demonstrated the ability to learn, how these came to be, and how these may be resources for him to tap in learning how to read and do simple math.  Exploring events and interactions in his life which showed that he does have abilities for learning and many other skills, helps him create new stories about himself as a person with abilities that he may not have realized until this time.  The process goes on to “thicken the plot” of his new story that he is able and helps him to make new choices, including applying himself to his studies.  Enlisting the support of others in his family and environment are critical as well if creating new stories and making them stick.

The focus of coaching and mentoring is always supporting the “client” (a.k.a., “person coached” or “coachee” and/or “mentee” or “protege”) in achieving the outcomes that s/he has for herself/ himself.  Helping clients in discovering, exploring and realizing their fuller potential is what coaching and mentoring is about.  Coaching is about helping someone to learn instead of teaching them. Mentoring, on the other hand, may include advising and teaching someone by the mentor sharing their experiences.

Opening the ALS Teachers’ Summit 2018 are Pebbles Muñiz, Manager and Program Head for Education Education and Special Projects Department and Jonathan Batangan, Executive Director of Cebuana Lhuillier Foundation, Inc.
Vicky Mandap, Resource Person on Well-Being and Self-Care, Betty Narvaez, Training Manager, PJ Lhuillier, Inc., Maricar Testa, Resource Person for Coaching and Mentoring, and Jonathan Batangan, Executive Director of Cebuana Lhuiller Foundation, Inc.

To learn more about Cebuana Lhuillier Foundation, Inc. and its advocacy on education and the Alternative Learning System (ALS), visit the Cebuana Lhuillier Alternative Learning System website at http://cebuanalhuillierals.com/.

To learn more about the Alternative Learning System (ALS) in the Department of Education (DepEd), visit DepEd web page on ALS at http://www.deped.gov.ph/k-to-12/inclusive-education/alternative-learning-system/.