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The D Series: Tools to succeed at innovation

It’s About Learning – Not Training.

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Check out IMDB.com, which lists her professional acting and voiceover roles – including her most recent stint as Rabiah, a mentor to young super-heroes in the animated TV series “The 99.”

That’s pretty fitting, because Vivian’s first love has always been talent development: creating programs to help people become strategic resilient, lifelong learners. Transforming training from organizational afterthought to strategic win-win: that’s Vivian’s super-power.

Vivian started as an auditor, working for one of the U.K.’s accounting firms. “But I didn’t want to get labeled as an accountant,” she says, for reasons we’ll leave unexplained. Instead, she found her jam in the firm’s training consulting group, where she learned that business transformation starts with people. She also developed the concept of “the strategic employee,” which encouraged employees to manage their job as if it were their own business – an initiative designed to enhance employee alignment and drive innovative business opportunities.

Her career then led her to a major chartered bank, where she helped transform the building and delivery of learning for many new strategic initiatives at a time when the financial sector was experiencing significant change – including the launch of a national program for 25,000 people that was completed in just two months.

Moving to Nortel, Vivian pioneered a virtual classroom that was at least a decade ahead of its time. She then formed her own business, providing customized learning programs to retailers, financial institutions and other clients – when she wasn’t acting for the stage and TV.

Now Vivian has joined forces with Spyder Works to expand her ability to help companies learn. Their new joint venture, Icicle Learning, provides transformational learning by creating and delivering innovative learning solutions that are integrated into the workplace and directly aligned to business strategy. All with her trademark blend of engagement, integration and relevance.

Her new role is a natural step forward on both sides. As Spyder Works was helping clients develop ever more innovative design-driven strategies, the firm saw a growing need to help employees adapt to change and seize opportunities faster. “With Vivian, we now have the expertise to develop talent or change culture, from the frontlines to the executive suite,” says Spyder Works CEO Ken Tencer.

“With the combination of Icicle and Spyder Works,” adds Vivian, “we can now provide the entire business-transformation process.” (We think it’s cool that they already finish each other’s sentences.)

Now, some cynics will tell you that training doesn’t work. And Vivian agrees that’s often the result if all you’re doing is teaching people a new skill for their current role. You’re missing the opportunity to embrace change, create alignment and develop new leaders in uncertain times. Says Vivian, “People really want to know more about the new world of business.”

That’s especially important now that millennials are dominating the workforce. They’re generally thought to bring a creative entrepreneurial spirit to the office, but they have short attention spans – and they’ve been warned to expect 15 different jobs in their careers. “Most companies are experiencing high turnover, because their employees aren’t engaged in what they’re doing,” Vivian notes. But she’s seen this movie before. When you train employees and managers to think and act like leaders, she says, you create greater productivity and lower turnover, “because they’re totally engaged in what they’re doing.”

If you’re interested in engaging Vivian, please note that she’s not interested in selling training. “I am driven to inspire people to see the value of learning every day; to create their own opportunities to learn and grow,” she says. “There’s something to learn every day.”

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Who needs “process” when we’ve got each other?

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Let me get something off my chest. If you’re a business owner, process is your friend.

I’ve heard too many business leaders say that process inhibits their organization’s creativity. Or flexibility. Or culture.

Hogwash! Process is a discipline that enables companies to grow and make a profit. If you don’t embrace process, you won’t have much flexibility or creativity left. Or much of a business, for that matter.

I don’t say this just because I’m an engineer, or an efficiency and effectiveness expert who has worked in plants for Toyota, Honda and other industrial giants around the world. I believe this because I brush my teeth twice a day (sometimes three). I floss. I change my clothes daily. I set my alarm the night before. Because processes – disciplined, repeated behaviours that produce specific outcomes – are key to overcoming everyday human inertia and achieving results.

It’s natural for leaders to shy away from formal processes. I get it. They fear that their innovative, consensual organization will suffocate in an avalanche of rules. They dread resistance from colleagues who distrust change. Some even fear losing their own autonomy after years of operating their business on the fly.

But the operations they see as consensual and common sense may in fact be chaotic and wasteful. Where disciplined processes are in place, everyone knows what to do and why. Without such systems, everyone may be working hard, but they may not be working together.

Here’s a case study. A mid-sized producer of telephone systems called me to solve a problem: after booking new orders, they were waiting six months for payment. When I investigated, I realized this wasn’t a cash-flow issue. It was an efficiency problem and a shortage of accountability.

Here’s what was happening. The sales team had quarterly goals, so they pushed hard only four times a year. This created fulfillment problems as the company overloaded suppliers by requesting extra components. (One saving grace: as there was no timetable for ordering parts, some calls went out late.)

There was no process for standardizing information on customers’ locations and special needs, so once the installers arrived at clients’ offices, they often discovered problems that required more cabling or specialized equipment. Finally, while the company’s invoices clearly noted “30 days net,” everyone ignored it – and the company had no process for encouraging payment.

Together we introduced clear standards for sales activity, ordering, client information and installation – and enforcing non-payment penalties. The company quickly turned around, and became the leader in its industry. Sales, which had been slipping, grew 20% in a single year.

Yes, there was resistance at first. Even the manager who hired me thought the basic problem was a too-complex business – not his failure to manage that mess. Once we showed them our solutions, everyone became proud champions of clarity and simplicity.

Systems and processes don’t create complexity – they reduce it. Where standards are absent, people generate their own processes. Chaos, it turns out, is like tooth decay: easy to prevent, but hard to fix.

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Will you help us by taking this Intrapreneur Assessment?

Great Idea. Creativity Concept with light bulbs on chalkboard background

Will you help us by taking this Intrapreneur Assessment?

As a global thought leader in intrapreneurship, I have been asked to collaborate with Multi-Health Systems, a people analytics and solutions company. MHS is currently developing an assessment on entrepreneurial competencies, and they are looking for participants to help them in the final stages of testing. At my request, MHS has agreed to incorporate individuals who self-identify as intrapreneurs. 

Will you help us by taking this 20-minute online assessment? We are looking for leaders, entrepreneurs and individuals who identify as intrapreneurs (i.e., they are employees of a company and are officially responsible for creating something new, or for solving problems using entrepreneurial skills). I am sure you will find the assessment questions interesting and thought-provoking. And in return for participating, you will receive a personalized report that will give you new insights into your entrepreneurial skills and behaviors.

To me, intrapreneurship is not a “program.” It is a necessary mindset that all organizations need to embrace to thrive in fast-changing, competitive markets. Ultimately, MHS’s research will provide an even richer foundation upon which Spyder Works will help our clients build more successful cultures of intrapreneurship.

Thank you in advance for participating in this important research project.

Gratefully,
Ken 

PS: As a member of my network, I would also like to offer you a 25% discount for the upcoming Intrapreneurship Conference in Toronto, Nov. 15th to 17th. The conference theme is “Building an Innovation Ecosystem.” To register, please enter the promo code IntraCnf-SpyderWorks. (I’ll be speaking on Nov. 15, to share four key insights for creating a more successful intraprenership program. Hope to see you there!)

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