entrepreneurial thinking

Unleashing Innovation in New York


When I first had the pleasure of Chairing and speaking at an international conference on innovation, all the talk was about the stage-gate process.  Literally, talk after talk summarized the steps to market and (figuratively) why seven was better than five but twelve must be way too many.  Interesting, but hardly enough to hold a senior executive riveted for three full days.

Fast forward just a few years later and my how the world has changed.  Unleashing Innovation in NY spoke to the great diversity of innovation approaches.  Yes, stage-gating was still a topic for discussion but added to the agenda was a strong mix of crowdsourcing, innovation through acquisition and a focus on intrapreneurship.

Full disclosure, as an entrepreneur, intrapraneurship fascinates me and dominates my innovation practice.  Simply put, it’s about embracing the ideas of your employees – be they 300 or 300,000 strong.  Sounds simple.  Should be intuitive.  But, it’s been slow to emerge (at least for my liking).

Maybe this will get your started. A recently co-authored article by the Disney Institute and McKinsey offers this important insight, “The secret to delighting customers? Put employees first.” That’s encouraging. Delight your employees and they will delight your customers with “new, better and improved” products and services.

Intuitive, really. Who better to recognize product, service and process opportunity than those on the path to the customer?  And what better way to motivate and engage your workforce than to listen to them and respect their insights.  This was, in fact, the single biggest focus of the conference and made for great discussion, insights and debate.

Borrowed from the pages of the conferences’ overview, “Savvy leaders shape the culture of the company to drive innovation…design interplay between company’s strategies with the ways people actually relate to one another. “

Other insights from the conference include:

  • Large companies are striving to emulate a small company’s entrepreneurism
  • Customers are consistently being put at the front of the process
  • Focus has shifted from process to people emphasizing integration, culture and organization transformation
  • The challenge of ingraining innovation into the culture is a difficult one facing many companies
  • Unconventional partnerships are being forged to speed up the innovation process
  • The majority of companies are grappling with the vulnerability of risk taking
  • Walking the talk with regards to encouraging risk taking is still proving to be difficult
  • The answers are within your organization, you just have to ask your employees

Unleashing innovation needs to embrace all forms of innovation from the traditional top-level stage-gate approach through to inclusiveness of intrapreneurship.  But, as we learned, getting started can be as simple as listening, sharing, collaborating, empowering and engaging with purpose, a positive attitude and a culture of belief.

I’m in.

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How to avoid becoming your company’s biggest liability

Originally published on March 3, 2014 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail


I was on LinkedIn recently when a news update popped up. In the story, a CFO asks the CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave the company?” The CEO answers, “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

This vignette resonated with me: When I was a 20-something entrepreneur, I was that CFO. It’s not that I didn’t value my employees, but I was always cynical about investing in people who were likely to leave the company before our investment in their training and development had paid off. Now, as a 40-something entrepreneur and CEO, I’m happy to say that I have turned the corner.

Over the past few years, I have worked on culture, values and team-building than on any other part of our business, and it’s had incredible impact. Yes, the environment has changed. But I know the level of our employees’ participation, engagement and satisfaction have all changed, too – and our clients are the ultimate beneficiaries.

This is one of those ‘hindsight is 20/20’ or ‘if I knew then what I know now’ situations. As entrepreneurs, we come by our (lack of) strategic people skills honestly. When we start out, there’s only ‘me’ or ‘you.’ We founders do everything on our own, with no one to rely on but ourselves, which is the reason why it’s natural to put the ‘me’ ahead of the ‘team.’

But as the business grows, it’s important to recognize that it will take more than just you to get things done. It’s a big step to acknowledge that you’re not going to be good at everything. It’s an even bigger step to realize that if you don’t broaden your perspective, and understand the areas where you need support, you could become your company’s biggest liability.

Recently, I took it upon myself to ensure that this wouldn’t happen to me. I completed a straightforward behavioural assessment that involved 10 minutes of reacting to words that best (or least) described me. Going in, I was reluctant and dubious, wondering how such a brief test could summarize a lifetime. To my surprise (and perhaps chagrin), the assessment hit the nail on the head. The results declared me to be assertive, competitive, direct, driving and forceful. Not bad for a leader and entrepreneur. But not necessarily good for someone who should be participating in HR leadership and detail management.

What an entrepreneurial wake-up call. There were actually some things that others could do better than me. Imagine my shock! The bottom-line is that this tool – this awakening – has set in play a process that will help me focus on the strengths I bring to the business, and help me attract and build a team that complements not only my skills, but those of each other’s.

Want to make improvements in your own company? Here are the three key areas that will make or break your business: attract, retain and perform.

To attract the best people, successful organizations must have a brand that speaks to talented prospects who align with the company’s goals and values. To compete for talent today, companies must satisfy workers’ desire for a complete experience, not just a job.

With select employees now in place, winning companies turn their attention to ensuring these people stay. To retain great people you have to deliver on the brand promise you made at the hiring stage. Organizations must get to know their employees as individuals. Know what each worker needs to succeed, and give them the tools and the environment to be the best they can be.

The final and perhaps most significant opportunity is perform. Are your employees the best in the business? Are they constantly coming up with new ideas on how to do their jobs better and move the organization forward? Your leadership, shared goal-setting, and ability to promote the right behaviour are the biggest single influence on your organization’s ability to perform.

Through a culture of continuous innovation, leadership development, team effectiveness and employee engagement, organizations can measurably boost alignment and performance. But it all starts with you.

So nudge your ego aside, and make room for some company at the top of your company.

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Treat the Interview Process as if it is Your Business

1-2-3 of Interviewing

Recently I was asked for insight on how someone can find the right job and be happy at it.  To be most successful, I think that people need to act more like internal entrepreneurs.

It starts when you are looking for a job.  You need to treat the interview process as if it is your business – you need to have a plan, demonstrate drive, understand the customer’s need (in this case the Hiring Manger) and sell yourself as the solution.

Here are a few tips that I’ve found valuable in job searches I’ve done from both sides of the desk:

One – As an applicant you have a personal brand.  Who do you want to be known as?  You need to be clear on what you stand for and stay true to that in the interview process.  Don’t just tell the interviewer what you think they want to hear.  The down side of not being true in an interview is that if you get the job you will have to be an academy award winning actor to keep it and will need to do so by being something that you are not.

Two – Ask meaningful and well thought out questions.  Think about what is important to you and interview the company on how they stack up.  Some of my favourites:

  • Why do people leave your company?
  • What will success in this role look like in 12 months?
  • What does a bad day at this company look like?
  • How would you describe the culture?

Asking questions that both affirm the good and investigate the not so good will help provide a perspective of what your job may look like after the honeymoon phase and as an employee what you may be getting yourself into. The depth of the questions you ask also shows a high level of interest and judging by the company’s response will give you insights into what they value.

Three – Think about your next position after this job.  It sounds a bit counter intuitive to be thinking about leaving this company before you even have the job but ask yourself how you will explain in future interviews making the move to this role.  If the answer isn’t one that feels right or fits in with your desired career progression then by discovering this in an early stage of the interview process allows you to change course if needed.

So, don’t just find a job. Follow these one, two, threes of interviewing to achieve your next career-building position.

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