The Layered Big Picture Guides Innovation

woman sitting in front of table beside man leaning on laptop

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I was consulting at a Fortune 100 company when the Vice President asked if I understood the big picture. He didn’t care about the details needing to be fleshed out. He trusted my expertise to handle those details, but conditionally—if I convinced him that I understood his endgame.

He clarified his view by explaining that he worked at the 50,000-foot level and seldom put his feet on the ground. He hated being involved in the minutia of a project and preferred to leave it to management’s ability that kept the troops in line. Unfortunately, his stance placed a foothold of problems within his organization.

That’s not to say executives need to get their hands dirty, especially since most people hate management looking over their shoulders as they work. However, without a snapshot of understanding from all layers of a project, there is no way for the executive to learn if key players at each level received and understood the project’s true message and vision.

There are two ways of developing a useful big picture. The first is to place a visionary in each department that is capable of translating the executive’s vision into one easily understood by those at the 10,000-foot and ground levels. The second is to have interactive meetings with the executives and managers at each level to clarify the ongoing vision and how it’s being transformed into products and services.

Before deciding which of the two methods, or a combination of methods, is right for the company, we have to understand the importance of each layer. The executive who thinks one layer is more important than another, will not be able to create the type of business growth that can endure. The growth spirts will eventually fizzle with its high turnover due to good employees not wanting to stay in unimportant roles and departments.

I worked for a Fortune 100 company that had 165,000 employees when I started. I was laid-off when the roster dropped to 26,000 employees. The atmosphere suggested that salespeople were gods, computer programmers were heroes, and engineers were a dime a dozen. These hard delineations stopped the flow of knowledge and communications between silos, forcing people to work in isolation.

Sadly, it was the lack of support for the engineers and the total empowerment of the “above the law” salespeople that caused the company’s crash. Within six months, the stock went from $86.00 to $0.50 per share. Few saw the tragedy coming and therefore only a handful of people were able to shift their 401K investments to something more stable. Thousands of people lost their retirement savings.

I also worked for a Fortune 100 start-up division where communication across departments was a weekly exercise. Everyone was considered important to the process including the RFP proposal writers who at some companies are considered the rock bottom on the importance scale.

In this case, the team was highly valued for its ability to wordsmith and customize documents/presentations to meet the criteria that funded deals. The division broke the $100 million mark in the first year, instantly making the new division a company asset and a recognized force in the industry.

The teams that respected the value of other teams, were empowered to try new things and explore solutions never before considered in the marketplace. The VPs participated in all weekly meetings to make sure the new ideas flowed in line with the executive vision for the division.

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull, says, “When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.” He goes on to say in his book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration that communication should not follow the business hierarchy, but be open to all in order to facilitate progress.

Giving access to everyone, for everyone, allows all employees to own their layer of the vision and empowers the entire company with an understanding of how each area of the business impacts the others. This structure brings insight to those who are capable of innovation based on cross-department combinatory play, which feeds additional innovation.

While I don’t believe in the “open door” policies, which pulls people away from their work in an untimely manner, I strongly believe in access to everyone when it comes to communication and understanding how the vision impacts all project layers and departments. The proper flow of communication and the consideration of other departments when making decisions always empowers innovation.

Therefore, it’s prudent for employees to understand how all departments matter to the vision of the company. With each person having the big picture and understanding each layer of the vision, they will be empowered to innovate, pushing the company to move forward with ideas that will change the marketplace.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Creating a 3-Second Business Report

During my time in the Fortune 100 world, I was tasked to create a report that helped everyone know where the business was at. I was given no further structure or parameters, and I had no idea what each reader would consider important. The only thing I knew was that the report had to be useful for the reader or it would just be shoved into a stack of unread papers.

I actually knew one other thing—the development of the right report would take creativity.

Since Leonardo Da Vinci popped into my mind as a great creative, I decided to use one of his techniques to brainstorm a palatable solution. Da Vinci made a chart that included a number of variations to play with the possibilities, hoping to find the right combination of choices. The key parameters were written down like column headings and all related ideas that flowed from each one were placed in its column.

Within a few minutes, I had a chart worthy of exploring. It looked something like this:

My Boss

Her Boss The Team

The Division

Objective 1 Budget Weekly Objective Monthly Objective
Objective 2 Bonus Criteria Monthly Objective Quarterly Objective
Stretch Goal Stretch Goal Quarterly Objective Yearly Objective
Personal Goal Head Count Resources Budget
Bonus Criteria Back Office Support

I next randomly circled variations and considered each for inclusion in my report. It looked something like these:

IMG_7110

IMG_7111

I also played with the idea of using two from one column and three from another, but to keep the report simple I settled on selecting only one factor from each column.

It didn’t take long to figure out that my boss’ bonus criteria matched her boss’ stretch goal, which immediately became an entry in my report. I also learned from experimenting with the potential selections and a calculator that the Team’s weekly objective was 2% of the boss’ bonus criteria and her boss’ stretch goal. In other words, one measurement could let everyone know exactly where they stood once a week.

Here is the dashboard report that I created to be on everyone’s desk when they got in each Monday morning:

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 8.35.10 AM

The above report diagram was colored in each week so the reader would know at a glance where they stood. The 100% Goal represented the boss’ bonus criteria, her boss’ stretch goal, and the accomplishment of all the team’s weekly objectives.

Since everyone could read the report within three seconds, it was referenced daily. This new reading activity shifted the perspective of every employee on the team and drove obtainment over the 100% threshold year after year. All thanks to Da Vinci’s creative exercise of randomly selecting variations from a table of possibilities.

Maybe it’s time to use creativity and rethink your reports.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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3 Step Creative Team Building Approach

Last night I met several high performance people in back-to-back meetings. I was amazed at their expertise and ability to shine in their sector of the marketplace. It prepared me for a surprise experience later that night that boosted my confidence. I felt like I too could shine in my own way and the test was moments away.

IMG_0142On Monday night, I gave a talk to a group of filmmakers interested in learning about how to protect their intellectual property. The speaking engagement went out on Facebook Live and allowed me to test materials from my new book that’s almost ready for release. The audience response from those in the room was better than expected and the online comments were also satisfying. That positive experience fueled my risky choice to last night’s surprise.

Dale Carnegie shared in one of his books the importance of being ready at all times to give a talk, should you be asked. I’ve heard religious leaders say something similar about always being prepared to share in season and out. Well, my surprise opportunity came last night during my last meeting.

When I entered late, due to my earlier meeting, it wasn’t possible to quietly take a seat without notice, as the host of the meeting welcomed me. I hate it when the flow of a meeting is interrupted and everyone turns from the front of the room to see the guy walking in a half hour late, especially when it’s me—which thankfully is rare.

As I took a seat, the host announced the four guest speakers and their topics. The fourth speaker’s name was CJ Powers. Yep, he announced that I was the last speaker of the night.

The woman sitting to my left leaned over and said, “I didn’t know you were speaking tonight.” To which I replied, “Neither did I.”

She was quite concerned and asked if the host was punishing me for being late. I had no idea why I was suddenly named a speaker, but I did know the host well enough to understand his motivation was not negative. I quickly raised my hand and asked what he said the title of my talk was. He answered, “How to Build a Successful Team.” Everyone in the room laughed, thinking it was a joke. At the end of my presentation, the look of amazement on everyone’s face and the hearty applause was well appreciated.

Here is a condensed paraphrase of what I shared last night…

img_0123.jpegThrough my unique experiences working for both Fortune 50 companies and small mom and pop shops, I’ve had the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to exploring the building of excellent teams that drive revenue. I’ve learned the three steps that were always prevalent in successful teams and missing in the less fortunate ones.

1. Diversity of Perspective.

One day I was asked to attend a brainstorming session in a large company’s think tank. They collected together the top creative people from two nearby corporate campuses and placed us in a room with what I’ll refer to as a widget. It was the company’s latest patented invention and no one knew what to use it for or how to promote it. In other words, it was ahead of its time.

The team leader handed us each a piece of paper with 100 numbered lines on it and asked us to list out 100 ways the widget could be used. After fifteen minutes, I had 23 ideas and peeked at a few other nearby papers, not to cheat, but to find out if I was on track. Most had 7-8 ideas at that point, which didn’t surprise me since my thought process is significantly different than most associates. But I too, soon laid down my pen before hitting 30 ideas.

Thankfully the team leader inspired us with a shift in perspective. He suggested that we probably had brainstormed based on our life experiences and should now consider the widget from our grandmother’s perspective. I immediately came up with another two dozen uses. Then he suggested we take a child’s perspective. By the time I reached 100 uses for the widget, I realized the importance diversity of perspective makes in developing a productive team.

2. Empowerment to Fail.

I’ve heard people say that American inventor, Thomas Edison, failed 1,000 times before he invented the lightbulb. I’ve also heard it was 10,000 times. While the exact number is sketchy at best, it was clear that failure was a big part of Edison’s success. He felt empowered to find out what didn’t work, moving him that much closer to the solution he sought.

Cleaning product 409 got its name from the number of experiments it took to come up with the right formula that worked. Numerous stories exist about the failure of people that got to the top because they embraced and learned from their failures. Michael Jordan who still is in the top five of all time NBA scorers is also in the top five list of players that missed the most shots.

I learned that people who fail and push through for success always end up on top, while those who avoid failure rarely get anywhere in life. Empowering a team’s failure to build confidence and knowledge improves their success rate for the long term.

3. Praise for Success.

My upbringing implanted the idea that all incentives must be financial to be effective. However, several recent studies suggest that financial incentives only work well for immediate effect and for most blue collar workers, while events, parties, and excursions work best for white collar employees (The research did not include bonus programs, as it was only looking at project based incentives).

Regardless of the function a person serves, all employees appreciate some form of public praise or recognition for their success. People have always appreciated being acknowledged in some form or another, making praise an essential part of team development.

The common denominator in the above three steps used to build a successful team comes down to the individual. When you attribute the success to the person, allow them to fail forward and gain knowledge, and encourage them to infuse the essence of who they are in the project, success is always the outcome.

If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, please feel free to contact me. Also, please check out my new website for speaking engagements at speakercjpowers.com