In all the hoopla about radical, breakthrough or disruptive innovation, we sometimes lose sight of the importance of "ordinary innovation" -- the unique approaches to every day issues that create new value. These small stories of personal innovation deserve to be celebrated and that's just what Steve Lundin (co-creator of the incredible "Fish! Philosophy" series) and Jimmy Tan (innovation consultant and trainer from Australia) are doing in their new book-in-process, "CATS: The Nine Lives of Innovation" which focuses on the premise that all innovation, at its core, is personal. Steve and Jimmy are looking for stories of personal innovation and stories about how leaders view innovation at the personal innovation level.
If you would like to share your story with them, please contact Jimmy at firstname.lastname@example.org. For an example of the type of stories they are looking for, please see the ones below.
Real Life Story Written by an HR Manager turned CAT Wrangler
One would not normally associate Innovation with Human Resources. Yet, early in my HR career, I learnt that mega problems can sometimes be tackled by simple, innovative solutions.
Although HR has evolved into a strategic role alongside other key business functions in an organization today, it had not always been that way. In those days, the HR department was probably expected to be more ‘respectable’ and ‘conventional’ than the others. ‘Respectable’ and ‘conventional’ meant ‘normal’, ‘safe and secure’ ... we were the cornerstone of consistency in the way people policy had to be administered.
Yet, many of the challenges we faced required us more and more to go beyond ‘normalcy’, to be the harbinger of change in people management. Here are two occasions when the voice of provocation inside me prompted me to look to uncommon sense to solve a couple of very common problems faced by HR managers.
Problem 1: Perennial tardiness of workers
Like most companies, we were experiencing a major problem with workers’ punctuality. This was even more critical in a manufacturing facility where lost time meant lost production. The typical response from Personnel was to issue a warning, cut pay or some similar disciplinary action. However, I resolved not to take that path as the Human Resources Manager. So I hatched a plan with my CEO.
On Monday morning, my CEO and I stood at the company’s entrance lobby at 8:30 am sharp, the time employees were supposed to report for work. There was a constant stream of latecomers. As people strolled in, my CEO and I gave a warm smile and shook their hands, greeting them with a hearty ‘Good morning!’ ... then we handed each a slip of paper ... still smiling.
It read, "Thank you for coming to work today. I was here at 8:30 am to welcome you. Would I have the pleasure of greeting you tomorrow morning at the same time? Signed, CEO"
After a few days, there were no more latecomers. And we saved a big chunk in production costs.
Problem 2: Shortage of workers
The industry was experiencing a severe shortage of production workers due to a strong economy. Ongoing recruitment efforts through the traditional channels proved futile as companies competed for a limited pool of labor and workers played musical chairs from one factory to another. We reached a crisis situation where we would miss our production deliveries if the manpower shortfall continued.
Then we got wind that a manufacturing plant was laying off workers as they were relocating some of their operations overseas. Not your typical Human Resource Manager, I dispatched a bus and a SWAT (Sourcing Workers Available Today) Team to their location. As the retrenched workers walked out with their severance pay in hand, my SWAT Team handed them an invitation slip and ushered them into our waiting bus ... to be whisked away to our company where we gave a rousing welcome and feted them to a tea party.
In one day, we netted 50 new workers. And saved the day for the production line.
Other innovative recruitment and retention strategies followed, such as a ‘member-get-member’ scheme, loyalty bonuses, monthly lucky draws for walk-in interviewees. But that’s another story.
In the first instance, I decided to use a paradoxical approach toward a ubiquitous problem. I used ‘Play’ to improve discipline.
In the second example, it was the idea of physical provocation that led to the dispatch of the SWAT Team. If you can’t get the folks in, send your folks out.
What these two stories go to show is that innovation need not be confined to new product ideas. If every person stretches his imagination a little, his individual innovation will improve corporate innovation. And lead to more profitable, effective organizations, because problems get solved at the individual level.