Enhanced Innovation: The Goal Of Your Middle Management Training Plan
Innovation. The recurring habit of the world’s most profitable and pioneering companies. But just how do we cultivate it inside of our organization? What sort of middle management training plan shall we formulate in order to draw innovation from our ranks? We propose that the habit of innovation does not grow from mandate, nor from attempting new strategies or implementing new processes in a piecemeal manner. Innovation is an emergent property at the end of a sequence, summed up by the placeholder vision statement we offer to our organizational partners:
To create an open and collaborative culture where creativity and innovation thrive.
From this vision statement, you can see the sequence goes like this: openness, collaboration, creativity, and innovation.
In our experience, it is precisely this sequence that the most effective middle management training plan will aim to achieve.
While carrying out these steps is not easy, per se, it is simple. It begins today, progresses, and then begins anew every day with your people….
Empower The People In The Trenches
At the beginning of this process, we bring our attention to the “troops on the ground.” These people are our middle managers and their teams. They live on the front lines of your company’s day-to-day operations. They interact with your customers and clients the most. They have the potential to notice changes, opportunities, and anomalies before anyone else.
It is fair to say that middle managers and their respective teams are typically more limited in their view than senior leadership, which focuses on larger trends, patterns and priorities. Each manager is focused on a particular lane and the view of the terrain they are facing.
But when you bring together all middle managers to exchange experiences, insights, and ideas, you are likely to end up with an incredibly valuable 360-degree view of your company’s ground-level operations. The feedback loops encountered there can inform what to KEEP-DELETE-CREATE NEW for your company’s new direction.
Breaking Old Habits Of Territorialism
While middle managers company-wide are likely to share a bond stemming from their common rank in the organization, simply bringing them together is a great start, but may not automatically result in immediate communication and idea-sharing.
Human beings are instinctively tribal and territorial, and in most organizational cultures, this human instinct is conditioned to treat one’s department of work as home tribe, other areas of the company as “outsider.”
This habit of departmental isolating and turf-protecting can be deconditioned relatively quickly if you bring managers at the same rank in the organization to meet on a regular basis to connect and discuss company issues. With time, the people in question can begin to form personal bonds with each other, and in the right circumstances can develop a level of trust and mutual respect that will open the door to increased communication and even collaboration.
Let Creativity Grow… Ongoing Engagement & Coaching To Integrate New Behaviors Into Daily Routine
With personal bonds growing among your managers, lines of communication are appearing between different departments that didn’t exist before (or if they did exist, they were underutilized.) But this is just the beginning. Sustain the weekly gatherings of managers and begin periodic feedback sessions to release tension that naturally grows in a group of people working together.
As the managers continue to engage with each other on a weekly basis, it is also important for senior leaders or coaches to spend a bit of dedicated time each week coaching your leaders-in-development about how to manage and deal with situations that come up. They are communicating and collaborating with their peers at a new level of engagement. It is important that each has contact with a senior leader who can help them navigate their expanding paradigms with greater and greater skill.
The point of coaching, feedback, and sustaining the practice of these new tools for communication is to foster greater creativity. Engender communication and collaboration among a group of diverse individuals with different roles and responsibilities in your company, and creativity is likely to emerge.
The Wisdom Of The Piano Recital
As children, most of us dislike having to perform at the piano recital, but when it is over we are proud of our achievement, and the larger community is enriched by our contribution.
Middle managers learning to lead and collaborate are similar to these children. Practicing scales is not enough – they must learn to play a piece of repertoire from beginning to end. It is not enough to learn one piece, or even ten pieces, but never perform them for the larger community. The work must be shared, or performed, in order to complete the process of learning and advance the student on to the next stage in their development.
Don’t merely teach leadership theory to your managers. Give them an opportunity to collaborate with each other on projects and attempt modest goals together. Don’t merely put them together to collaborate and work – challenge them by inviting them to articulate their ideas into presentations that they give in person to senior leaders.
This stage of presentation, by the way, is the window through which many products of innovation are likely to emerge into the open.
Some Of The Best Insights In Years
Hallett Leadership’s Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP) does in fact follow the model of the piano recital. At the end of each cohort, small teams make presentations to senior leadership. The challenge for each team is to develop an innovative solution, process, product, or other output intended to enhance the company in some way.
In the early days, when ALP was an internal leadership training program at Fox studios, the chairman said enthusiastically that the ALP teams presented some of the freshest thinking senior leadership had seen in years.
Normally ideas were generated from a single division, limited by the lens and priorities of that division… whereas ALP presentations were conceived and presented by people from different divisions and disciplines. Therefore their recommendations took into mind multiple perspectives and domains, and the best interests of the company as a whole.
It is easy to forget in a fast-paced and at times stressful workplace that our company’s greatest ideas are buried inside the hearts and minds of our people. The habit of innovation is simply the habit of eliciting those ideas on a regular basis. This is precisely what your middle management training plan should set out to accomplish. If setting time aside to get your people talking to each other, developing openness and trust, seems too costly and inconvenient… remember that fostering innovation from among the ranks of your people – particularly your middle management layer – may be the optimal way to negotiate a volatile and disruptive marketplace.