Why does no one talk about Innovation?

Surprised by the title? Yeah, so was I when I got to thinking about this. Everyone loves to say the word: “Innovation”. We roll it around our minds, our meeting rooms, workshops, conferences – wherever we can really. In-no-va-tion. Mm! Such a satisfying sequence of syllables.

But, if you reflect a little, despite the fact that we say the word quite a bit, we don’t often get to the crux of it, do we?

I attended a panel presentation last week on “Sparking an Innovative Culture”. The two panelists spoke a lot about culture, but I can’t remember anything really profound that was said about innovation. This wasn’t my first experience of a session that was supposed to be about innovation, and ended up being about something else entirely.

So why oh why aren’t we talking about innovation?

Do we know what it means? Are we scared of it? Do we feel equipped to talk about it – do we have the right words?

There’s this great article, which asks 15 innovation experts to share their definition of innovation and generates a meta-definition of 17 words: “Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and customer”.

I like those words, those are good words. Those words aren’t new words, nothing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution there, or the VUCA world. Just 17 solid, tried-and-trusted, Regular Joe kind of words. So where’s the innovation?

The innovation for me, lies in the three processes of this definition: executing, addressing, and achieving.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a great book about creativity, and in it she argues that “Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest”. Ideas want to be executed, if they were genetically engineered in any direction it would be to transform from idea into action. But reflect for a moment on how many of your own ideas you’ve made manifest. All those ideas you’ve had, for that book, for that product, for that holiday, for that party, for repainting the kitchen. How many of them moved from idea to action? Yeah, not all that many. Executing an idea requires energy and time, ofcourse, but also courage, chutzpah, daring, creativity, and tenacity. Not things that you see everyday really.

And then linking an idea to a specific challenge, addressing that challenge, not skirting about the issue but facing it head-on. That requires careful negotiation, understanding that extends beyond the superficial and into the intuitive, and staking your name to a task – saying it’s this, this is what I want to solve. In that, you’re holding yourself accountable and announcing to the world that it too can observe you as you navigate implementation of your idea. Brave. Risky. Meaningful.

We finish off with achieving, achieving value. This isn’t about completing a project, it’s about completing a project in such a way that at the end of it all, you’ve brought something valuable into existence, something that creates and contributes and improves, maybe even inspires. BOOM!

So let’s start talking about this stuff. Let’s start asking how we can be brave, how we can reimagine value. Through that, the innovation will come.

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Interested in having a conversation about innovation? So are we! Connect with us at hello@merakicollective.co.za.

Comfortable? Then you’re not learning.

Ever been told you should “step outside your comfort zone”? I’ve heard it said in contexts where managers have wanted teams and individuals to stretch, reach ambitious targets, achieve something out of the ordinary. But what does it actually mean?

Quite simply, your comfort zone is where the outcomes of your activities are pretty certain. There’s routine, stability. The same action has the same consequence, always. It’s a low stress environment, and one that once mastered, doesn’t require much adaptation from your side. Sound a little boring? That’s because it is.

Learning does not happen in your comfort zone. Our brains just aren’t wired that way. If you don’t believe me, believe the super smart scientists at Yale University that conducted a study with monkeys to see the differences in brain activity when the probability of a specific outcome of a task was fixed, and when it fluctuated. The monkey brains proved: we learn when there is uncertainty. The scientists were quick to point out that we don’t want to be in a state of learning all the time, but if we don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zone at least some of the time, we’re going to stagnate.

What does this mean for you? How do you get yourself out of your comfort zone?

  1. Do things differently

Change things up a little. Try a new system, a new method for solving a recurring problem. You don’t want to abandon all sense and rationality, so do your research, and read up on alternative solutions before attempting something new – but attempt it!

  1. Take on projects that require you to flex your (unused) muscles

If you have a skill that is underutilized, give yourself the opportunity to practice it. Ask for projects and take on work that requires you to colour with all the crayons in your box. By using a new set of skills, you’re also learning about what you’re capable of, which has great side-effects for self-esteem.

  1. Ask for feedback

Sometimes it’s difficult to self-reflect meaningfully because we can’t always see the patterns and behaviours that we practice every day; they become part of the cognitive furniture so to speak. But a manager, colleague, or a mentor if you have one, can offer you an outsider’s perspective. By gaining this self-knowledge, you’ll know where your areas of change are situated.

  1. Find ways of dealing with stress

One of the disincentives for leaving our comfort zone, is that it’s pretty stressful and anxiety-provoking to be out in the wilderness of the uncertain. So figure out coping mechanisms. Learn how to deal with anxiety and how to channel that energy in constructive ways. You’ll feel more prepared to get into a new groove, if you know you can cope with the changes that are imminent.

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If you’re lacking the confidence to get out into the world of the uncertain, reach out to us and we’ll talk you through some gentle techniques to get you more comfortable with discomfort: hello@merakicollective.co.za.

The Cult of Culture

We all love talking about workplace culture. The culture of an organization. Values-based culture, service culture, or a toxic culture. Culture, culture, culture!

Culture-shmulture I say. Culture is a dangerous term. Controversial? Stay with me.

Teams, organisations, workplaces and such are made up of individuals. Individuals with unique and sometimes divergent personalities, with complex sets of interests, with behaviourial traits and working styles and preferences. Individuals who interact with each other constantly – either through direct conversation, collaboration on projects, or even in a tricky dance to avoid conflict.

And then there’s Culture.

Culture is this thing, this set of values, this Ways of Working, this insidious invisible presence in the boardroom and canteen. Culture swims between employees and into projects. But what if I told you, Culture doesn’t exist. At least, not in the way we think it does.

Culture is not an independent entity in a company, something the exists outside of employees. Culture isn’t an individual in a baseball cap and chinos, or a Type A stiletto-wearing Storm Trouper. It’s easy to image Culture thus. To blame Culture when things go wrong, to call on Culture to reignite a team, to praise Culture when targets are met with smiles still on faces.

But Culture isn’t something separate to the people in a team, in a workplace. And viewing Culture like this is dangerous – why? Because it removes the accountability on people to behave in ways that build themselves, their teams, and their company’s vision. If we can blame failure, bad relationships, poor execution, on Culture, then we lose a valuable opportunity to reflect on our own actions and ask ourselves, “what could I have done better?”

Each individual is responsible for their own actions, for their own contributions, for their own relationships. Each individual employee is an active creator of culture (with a small “c”) everyday that they go to work and engage with others. Culture isn’t stagnant, culture changes when we do. If we talk about a company having a great culture, what we’re actually saying is that employees are engaged, leadership is fair, and projects excite and challenge. We’re not saying that there’s a mythical beast called Culture, living in the airvents, ready to sabotage or support depending on its mood.

We need to be accountable for creating and curating healthy working relationships, aligned to a shared set of values. We need to take responsibility for when things go wrong, and not turn around and point at Culture. And when things go right, we deserve to relish the success, and understand that it wasn’t due to Culture, but rather to the sustained efforts of a team of people committed to working together to reach their goals.

Interested in talking more about how to empower employees to cultivate positive cultural practices? Reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.co.za

Inclusion

 

History has it that humans evolved somewhere in southern Africa, and then over the course of many centuries, we dispersed ourselves across the earth. At some point in our collective history, we started bumping into one another again, having grown and developed along diverse trajectories. We spoke different languages, we had different coloured skin, we behaved differently when presented with the same set of stimuli. Fast forward a little further, and we’re suddenly all in the same workplaces, simultaneously presenting differences along with our shared humanity. The degree to which those differences are salient depends in large part how willing we are to include one another in our professional lives, how willing we are to embrace and exercise that shared humanity.

See, a lot happened between the time that our common ancestors trekked north, south, east and west. Humanity found power, we developed hierarchy. We started systematically categorizing difference, and ascribing value judgments to the products of diversity. We did a lot of damage. We learnt how to exclude, but more than that, we started to believe that exclusion was as natural and neutral and the sunrise and sunset.

As a species, we’ve spent the bulk of our time traversing the earth focusing on survival. It’s only in the last few minutes of our existence, that we’ve shifted our focus to elevating ourselves beyond and above one another. And it’s only in the last few seconds, that we’ve started to think about inclusion – we’ve started to realise that the differences we thought were part of nature, are nothing more than human imaginings. The differences in our skin colours might be the result of melanin, but the meaning we give those differing levels of chemicals – well that’s all in our head.

But that’s why inclusion is such a difficult thing, a threatening thing, a challenge. Because it requires no less than unlearning and relearning what we know about the world, what we consider to be true. Inclusion isn’t about attending a workshop, or completing an online quiz. Inclusion requires that we reflect on what it means to be human. What humanity really means.

Humans are curious, we’re courageous, we seek to improve our lives and our world. We need to realise that we can do all this without building hierarchies, without excluding others who look, think and behave differently to us. Inclusion requires that we recognise we’re at a turning point in our history. We started together, we moved apart, we came together again and instead of celebrating and welcoming difference, we balked at it. We’ve got the opportunity now to fix things, to reimagine a world and a humanity where diversity is a defining characteristic of who we are. Where it’s not something that we’re scared of, but something that we view as a portal of opportunity.

Including others, recognising ourselves in them, constructing a humanity premised on the value of difference should be our way forward.

Inclusion should not be a buzzword or tickbox, it is and should remain a common commitment to exploring and embracing who we all are.

If you’re ready to think deeply about inclusion, reach out to us at jen@merakicollective.co.za and let’s take the conversation further!

Want employee engagement? Transform, don’t transact!

There are any number of tools on the market designed to enable and increase employee engagement: platforms that make remote collaboration easier, apps that allow for instantaneous recognition of team members, project management software that promises golden sparkles with every use. The great flaw with all of our engagement interventions, is not the intervention itself, but the way we understand the work context.

We tend to view work as a transaction. An employee gives their employer 40 hours a week of work, and in return, an employer offers the employee a salary and other tangible and intangible benefits. And then, in that transactional context, we try to increase engagement between transactors. That’s where it all goes wrong. Transactional relationships don’t allow for the kind of engagement that we want.

So what do we need to change?

We need to change the way we understand work and the relationship between employer and employee. We need to view work and the relationship between employer and employee as transformative not transactional.

We need to move away from viewing work as a linear progression from point A to point B where we start at point A, and then with a series of inputs and activities, emerge at point B. Instead, we need to think of an employee’s work as a chrysalis, enabling the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Let’s unpack this.

Consider a task that needs to be done. For that task to move from an idea to a completed project, we need employees to make it happen. And we’d like them to be engaged in the process, so that they’re doing their best work, enjoying themselves, and staying with the employer from one process to the next. Either we incentivise the employee to do their job, by dangling a salary at the end of the stick, or we help the employee understand that they are a critical part of transforming the idea into a completed project. Which option enables greater engagement? Well, that should be clear!

How do we view work as transformative?

  1. We need to move away from an obsession with outputs and instead zoom out to focus on the nature of the work. Is this a problem to be a solved, a product to be developed, a customer to keep happy? Why are we doing this work?
  2. In moving away from outputs, we can also focus on all of the possibilities that a combination of our team’s unique skills and resources can generate. What could the team do with the caterpillar in front of them?
  3. We need to recognise the human element involved in achieving the completion of a project. What does each person bring the work, that only they can bring?
  4. We need to understand that while our work does not need to be our life’s purpose, it does need to transform us in some way. After the completion of each successful project, how has each employee grown and developed?

If you’d like to chat about to transform your view of work in your organisation, we’d love to help you! Reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.co.za.

Managing “in” – yes, it’s a thing!

Traditionally, management has been about managing downwards – leading and supporting a team of people to the achievement of a shared goal. More recently, we’ve heard of managing up; informing and guiding the ideas of more senior people. But what happens in flat structures, or remote working environments, where management of others isn’t really necessary, and the management required, is management of self? Is managing “in” the next generation of management?

Is self-management the same as self-mastery?

The short answer is no. Self-mastery entails practicing and perfecting your craft and honing your focus to generate productive results. Self-management is about managing your time and outputs, prioritising tasks, and making day-to-day decisions about your work. Self-mastery should be the goal of every employee, whereas self-management might not be necessary is all contexts. In my experience, self-management is most necessary in small teams, emerging companies, or remote work environments where the Big Boss might not be around very often.

How to do self-management well

In the absence of clear guidelines from a senior manager, it can be difficult to know what to work on, and how to work on it. Here are a few tips to manage your workload and get your job done.

  • Set daily, weekly and monthly targets so that you know what you need to accomplish
  • Hold yourself accountable to those goals by writing them down and tracking your progress
  • Reward, or congratulate yourself when you achieve your goals
  • Reflect often and intentionally on your work to identify gaps, obstacles, and areas of improvement
  • Give yourself feedback by returning to a completed piece of work after a period of time and reviewing its strengths, weaknesses and how it has contributed to your overall job
  • Invest in your growth by pushing yourself to do your job better, don’t just view your job as a to-do list
  • Make sure you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn something new every week
  • Join an online forum, tweetchat, or community of practitioners in the same field as you to share insight and stay connected to changes in your field

One of the most meaningful steps you can take to managing yourself is to make use of the services of a career coach, whose insight and encouragement can keep you on track. Reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.co.za to find out about how we can support you.

So you think you’re a people-person?!

We’ve all done it – in job interviews, in our elevator pitches, in networking conversations with potential contacts – we say those five words: “I’m a real people’s person.” We say it, but do we really know what it means?

Does it mean that you’re extroverted, gregarious, outgoing, that you make friends easily? Does it mean that you’re empathetic, compassionate, and relate well to others? Or, does it mean that you inspire others, that you’re able to work with others to maximise their productivity? Could it mean that you value others, you place their interests above your own, you’re committed to providing them with a quality service – every time?

I recently sat with this question, and I thought about the two seemingly conflicting ways that you can be a “people’s person” in a professional context.

The Manager and the Worker Bee

Whether you’re queen of your workplace castle, or buzzing about getting the job done, you need people skills in order to work successfully with others. But you need to use those people skills in different ways in order to best meet the requirements of your specific role.

It’s important to unpack this, because you might be surprised at just what kind of people’s person you are. It’s important too because having excellent people skills doesn’t necessarily make you an excellent manager of people – and this can be a difficult realisation for a people’s person to embrace!

You might look at the matrix above and think that you have traits in multiple blocks, but there is likely one block that resonates most with you.

  1. Are you surprised by which block you seem to be most closely aligned to?
  2. Have you worked with managers who were actually better service-providers, or with service-providers who should have been managers?
  3. What can be done when someone is in the “wrong” position for their unique skillset?
  4. How best can we support both managers and service-providers to use their people skills in the most productive ways?

We’d love to hear your responses – please reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.co.za to chat further or to book a consultation to talk about the people’s people in your team!

Unhappy at work? It might be because you’ve got a job, not a vocation.

When someone complains that they’re unhappy at work, my first question to them is this:

“Is this your job, or your vocation?”

It’s an important question, and I’ll tell you why. A job is work that you do for payment. It’s a transactional activity that you don’t need to feel particular passion for. It’s about earning a salary, putting in the time, and going home to focus on what’s really important to you. A vocation on the other hand, is about channelling your passion in a professional context, and making something meaningful of the hours that you spend at your desk.

I’m not passing judgment on either. For some, having a meaningful career just isn’t that important, and they prefer to find meaning in their world outside of work: their family, homes, hobbies etc. For others, being purposeful at the office is an absolute non-negotiable. It’s a transformative activity.

You can be unhappy in both a job and in your vocation. But for very different reasons. The remedy therefore, is vastly different depending on which category you fall into. Let’s unpack this, and start by figuring out whether you’ve got a job, or a vocation.

 

Now, at different points in your career you may have either one of these two. Sometimes you’re going through a rough patch in your personal life, and just need a job that doesn’t require you to really invest. At other times, you might be in a learning, growing mindset, and relish the challenge of a vocation that pushes you to your limits. The first step is to figure out where you are, and hopefully the table above has helped you with that!

The first reason that you might be unhappy at work, is because what you thought you were doing, is not what you’re doing in reality. You might want a vocation, but be doing a job. Conversely, you may really need to be in a job space right now, but find yourself in a whirlwind of vocation! So, examine where you’re at, and whether this aligns with your expectations, and with what you want.

Then, let’s delve a little deeper, shall we?

If you’re unhappy in your job:

  • Do you feel like you’re being fairly remunerated?
  • Are you in a non-toxic environment at the office?
  • Can you leave work, at work?

If you’re unhappy in your vocation:

  • Are you clear on your purpose?
  • Do you know your workplace values?
  • Are you learning, growing and developing?

These are just a few questions to get you thinking about the reasons for your unhappiness. If you’ve answered “no” to any of the above, there’s a problem!

Reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.co.za to chat more about how we can help you create a work environment that suits you – now.

Use LinkedIn like a PRO!

LinkedIn is a powerful tool, but, as Spiderman reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility. Are you wielding LinkedIn responsibly, particularly when it comes to using the platform for recruitment?

I work closely with a number of developers, and as can be expected, they’re pretty popular on LinkedIn. However, when I asked about their experiences with recruiters reaching out to them on LinkedIn, their feelings weren’t particularly positive. I’ve shared some of their insights below.

The devs that I consulted have all used LinkedIn as a platform to find work, and they recognize its value. But they also don’t appreciate the recruitment “spam” that fills their in-demand inboxes.

Are you using LinkedIn responsibly? Reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.co.za to chat further about using digital platforms in your Talent Acquisition strategy.

Going wild – a disruptive approach to talent acquisition

This blog is based on a talk that Meraki Director, Jen van Heerden, gave at DisruptHR Cape Town. Watch the video here.

One of the lions below offers a fairly accurate picture of the nature of a lion. One of them doesn’t.

In talent acquisition process, companies tend to run a recruitment circus, with candidates as their circus lions, jumping through flaming hoops. Candidates, like circus lions, put on a performance, and it can offer a very skewed an inaccurate impression of their true nature. We’re surprised then, when in the position, our circus lions start behaving like lions in the wild…

We need to escape the recruitment circus, and instead go on a talent safari – engaging our candidates in ways that show their true natures. It’s not always possible to leave the office and engage our candidates in their natural habitats, but we can simulate the wild in our talent acquisition process.

What? How?

Group activities offer a fantastic way to see candidates engage with others in a natural and organic environment that gives them the opportunity to be themselves. Entry-level candidates can play business games, or participate in assessment centres, more senior, seasoned hires, can run a skills-share workshop, or attend a networking session. Recruiters can use these opportunities to observe candidates engage with others, instead of just believing them when they say: “I work well in a team.”

Nothing brings out the wild in a candidate quite like a bit of time pressure! Giving a candidate a task to do with too little will show you what they prioritise and what their natural approach to problem-solving is. Do they do one part of the task perfectly, and ignore the rest? Do they do all parts smish-smoosh? And what are the requirements of the job? What best represents the wild world of the workplace?

Midway through an assigned task, change the rules of the game. That’s right; change the instructions, the operating parameters, the objectives. Watch how they respond and adapt – or not! In reality, it is seldom that projects are completed according to how we thought it was all going to pan out, so why do we pretend that the workplace is neat and tidy when assessing candidates?

Be creative doesn’t just allow recruiters to see the true natures of their candidates, it’s also a fantastic way to be memorable to the candidate, and to ensure great candidate experience.

Are your talent acquisition processes a little stale?

  1. If you are using generic processes, interview questions, and assessments across functional areas and levels of experience, then you’re not running a nuanced enough process.
  2. If your candidates don’t seem energised by your processes, and you’re both approaching recruitment as a box-ticking exercise, then you’re far too passive.
  3. If you are finding post-appointment that your candidates surprise you, then you’re definitely running a recruitment circus.

Reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.com to talk about how we can help you take your talent acquisition processes to a whole new level. Let’s go wild!