When people in companies and teams feel engaged, the benefits are significant. Towers Watson (formerly Towers Perrin), the global professional services firm, interviewed 90,000 employees in 18 countries, and found“companies with high employee engagement had a 19% increase in operating income and almost a 28% growth in earnings per share. Conversely, companies with low levels of engagement saw operating income drop more than 32% and earnings per share decline over 11%.”
Companies are realizing that it is not enough to get people to show up to work; the real challenge is creating cultures that enhance creativity and innovation. Below you’ll find what leaders in the field had to say about this new age of innovation and engagement.
When I sat down with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh at the company headquarters some time back, he talked about the company’s desire to build a brand where customer service was second-to-none. However, they Zappos realized that trying to force unhappy staff to treat customers with respect and joy was a losing battle. You cannot ask staff to give what they do not receive. What is inside the company will be felt by those outside it.
The answer was to create a culture of happiness that would naturally overflow into all of the company’s communication.
Chris Sacca, venture investor, formerly Google’s head of special initiatives and strategic advisor to Twitter, emphasized the same idea, saying, “Employees will rise to the expectations placed upon them. If you treat them like children, they will act like children. But, show them respect and trust and they will respond to your expectation.”
The Old Paradigm: “Force people to do what you want.”
The New Paradigm: “Give people what you want them to offer.”
It is a little known fact that the NBA coach with the most championship wins, Phil Jackson, had his teams do a short focusing meditation before games. Why? He knew that you can have the greatest physical athletes, but if their minds were not in the game, they would play poorly.
We all know that we can sit in a meeting for hours, but if people are not in the right mindset, nothing innovative occurs, and often people leave feeling even more drained and frustrated. The mindset people bring to the meeting matters greatly. If people are stressed or unfocused, little moves forward.
Zynga co-founder Eric Schiermeyer, when asked about innovation, touched on the need to engage from a place of creativity instead of stress: “One aspect is to allow for enough time to think from a place of relaxation. This requires a series of complementary components like the right amount of sleep, exercise, social activity and a good diet to name a few key ones.”
At the conference I organized last year, Twitter CTO Greg Pass echoed this, saying that with Twitter’s new hires, “The main principle I present in my orientation is that I ask them to pay attention to what they are doing.”
Old Paradigm: “Just put your body in the room.”
New Paradigm: “Show up with a creative, open mindset.”
3. Group Wisdom
It is no accident that the most innovative companies are generally those that engage and involve their staff and users. In fact, some of the most innovative functions of Twitter, like the hashtag, were created by users. Twitter management just had to pay attention. The same is often true for businesses.
The old paradigm was that the higher up the hierarchy you went, the more wisdom you had to share. Leadership was the ability to direct, not listen.
The new approach is likely best expressed by Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior: “The one thing that over two decades of experience in the technology industry has taught me: never assume you know the answer. I find that the more I listen, the quicker I learn.” She not only does this internally, but also uses Twitter and other social media to “ensure that I’m inviting and absorbing the tacit knowledge that resides outside the boundaries of Cisco.”
Old Paradigm: “All wisdom exists at the top.”
New Paradigm: “Listen and make space for various voices.”
The people I spoke to also emphasized creating spaces that support collaboration and innovation. This includes physical space. This was likely best expressed by Eric Schiermeyer of Zynga: “If you have ever met with the same group of people in multiple rooms over time you may have noticed that the meetings feel more productive in one room over another.”
The old paradigm was to hold meetings while sitting in chairs and a desk in a conference room since, well … that is normal. In this new paradigm, the goal is not to be normal, but to be innovative, which requires finding the optimal space for a particular objective. A group walk may serve the needs much better than a conference room.
Old Paradigm: “Do what is normal.”
New Paradigm: “Approach space creatively to serve the purpose.”
A company is not likely to get much sustained passion from staff if its vision is to create yet another widget that does little to affect the world. People need a sense of purpose to drive their innovation.
Tony Hsieh likely put it best in an interview I held with him: “From a business perspective, if you have a greater vision beyond just profits or money — and that you can get employees to be happy about and believe in — and you combine that with a culture with committable core values, I think that is what will help grow businesses and brands in the long-term.”
Padmasree Warrior of Cisco emphasized the same idea: “Innovation flourishes in a culture of purposeful chaos. The operative word here is ‘purposeful.’” People need a sense that their work matters, both for the company and the society.
Old Paradigm: “Work to get a paycheck.”
New Paradigm: “Make your work about something bigger.”
While we cannot force innovation and creative thinking, we can foster these abilities, whether we work in a 20,000-person company or with one other person.
The old paradigm was individualistic and focused on thriving to be personally brilliant; the new one is much more social, and it involves creating cultures that enhance innovation in all those present. The companies and teams that can do this, that can create cultures that support innovation and engagement, will create the leading technologies and services that affect our culture.