Are you using your org goals to channel innovation?

As you can imagine, in my job I ponder innovation a lot.  Innovation is so critical to success in technology and frankly it’s the fun part of what we do.

The tricky bit about innovation and leadership, comes in channeling it toward your business objectives.  When you innovate in ways that make your business better you win.

So often I find that individuals want to innovate to help the business, but lacking proper clues from the business they tend to innovate where they think makes sense.

The concrete suggestion here is to make sure that your organizational goals are not just saying vague things like “increase shareholder value” but instead are giving your innovative workforce clues where to innovate.

In having useful organization goals, you provide pointers on where innovation might be valued.  If you don’t do that, you’ll probably find yourself with a lot of self operating napkins.

No good deed goes unpunished

Have you ever noticed the unique corporate irony that can happen to high performers?  That universal truth that tends to take people who get work done and give them more work.

What the heck is that all about?

And before you say you would never do that in your team,

I suggest you remove your self-delusion layer that is so helpful for self-esteem, but may not be completely honest.

If you are a high performer the odds are this has happened to you, and if you are a leader you probably have done this to others. 


When important stuff needs to get done you are likely to give it to people you trust.  Who do you trust? The high performer.  That person who has gotten stuff done for you in the past.

So, if we acknowledge that those who can do more, will be called upon to do more, we now need to figure out how do we make that fair.  Not equal but supporting a general sense of integrity.

As a leader, you need to make sure that the opportunities you are giving your high performer are those that are supporting their general career goals — sometimes additional work, while painful, might come with visibility that is critical for getting to the next level.

As a high performer, you need to make sure you are working for someone that understands and respects your career aspirations and core values.

How do you know if that is the case?

You make sure you’ve had the discussion.

If you have not had a candid and honest discussion about what you hope to achieve with your career, and what you expect to contribute, than odds are you will continue to do more work than others while wondering why this keeps happening to you.

The key  is that you hit the right balance for you. That you are achieving the results that matter to you on purpose,  not just letting things happen to you.

Having found myself on every single side of this equation, I have to say that this is something you need to think about before you find yourself the workhorse of the organization.  If you get it wrong, you could find yourself in the emergency room wondering why half of your face is numb (completely random and not-at-all autobiographical example, that turned out to be  a migraine, I mean if that had happened).

If you get it right, you can find yourself able to accomplish more than you might have imagined possible, while getting great visibility and  recognition for your flexibility, capability and unique skills.

In the end, the choice really is yours.

Be fluid in your thinking, but concrete in your communication

I have realized lately that a big part of what I offer to most situations is my core need to make things concrete and specific.  I can’t seem to help myself but fill vague empty space with concrete plans.

Whether it is converting business data to strategy,  technical vision to product plans, or vague concepts to use cases, I am all about being specific.

Somehow that is how my brain works.

Amongst friends, I refer to this as my brain “dumbing down” information.

So whether it is something like FASB /GAPP rules, or AICC compliance or CPIM best practices,  I tend to create a specific example as part of the process of comprehending the topic.  Once I’ve got a simple story in my head, I can re-assemble these examples into more complex solutions on demand.

The complex is no longer complicated, it’s specific.

As I think about key success factors for my own career, I see this ability to be concrete as a big part of the value I bring to an organization, and I often wonder why this is so unique?

Not to steal my own competitive advantage or anything, but anyone can develop this skill.  There are two [concrete] steps to mastering concrete communication.

They are not hard but they do take effort.

First: Think in terms of use cases and examples not just concepts.  It’s ok to start with concepts if that is easier for you, but quickly get to an example.  Most of us understand examples better than concepts.  The more banal your example, the better.

Second: Communicate your ideas and examples in the language and the form that your audience prefers.  That’s right, you need to get over yourself and think about others, for this to work.

Bonus points: If you can frame your communication with emotion vs. just facts you will get more results with the communications you deliver.

What tricks to you use to make your communication effective?

What are you doing to make it better?

Here’s the thing.  Good employees do their job, great employees make their jobs better.

When I think about goal setting with my team, I am always asking them to set themselves a goal that will make something better than it was six months ago.  Without this kind of thinking, you can easily get stuck in quarter-by-quarter survival and find yourself running in place, making no progress at all.

Of course, there is no affordance in your job description to make this easy.  What I’m saying is that the system is rigged to keep you in the same spot, solving the same tactical issues, the same way, year after year.   Your job is to not let that happen.

When you find a way, against odds, to make things better, you are able to get more done.  When you get more done than your competition, bazinga you have found your way to greatness.

I’ve said this before, you are responsible for your own career.  If you are not having the impact you could, find a way to fix it.  If you don’t, someone else will, and you will always be wondering why you got left behind.  The war for talent* strikes both ways, it is not exclusively a sellers market.

If you need help figuring this all out, get your team to help.


* Was that really more than a decade ago?!