Taking Risks Lead to Innovation

Looking at my career I’ve taken my fair share of risks and have gotten rewarded for those risks with some great successes. I’ve also failed after taking on some risky ideas, but in the end learned more from the failures which ended up encouraging me to take on even more risks. My first risk was the hardest one to make: moving to San Francisco from Chicago made me doubt my abilities to take on a start up team but it ended up defining who I am as a professional and made me grow personally exponentially more than I would have had I stayed where it was comfortable. This set off a chain reaction in my career of venturing into the unknown without a definitive payout and evangelizing the expectation of success. 

Taking a true risk is taking an idea and leading it into uncharted territory where failure is just as likely as success. The tradeoff is that the success you can achieve when taking on a true risk far outweighs staying in a situation that is comfortable. 

I watch a lot of dog training shows; “The Dog Whisperer” speaks about the importance of rewarding good behavior and disciplining (crate training) for bad behavior – and being consistent with the rules. But what happens when the consequences are random or contradictory, i.e. when the same behavior is sometimes rewarded and sometimes punished? The answer is that the dog becomes stressed and confused, and starts to take no commands at all. In other words, they stop taking risks, which is the safest possible behavior.

I see this dynamic all the time with managers, both externally and internally; while everyone genuinely wants innovation, they also simultaneously want to remain in control of what they are comfortable with. You can see this in the workforce: while the few innovators are recognized and rewarded for innovation, others are stuck in their current role or even laid off because of stagnation. Just like dogs, managers and employees are anxious about the consequences of failure and feel more comfortable doing what they’ve always done, how they’ve always done it, and reaping the same results while remaining envious of their peers or competitors experiencing great successes.

This behavior inevitably creates a self-defeating pattern. If the company or the manager doesn’t create an environment where people can take risks and occasionally fail, then innovation will be stifled. If innovation doesn’t occur, the company won’t grow; the team won’t succeed past expectations and the result will be cutting costs to survive. This environment will create anxiety to the point that the cycle will repeat until the fear of failing ends up hindering progress to a point that failure is inevitable.

The unfortunate part about this pattern is that it’s is more common than the companies and teams taking risks and experiencing high watermarks. The mixed message that keeps getting sent out is: “you need to grow while also cutting costs.” This leaves employees confused, stressed, anxious and risk-averse. The reality is that a lot of employees have been risk-averse during the last few years because they believe a failing economy will leave them unemployed if they put their jobs in jeopardy.

 What can you do as a manager to create an environment that fosters innovation instead of stifling it?

1) Evaluate. Look at your company and your team and assess how often people are avoiding risks in their current position. Utilize ways to gauge the overall feeling of your employees by giving anonymous surveys, team meetings or one-on-ones to find out if people are holding back ideas and are caught up in the fear of failing. If it’s happening, talk about how you can improve and what you can learn from their innovations and risks as well as how it can propel their career forward. Everyone wants a vision of being greater than they currently are – it’s even more powerful if that vision is shared.

2) Encourage and Share Ideas. If you create an environment that is safe for an employee to share ideas, concerns or feedback without fear of retribution or a negative impression people will start looking for ways to improve the company or team. They all talk about what needs improvement as it is, so you might as well make it constructive for you. Encouraging the use of social media is great for this as its general principle rests on the mantra of sharing ideas to make the community better. The key is to make it comfortable for people to share their ideas; once they are on the table you can choose the most effective ones to implement.

3) Experiment and Commit. Take a chance on some ideas and commit to them for a 90 day period. If at day 91 the idea is not working, accept that the idea failed and move forward. But don’t be one of those managers who say they’re trying the new idea but don’t commit to it – your team will see through it and it will backfire, so you’ll be worse off for even saying you’re doing it. Make it explicit that failure is acceptable as long as something is learned. You learn more in failure than you do in success.

 Employees need to be rewarded and reinforced for taking risks, so don’t give mixed message on whether or not it’s acceptable. If you want more risk taking, reduce the conflicting signals and create an environment where the benefits of taking a risk outweigh the fear of failure.

I’d like to hear some stories that you have implemented as a manager or individual that encouraged risk taking and avoided the fear of failing. What have you done in your career to take risks on your own and encourage your employees to take risks as well? As a company we’ve recently promoted a number of people to take on startup offices in Philly and San Jose as well as startup teams in NYC and San Jose All of those individuals are taking on risks and their careers are progressing because of it. I’d like to hear from those individuals!

Original post can be found here: http://www.hiringjuice.com/blog/2011/1/18/taking-risks-the-genesis-…

Don’t Burn Your Bridge

I placed a candidate recently who was struggling about how to give proper notice to his employer. He is an incredibly loyal person who was terrified that he was letting his manager, team, and company down after spending the last six years trying to impress, support, and inspire them. He asked me for many different drafts of resignation letters, advice on whether he should take his boss/team out to lunch to tell them and lost a few nights sleep over giving notice the right way. This candidate was doing everything in his power to be a professional and to be a team player, and to avoid burning a bridge.

It ended up happening at a lunch with his boss and while the candidate was incredibly appreciative to everything that the manager and company had done for him, the manager didn’t even finish his lunch and walked away from the table after a curt: “Yeah, great.”

Much has been made about not burning bridges with your employers and about how you should be a professional when leaving a job, but how many times is an employer or manager held to the same standard?

Face it. Eventually your star employee will quit on you and leave your team. How do you handle it? Do you really need to ask? Be a professional.

For the same reasons a candidate doesn’t want to burn a bridge you shouldn’t as well. Don’t think that because you’re in a higher role that you’ll always be there. Some of your “star” employees leave your team to spread their wings in another opportunity that offers a faster growth path, propelling them to become your peer or even a superior if you were ever to look for a job yourself.

With all the talk about brand awareness and social media, what do you think former employees will say about their experience with you and your company if they’re treated like yesterday’s news? In the old days, there was Fucked Company, and in the old OLD days, there was word of mouth. Today, there are countless ways of spreading negative press about a company or a manager via Twitter or Glassdoor as two examples.

So when a star employee comes to you and gives his notice what do you do? Chances are he’ll give his notice verbally out of respect for you. You need to appreciate this as a professional gesture and react accordingly.

  1. Thank him for all his hard work while you worked together.
  2. Talk about his next role and be empathetic with him on how it will be good for him.
  3. Always leave the door open. Things can change, and you’ll want to keep the lines of communication open down the road.
  4. Don’t counter offer him – have more pride in your management style and respect for your employee.
  5. Don’t talk about you, the company, or the team, other than to say that you will miss him, and that you would appreciate the time to conduct a proper knowledge transfer to make sure that nothing gets lost in transition.
  6. Have a dedicated team member(s) be in charge of tying up all loose ends especially if he is client facing.
  7. Notify the team and company of the news so that they can say their goodbyes in plenty of time and so the employee can see/hear/read your thoughts on what they did while they were working for you. This also shows your current employees how much you care about them.
  8. Throw a going away party if possible and have people say goodbye in a way that you’ve encouraged. They’re going to do it anyway, so having this event come from you makes you look exceptional.
  9. Let the rest of the team know what your replacement strategy is and how to make do in the interim until the team finds a suitable replacement.

The funny thing about a bridge is that it connects two separate landmasses together and if that bridge ever is “burned,” it no longer offers that connection no matter which side starts the fire. You know what side you’re on at all times and the bridges that lead to you are valuable, but don’t forget about the other end of that bridge – you’re going to venture that direction at some time or another.

(originally posted for Hiring Juice) 

Why we work – Thanksgiving edition…. extra cheese

Think about why you do what you do. Most of us are caught up on thinking of whether we’re good at what we do and what we need to do to improve, but why do we work in the first place? To support ourselves and to have the capability to support a family behind you. 

When I visited my brother this past week for Thanksgiving it comforted me to know that no matter how much distance we have between us and the frequency of our conversations in between visits is lackluster, we still eased into a conversation just like it was before I went off to college and lived at home. In fact, it even matured without much effort into a conversation that steered away from just quoting Cable Guy. 

My wife was with me as always and we started talking about work and it all came together as to why I work so hard – family. Even though family can be rough and stressful at times, the good times melt away the stress to get to the heart of what everything’s about. I work hard to create a family that doesn’t have the stress of surviving, doesn’t have to shrink their dreams and has the ability to grow in size if we want it to. 

So while you’re taking a break from your work this Thanksgiving, spend some time thinking about your family and harness the motivation to make it better as a catalyst to what you do everyday at work. I give thanks to my growing family with Julie, even though we haven’t gone any further than supporting dogs as of right now, I work everyday to support a large family (not too large) with her. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

And here’s a picture of what I work for everyday. What about you?