By Roger La Salle
So, what’s my job?
It’s very interesting how a job title or the very name of a department can become a burden that can stymie its very purpose.
Having worked in companies, both large and small in more than 29 countries, it has become apparent that this issue is not confined to the Australian psyche alone. It’s people in general and it’s hard to lay blame. People may be blindsided by their very title.
To put this into context, some years ago in speaking with the Chief Technology officer at one of Australia’s largest companies, the question was asked of him “What’s your job about?” This was a question that would seem to have an obvious answer, “To work to find the newest and best technologies for the business”. In fact, his answer was entirely different and one that had everybody surprised. However in hindsight it was clear his insightful answer was no doubt the very reason this person had such a high level and esteemed position.
His answer was simple, “To develop my people”.
In other words, despite being the Chief Technology officer, he did not see himself as the chief purveyor of new technology or the best “propeller head”, he’d leave that to his people. Instead he saw his task as working to ensure his people were well educated, trained and equipped with all the tools that might enable them to discover the best opportunities and technologies for the business.
It really is impossible to argue with such an insightful response from a man with clearly a true understanding of his role.
What about Innovation?
Not surprisingly, many large companies have an aversion to accepting ideas from outside the business, and some for very good reason. The opportunity McDonalds presents for any and all comers to try and sell them their new gadget or gimmick hoping to avail themselves of the vast McDonalds distribution network is enormous. If McDonalds opened their doors to external ideas they would literally have to employ an entire department just processing and rejecting ideas.
Of course, not everybody is a McDonalds. What we have observed with many companies is that, like McDonalds, so called innovation departments and managers are indeed reluctant to explore ideas from outside the organization. These people see themselves as true innovators and to embrace externally sourced ideas, perhaps even with the open innovation model, may question their very role. After all, isn’t it the role of the so called innovation experts to be the source of innovations? This would seem to be a logical statement of their purpose.
If this is a mindset that can pervade the space of people with the innovation tag, we may reasonably pose the question, “Just what is the role of the innovators or innovation departments – to innovate or to simply find solutions?”
Further work was conducted on the subject with a startling outcome.
If the title of the people was changed from “innovators” to “solution seekers”, their mindset changed. With the job task now repurposed to be the wider search for new opportunities, new horizons were soon discovered. No longer did they fear their very purpose being questioned if they were seen to be looking outside the narrow confines of the title “innovators”.
It really is amazing how such a simple change of title can change an entire mindset and produce such vastly different outcomes.
What’s the message?
When we work with people and companies to help them set meaningful KPI’s the first question we always ask is “In simple terms, what is your job aimed at achieving?”
For example, if you operate a factory your job title may be “Production Manager”, but in fact what you are aiming to achieve in production is: “To make the most of the best for the least”. We see here the job function is not so evident in the title.
Aligning people with the requirements of the task, rather than their job title is what’s important. With that achieved, the secret it to then give them some tools for widespread opportunity scanning and let them loose. You may be amazed at the outcome.
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Roger La Salle, trains people in innovation, marketing and the new emerging art of Opportunity Capture. “Matrix Thinking”™ is now used in organizations in more than 29 countries. He is sought after as a speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and Business Development, is the author of four books, and a Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies, both in Australia and overseas. A serial inventor, Roger is also responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast.