Futureproofing your Organization:
Developing the Mindset that Sparks Innovation

 By Mitch Warner, Managing Partner, The Arbinger Institute

Macintosh HD:Users:rachel:Desktop:Warner Headshot.pdfSomewhere, right now, another organization is innovating to find a solution to your customer’s most pressing challenges. Whether they are finding ways to work more efficiently as an organization in order to deliver the product or service to the customer for less, or to modify the product and deliver the service in a way that improves the customer’s quality of life, make no mistake that they are innovating. With this sobering fact in mind, it does not state the case too boldly to observe that a failure to innovate is a sure path to extinction.

For this reason, at least one of the strategic imperatives of an HR professional is to prepare an organization’s workforce to innovate better than the rest. But how? Innovation cannot be mandated or driven by a campaign. Innovation is a way of working, a drive to experiment and constantly adjust to make things better. More than anything else, this way of working is an outgrowth of an individual’s deepest mindset.

By mindset, we mean the way a person sees the world. Particularly, the way a person sees other people. In our work with organizations we encounter two very different mindsets that you might picture on opposite ends of a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is an inward mindset—a way of seeing that is characterized by a kind of blindness to the reality of other people. Uninterested in the needs and objectives of others, those who operate with an inward mindset will tend to approach work and life primarily concerned about how others impact them. Contrast this way of seeing with an outward mindset—a heightened awareness of other people that drives an intense curiosity about and interest in their needs and objectives. This curiosity about others leads those with an outward mindset to focus on their impact on others.

More than any other factor, the degree to which an outward mindset is present in an organization will determine the level of innovation within that organization. Think about it. No matter how creative or visionary I might be, if I am uninterested in what my customers really want and need, I am far less likely to develop products or services that actually meet their needs. Similarly, no matter how hard working or well-intentioned I might be, if I am really not interested in and curious about the needs, challenges and objectives of my coworkers, I will never discover opportunities to innovate and do my work in ways that would be more helpful. Likewise, no matter how efficient our internal processes might be, our success as an organization depends on how well we meet our customers’ needs and continue to adjust to meet those needs as they evolve over time. So sparking innovation, then, is as simple as helping others wake up to the reality of the people they impact.

This is exactly what happened to Andy Halley, a director of development within a large multinational software company. Responsible for many of the factors in the development of one of the company’s flagship products, Andy’s team was aware of the high number of “bugs” that accompanied the release of each product update. The company has always had a focus on innovation, but Andy’s failure to coordinate with other teams meant that his group’s innovations were out of sync with the other products that interfaced with his. The result was that the end user encountered a significant number of defects in using the product.

Just as Andy’s team was preparing to release another update, they learned about this fundamental distinction between an inward and an outward mindset. Immediately they phoned a peer group in the London office which relied on their product—a team which, Andy said, “they had crossed swords with in the past.” Over the phone, Andy told the team lead that he knew they had released a broken product in the past and asked if he could make the two-hour drive from Cambridge to London to talk about it. When his colleague agreed, Andy and two of his team members jumped in the car. “The best thing we did in that meeting was to just listen,” Andy remembers, “and we had never done that before with this individual.” Once Andy’s team felt that they really understood the challenges they were causing for this other team and could clearly articulate this team’s goals and objectives, they asked for some time to think it over and come back with a solution.

Over the coming months Andy’s team worked to develop a document that outlined everything their product must do to meet the needs of their internal customers. They read the document religiously and continued testing to make sure this customer would be satisfied. “Seeing them as people and caring enough about their needs made all the difference,” Andy says. This simple shift from an inward to an outward mindset unlocked his team’s talent to make their product better than it had ever been. And rather than assuming a defensive posture, the team was energized as they had never been before to find more ways to make their product better.

To reinforce this way of seeing into their work process, Andy’s team now holds a meeting every Thursday evening with every group across the company that relies on their product. They simply ask, “What problems are we causing you? What are you trying to achieve and how can we do our work in a way that is more helpful?” And then they listen. “These customer listening sessions,” Andy says, “are the most productive meetings of the whole week.” And the results? The defects in the products that are released into the market—a number the company tracks assiduously—have been reduced by 400%. In addition, the changes produced by these meetings have freed up half a million dollars in engineering talent, enabling Andy’s engineers to spend more time on innovating and less time dealing with problems.

Notice the pattern. It begins with seeing those we impact differently—as people with needs and objectives and challenges that matter. It is only by helping people see in this way that we can then awaken the kind of curiosity—the kind of asking and listening—that elicits the information we need in order to improve what we deliver and how we deliver it. Mastering this way of working—which we refer to as “the outward mindset pattern”—and finding ways to invite its adoption will spark the innovation your organization needs. Not innovation for its own sake, but innovation that matters.

If you’re interested in learning more about the outward mindset, register now for CTHRA’s HR Symposium which will be held on October 26 in Philadelphia. Mitch will host a breakout session on the topic. To see the full lineup of speakers, topics and networking events, please visit www.CTHRASymposium.com. Early bird and group savings are currently available.

Mitch Warner is a Managing Partner of the Arbinger Institute, a global training and consulting company with offices in 27 countries. He is the co-author of Arbinger’s latest bestseller, The Outward Mindset. In his role as Managing Partner, Mr. Warner directs the development of Arbinger’s training and consulting programs and highly customized large-scale organizational culture change initiatives. He has been instrumental in Arbinger’s rapid growth, including its expanding international presence. Mr. Warner has delivered training and consulting internationally to leaders and organizations across a broad range of industries on the topics of leadership, collaboration, mindset and culture change, conflict resolution, alignment and strategy.

 

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