Mapping the options

Today, I got into a disagreement over a blog post.

In the blog post, the author offers one way to move the people of an organization from stopped-and-waiting toward innovating-and-creating.

My response to the blog post was swift: That won’t work.

That: The actions (and cautions) the author prescribes.

Won’t work: Will not produce the capacity for independent innovation within the employees.

Sure, the manager will happily hold a meeting, define the conditions and maybe get some actionable solutions.  Yet, the goal of the actions prescribed isn’t to produce action at the moment, but the capacity for action in the future.

Now, why am I reacting so viscerally to what should be a harmless, one-of-many options blog post about generating a new culture?  Because too many of the options offered up in blog and magazine articles read like useful directions yet fail to produce the actual outcomes they claim to achieve.   My emotional response comes from my frustration watching well-meaning people squander their often limited energies on action that create the desired outcome less than 2 in 10 times.

With all the blogs out there (this one included) trying to help you create positive change, I bet you need some way to split the good advice from the bad directions, and test the effectiveness before taking any action.

As luck would have it, I have a method to show you how I map the options to find what will work.

Let’s define our system.  We are a manager (i.e., P1) observing one of our employees (i.e., S1) on 26 April 2010.

We want our employee to move from an externally motivated place where they only act if I, their manager, tell them to and where they only do a task if it passes their “is this part of my job?” test (i.e., Region 1).

Using only the clues in the blog post as our guide, we can reasonably say that the employee considers their job as narrow and the actions of innovation lying within the company boundaries (Region 2) but outside of the employee’s responsibilities (Region 1).

We, the manager, have decided we must act.

What should we do?

Before we pick what action we’ll take we need to know where the employee is today and where we want the employee to be in the future.

Let’s map the employee’s current location and their future destination.

Based on what’s in the blog post, we would place the employee’s starting position (L1) firmly in the externally motivated paradigm (stopped-and-waiting) and resting comfortably within Region 1 (the employee’s job as the employee sees it) with innovation lying somewhere outside Region 1.

Where we want the employee to end up after our action is in the internal motivation paradigm (choosing to innovate-and-create) and seeing that innovation and creation as part of their job (L2).

The map would look like this:

Now we map at least two ways to move from the start to the destination.

Option 1: We could do what the blog post’s author says and create a situation where we direct our employee (S1) to participate in a meeting where they are directed to propose any solution to a problem, but the problem and solution must fit within specific criteria.  If they meet this challenge, we (P1) will reward them with the implementation of their action.  [To tip my hand I’ll summarize this option as: create a contrived situation for an employee to innovate within parameters.]

Option 2: We could create a fund to provide materials or personnel to implement any employee idea that advances any of a list of company (and work group and employee) goals and hold training to show all employees interested how to access and use the funds to self-implement their solutions.  [Again, to tip my hand I’ll summarize this option as: create the playing field where any player can practice at innovation within their sphere of control and a fixed set of rules.]

Next, let’s plot the predicted effectiveness of both options as paths from our starting point (L1) to our destination (L2).

This step requires some different role-playing.

You’ve been playing the manager.  Now you must pretend you are the employee.  On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being best) rate your motivation when presented with Option 1 and Option 2.

Option 1: You’re given a meeting with rules where you can create an innovation that I must implement.  [Since I can’t hear your answer I’m going to assume you said 4.]

Option 2: You’re given the training for how you can access materials and people to help you implement your solution. [Since I can’t hear your answer I’m going to assume you said 8.]

Now stay in character as the employee and answer a few more questions:

1. Does participating in Option 1 make you feel more or less internally motivated to create and implement an innovation independent of your boss asking for innovation?  [I’m going to assume you said, “Less.”]

2.  Does participating in Option 1 make you think innovation is more your job or more your boss’ job to initiate?  [I’m going to assume you said, “More my boss’ job.”]

3.  Does participating in Option 2 make you feel more or less internally motivated to create and implement an innovation independent of your boss asking for the innovation? [I’m assuming you said, “More.”]

4.  Does participating in Option 2 make you think innovation is more your job or more you boss’ job to initiate? [I’m going to assume you said, “More my job.”]

Now how do all of these questions look when plotted on our map?

The Option 1 arrow points up (toward create more of a thought in the employee’s view that my job isn’t about innovation) and to the left (showing that Option 1 makes me less internally motivated to act to innovate).  Option 2 instead moves our employee toward seeing innovation as something that an employee should–and can–self select and maintains a steady heading within the region of “my job” as the employee.

If we plot where we think an employee would place the location of innovation after participating in Options 1 and Option 2, the map (and the path we should take) becomes even clearer:

When I read advice these days, before I use the advice, I’m always drawing one of these maps in my head.

This method works for me.  Let me know if it works for you.

1 thought on “Mapping the options”

  1. Excellent post April. I was so excited to see that you blogged about this. Since I was the person who suggested the link and then got into the disagreement, I’m proud to be the first to comment.

    I think you are over-analyzing (or mis-analyzing) the author’s blog post. The author is not prescribing an end game solution, he’s simply saying that this method is a step in the right direction. People don’t go from pop warner to the NFL just because you put them in the game and tell them the rules. There has to be an iterative and incremental approach, especially when the organization historically inhibits innovative thinking as ours has.

    Step one is bringing awareness and setting expectations. Step 2 is practice… let’s try this out and see what it looks like (where the article lies (hence the title)). Step 3 is to increase scope. That’s overly simplified… you’ll want to celebrate and reinforce expectations; all of those things that go into a work cycle.

    I don’t think the author intends to simply have a meeting and tell his people we must do this, can’t do that. It’s more about, “Hey, let’s start off by doing a project that we can actually accomplish within the parameters of our immediate resources.”

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