Have you got The Spark in your business?

This article is a sneak preview of “The Spark – How to Ignite and Lead Business Creativity” (FT Publishing) now available at all good book shops

What is The Spark?book

Have you ever walked into a business and sensed something special in the air?  A glint in the eye of people you meet that speaks volumes about their passion for the job and the company they’re working for. A spark of playfulness, curiosity and potential. An exciting static charge of courageous creativity. Is that kind energy pulsing through your business?

The Spark is about how to lead an organisation, department or team in which creativity and innovation flourish. Accelerating global competition, disruptive technology and radical changes to employee expectations mean a creative culture is no longer a “nice-to-have”. To dodge these commercial bullets your business must be able to keep deliver new ideas. Fast.

Innovation is business critical because creative companies make more money. A burning passion to improve things – to make a difference to the world – is no longer an adornment to the usual success factors: reliable delivery, high productivity and outstanding service. If efficiency and execution are this year’s profits; next year’s profits – and the years after that – are driven by creativity and new ideas.

In over twenty years of working with creative businesses I’ve been privileged to experience an exciting energy in those studios, offices and meeting rooms. I call the crackling electricity in truly creative companies The Spark:

  • The Spark is the potential for creativity in a person, a team – or a whole business.
  • The Spark is a great idea that changes perceptions, drives innovation and makes money.

My mission is to offer you a practical tool kit to develop a charged climate in your team or business. To make sparks common place so your organisation can successfully innovate in a fast-changing commercial world.

The Ten Habits

The Ten Habits are designed to demystify the leadership capabilities needed to turn up the power supply: to create sparks in you, your team and your business.  They are numbered and will have a big impact if you approach them sequentially. But they also work together interdependently. To truly transform your business, practise all ten habits together over time.

10 Habits BIGGER

The Spark between two people is created when a person decides to:

Habit 1: Start an Electric Conversation… how to create The Spark in your business

Passionate People are the rocket fuel of any creative business. The three habits that help inspire passionate people are:

  • Habit 2: Break the Management Rules… how to become an Electric Manager
  • Habit 3: Lead with Creative Choices… how to choose to be an authentic and inspiring leader
  • Habit 4: Become a Talent Impresario…. how to fill your business with creative talent

An Inspiring Philosophy is your belief system. The twin habits that helps develop it are:

  • Habit 5: Know Why You Do, What You Do…how to find an inspiring business purpose
  • Habit 6: Connect through shared values…how to inspire passion in your people

An Energised Cultured is the weather system in which inspired people and teams work. The two habits that help make the weather are:

  • Habit 7: Build a Business Playground…how to electrically charge your creative climate
  • Habit 8: Balance Focus and Freedom…how to manage creative tensions

Collaborative Teams make the most of scale in your business.The habits that promote creative team teamwork are:

  • Habit 9: Break Down Barriers… How to dynamite the walls that block creativity
  • Habit 10: Encourage Collisions… How to spark Electric Conversations to power collaboration    

If you’ve linked this sneak preview taken from the book’s introduction and want to find out more about developing the Ten Habits you can find The Spark on Amazon and at all good book shops.

All Rights Reserved, © Copyright Greg Orme 2014

Video Interview: Capturing Creativity In your Business

In just over seven minutes I tackle some of the key questions of business creativity. If your’e in a rush, don’t worry!  The individual answers to each of the six questions can be found in another of my blog posts as handy video snippets – I hope you find it useful.

  1. Why is it important for businesses to be creative?
  2. Are there other benefits for a business if it becomes more creative?
  3. How difficult is it to lead creativity in a business?
  4. Why is culture so important to creativity in business?
  5. How do you influence culture?
  6. What are the habits you’ve seen in good creative businesses?

How to clarify your business vision

This blog briefly describes a 3-step process to create and share an inspirational vision for organisational change 

How would you like to change the fortunes of your business this year? To drive change you need to see the future. This isn’t a mystical gift. It’s about believing your business can deliver more for customers and clients – and then persuasively communicating the specific pieces of this picture to others.

Gordon SelfridgeThe ITV/PBS drama “Mr. Selfridge” tells the story of the visionary entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge who shook up the straight-laced British retailing industry in 1909. He pioneered a vision of shopping for pleasure, rather than just necessity – and injected “style, glamour and razzmatazz!” for good measure. Crucially, he was able to back up the high-flown rhetoric (“we are going to show the world how to make shopping thrilling!”) with a highly-specific picture of what this would look, sound and feel like for his staff: everything from how silk scarves should be enticingly displayed (slight messy, so they’re more likely to be picked up by customers!) to the creation of attention-grabbing window displays that portray an aspirational lifestyle.

But having vision doesn’t need to be about transforming an entire industry. It can also be useful in helping to change business culture (“the way we do things around here”) or turning around a specific department or team.

Dream, Create, Share

Here are three simple steps to develop a vision for change:

Step 1 Dream: Sit down in a quiet place with a blank sheet of paper. Throw yourself forward three years (or a time-frame relevant to you). In your mind’s eye walk into your business and describe what’ll be happening. What will you see? What will you hear? What will the place feel like? How will your people be communicating and collaborating? What will your customers be saying about the “new you”? What will you have achieved? What’s changed and improved? Write notes as you imagine what the future might look like. Don’t get hung up at this stage about it being “right” or even “doable”. Allow yourself to dream a little.

Step 2 Create: Flex your fingers and get creative! Write up your notes in the form of a short, first person story describing a perfect day in this ideal future. Keep the details and ideas from your note taking that strike a balance between aspiration and what you think can be achieved with some hard work, tough choices and focus.

Step 3 Share: Share this vision with your colleagues. Use it as a catalyst for inspiration  and as a way to ignite a high-quality, challenging conversation. Do they share your vision? Does it excite them? What could they add to this picture? And, most importantly, what do you need to do together to make it a reality?

This exercise can kick off a strategy development process to highlight the main areas that need attention. Or, it can be a way to creatively consolidate  your thinking in a more down-to-earth and accessible way after you’ve created a strategy and objectives.

A wise man once said: “”We think in generalities, but live in detail”. Writing a vision bridges the gap between the generalities of “strategy development” (dismissed by the disaffected as “corporate bullshit”) and the vital, detailed leadership conversation about how to win the hearts and minds of customers.

Copyright © 2013 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

Don’t Be A Crash Test Dummy – Please Ensure Your Culture and Strategy Are Fastened Securely

In brief: Four insights into organisational culture followed by three leadership tips to ensure you reach your destination – rather than repeatedly crashing your business dreams. 

A common response to the global downturn is: “we need a new strategy”! But there’s a problem.

New strategy = new structures and processes.

New structures and processes = new behaviours.

How people behave on a day-to-day basis is where strategy collides with culture. The new strategy gains impetus from engaged staff – or is bought to the sort of shuddering halt normally experienced by a crash test dummy.

Four Insights into Organisational Culture

1. What’s culture?

Culture is the water in the fish tank. It’s everywhere you look. And, if you’ve worked in a business long enough, virtually invisible . It’s “the way things get done around here”: values, language, symbols, stories, beliefs and habits – everything from the organisation chart to the bonus system, accepted behaviour in meetings to parking spot allocations. Like fish tank water, it needs regular attention to stay fresh – and to avoid the growth of green slime!

2. Why’s it important?

Culture is important because it’s the way people learn how to behave. Crucially, it’s stronger than any new, whizz-bang strategy.

3. Is there a “right” or “wrong” culture?

What is your business trying to achieve? The culture at a creative agency like Saatchi & Saatchi is different from the culture required to deliver Sainsbury’s success in retailing. Both vary from the “lone-wolves-together” culture at a newspaper or on a trading floor. The best test is: “Does this culture help us to achieve our objectives?” Culture is not right or wrong, but appropriate or inappropriate.

4. What’s the role of leadership?  

Cultures can go rotten without clear leadership. Relationship-focussed cultures become highly politicised. Task-focussed, performance cultures become harsh, uncaring – and even amoral. Great examples: the Barclays LIBOR-rigging scandal, the role of banks in the global financial crash – and don’t forget Enron. Leaders keep the water clean.

Three Tips for Leading Culture 

Here’s what you can focus on increase your effectiveness.

1. Take time to fully understand your culture

Cultures differ on the focus they put upon maintaining relationships versus achieving goals. Understanding where your culture is on this spectrum requires close observation of the physical environment, the way people spend their time and how they communicate. (PS, you can also use analysis tools to try to quantify what can be viewed as “fluffy stuff best left to HR”).

2. If you simply want to manage the culture – learn to swim with the current

Aligning your style to the prevailing culture is a powerful way to stack the deck in your favour. This might be about taking the time to get to know people within a relationship-based culture. Or, it might be about developing clear goals in a focussed, high-performance culture.

3. If you want to lead change in the culture be prepared for a tricky job – that starts with you

Good management swims with the prevailing cultural currents. But a leader’s job is to constantly evaluate what might need to change to make things better. Put another way: “Do we need to change the water?”

Changing a culture is possible. But it effects the beliefs and behaviours of everyone so it takes time, energy and focus. If you want to change a culture, lead from the front. Don’t simply mandate new behaviours, demonstrate them. Every day.

Summary

Whether you are changing a culture – or just ensuring it works – Oscar Wilde was right: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” It’s true for organisations, as with people. There isn’t one “good” culture we should all aspire too.

But on thing’s for sure. Whatever your unique situation, culture needs to wrap around strategy like a well-designed seatbelt.

Copyright © 2012 Greg Orme All Rights Reserved

10 Tips to Inspire Your People to Engage

How creating high-levels of commitment drives success

By Greg Orme

Over many years of working with business leaders trying to figure out how to create winning strategies I have come to realise one thing. For any change in direction to get off the ground you need a magical, intangible ingredient: employee engagement.

Inspiring your people to be bothered to deliver your company vision, pledge themselves to a new strategy or simply improve things is vital. Research shows an engaged employee is 87% less likely to leave a job – and a fully engaged person performs at a 20% higher level* . In business performance is so correlated to staff engagement it is in my view a key success factor for long-term sustainability.

So here is a bit of food for thought on how you can improve engagement in your business. Score your company on the following ten questions:

  1. Are your line manager’s real managers? And, just to be clear, we are not talking about skilled practitioners in any creative, functional or technical specialism. That’s how you get promoted to management in the first place. But being an empathetic and skilled manager of teams and people is not something most people are born with. You and your managers need to be clear about the distinction. We have all experienced bad management (and its toxically demotivating effects).
  2. Do your people really believe in your company direction? And remember, first they have to understand what direction you are going in before they can get to the stage of believing in it!
  3. Are you providing inspiring leadership from the top? This is not easy to do consistently. High-performance leaders provide direction, show respect, inform regularly, live their values, exude energy. In other words, they are role models.
  4. Do you engage people through involvement and consultation? I know this works. I recently facilitated strategy for a large UK business. Over 18 months we involved over 200 staff members (10% of the workforce) directly, and 2,000 indirectly, in an engagement and change management programme. This type of exercise can be time consuming for any business large or small but it pays dividends in the long-run.
  5. Have you got a genuinely “people-centric” culture? We all know the old company mission cliché: “Our people are our biggest asset”. But things become clichés for a reason. And all businesses appear horribly hypocritical if action does not match rhetoric.
  6. Do you have perfect internal communications? Don’t answer that one! However much you communicate right now you know the answer is “no” – at least in the minds of some of your staff! When we diagnose problem issues in businesses this is always in the top five staff complaints – normally because there is insufficient consistency, skill and focus from top management in this vital area.
  7. Do you offer your people genuine influence over how their job is done? This means doing the HR basics rights (e.g. two-way performance reviews) as well as open-minded and empowered line managers who are prepared to innovate to improve.
  8. Do your people get the “Big Picture”? In other words, do you take the time to explain why “things get done the way they do”. This is especially important for unpopular business practices such as time sheets and other forms of management information gathering.
  9. Do you offer opportunities for career development? This is one of the arguments for smaller businesses to grow a little as it avoids losing talented staff who get bored waiting to fill “dead man’s shoes”.
  10. Do you walk the walk? Are your personal values as an owner/manager and leadership team reflected in the organisation’s values? Any disparity between your leadership behaviour and what you project as “what the company is all about” can be potentially damaging.

©Greg Orme Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved

*Corporate Leadership Foundation ‘Driving Performance and Retention through Employee Engagement’, 2004.