April 5

Rethinking training for empathy-driven innovation

You know the scenario. There’s a group of you sitting around chatting, mulling over the next steps for the organisation and out of that discussion an idea starts to grow. Maybe someone’s pointed to a problem or a discussion they have had with another member of the team or a customer, or maybe something on the TV or in the press has caught the eye. Whatever the source, the group chat has solidified vague notions into a problem to be solved and that requires action.

So edicts go out and your people are mobilised into diverting energy and resources in pursuit of a solution. Sure that may mean that other projects are cast aside as priorities change; and yes your new quest may require your people to put in extra hours or suffer internal reorganisation in order to accommodate the quest; but you can justify all the disruption because you have a problem which needs solving.

It’s a familiar scenario isn’t it but there’s just one thing wrong: the problem identified wasn’t there in the first place! Yes there may have been some little niggle, and it may have even been in a related area but your groupthink chatter has led you into believing in an illusion.

Quite simply, you have ignored some of the fundamentals of good leadership and in the same move have created barriers to empathy-driven innovation:

  • Openness. When the leadership team, or even an organisation as a whole, locks itself away rather than being open to feedback and collaboration then it delivers only on its beliefs rather than what the marketplace needs.
  • Listening. Our inbuilt programming predisposes us to hear only those things which accord with our existing beliefs. But we can’t afford to do that if we are to deliver genuine customer solutions. So we have to learn to listen, to ask open questions, to sift the facts from the rumours in order to elicit the truth.
  • Empathy. Customers aren’t statistics or shaded areas of the flipchart. Unless we learn to emphasise we can never truly understand what their day-to-day challenges and problems are and what opportunities that presents for us.
  • Intelligence. Stepping away from the lure of big data and customer surveys and instead seeking to unearth real intelligence, to truly build a deep and holistic understanding of those who rely on us to provide genuine solutions.

Leadership isn’t a right and solutions aren’t things to be imposed upon an imagined customer base. If we want to build genuine understanding, if we want to deliver empathy-driven innovation then we have to provide training for everyone across our organisation from the CEO and senior teams downwards in areas such as listening, questioning, collaboration, observation and empathetic research.

Organisations looking to move along this pathway may do well to consider a design thinking approach. I discussed this approach in more depth in an article on my website entitled “Design thinking and a culture of innovation”* in which I comment that “in essence design thinking says that rather than solving a specific problem, you should start with a goal, a better future solution, and then design the pathway towards it.”

Design thinking is one element which organisations are increasingly incorporating into a holistic, multi-faceted approach to strategy and training. In an increasingly homogenous world it is our approach, our culture which differentiates us and helps us stand out and therefore the training mix which we employ also has to be designed to meet the genuine needs of our people, our customers and the wider ecosystem all organisations are part of.

However, whatever approach we use, the one which is guaranteed ‘NOT’ to work is closed minded one-way instruction; particularly when it is allied to a closed groupthink style of leadership. Our customers, our investors, our people deserve more. Let’s make 2017 the year in which we look to deliver genuinely innovative solutions which solve real problems for the benefit of all.

This article was written by Cris Beswick for Training Zone and previously posted on 31/01/2017



Behavioural Change, Leadership, Skills

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