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Archive for June, 2015

Building a Culture of Innovation

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Building a Culture of Innovation

Innovation is the main business buzzword nowadays. The world is becoming more volatile and complex. Technology is developing exponentially, and hardware and software are converging. Real innovation is more than just acting in response to a change; it is the ability to initiate change in the business environment to which other companies will have to respond. Successful organizations shape markets and create new consumer behaviours, and this may require pivoting into areas and business models outside their core. SAP invests in innovation beyond merely providing software solutions, it focuses on developing best practices and breakthrough technologies with capability to shape IT trends. Airbus opened a Silicon Valley startup and hired a Google executive to run it. Goldman Sachs is rebranding itself as a technology company; it has built a 9000 people IT division (almost the same size as the total headcount of Facebook, and three times the size of Twitter). Google is diversifying impressively fast. In allocated 36% of its 2014 venture capital investments into life science and healthcare technology startups, bought Nest for its thermostat technology, and recently created Sidewalk Labs, a smart city startup.

Apple’s case shows that innovation equals revenue. After 12 years of poor performance, Steve Jobs rejoined the company, which at that time needed funds of around $150 million to remain in business. This was challenging for Jobs but he never gave up; he used tactical approaches to solve the company’s problems and the end result of this was excellent comeback. As much as he used various approaches to improve performance of the company, most of the success was due to innovation. Apple’s revenue increased from US$ 8.2 billion in 2004 to US$ 182.8 billion in 2014.

Online retailer Zappos is facing ever increasing competition and has come up with various strategies to ensure it survives, key among them is innovation. The company is now taking a rather unusual step that it believes will set an innovative trend; shedding hierarchy. The company is now implementing a management system known as Holacracy, that encourages teams of workers and self-lead workers. Zappos’s profitability has been increasing over the years; $50 million for 2013, $54.5 million for 2014, and is projected at $97 million for 2015.

Google realized that the IT world is expanding and becoming increasingly competitive each day, and that the only way to lead is introducing new customer friendly products which is only possible through innovation. Google’s stock price has reached at least 900 percent of the initial 2004 IPO price. Its first quarter revenue for 2015 was $17.2 billion, a 12 percent increase in revenues year over year. The company doubled its headcount in the past two years (at the end of Q1 2015, it had 55,419 employees). To ensure continuous innovation Google taps employees and lets ideas percolate up. By creating an arena that enables people to collaborate seamlessly to innovate, Google is benefiting greatly.

As we have seen, innovation has a large positive impact on a company’s profitability, it helps create new products and services that clearly distinguish a company from competitors, and satisfy the ever changing customer needs. The only way to do it is to build a culture that every employee knows that it is not only the top executives, managers, or R&D people that are responsible for promoting innovation. Following are some ways that successful companies build that kind of mentality:

Focus on the Right Things

Social responsibility is a must do for modern companies. Studies show that nowadays companies can succeed only if they focus their business on solving social problems. Corporations are expected to have large societal influence because their social capital is believed to be a powerful tool for transforming local communities, countries, regions and even global industries. An example is Exxon Mobil that in early 2015 announced its plans to exit from extraction and production of non-renewable resources. Pfizer’s modern social investments are aimed at building healthcare capacity and providing access to medicines for individuals that need them the most. Microsoft is also participating through programs like Tech for Good that provides grants for nonprofit organizations and software donations, and YouthSpark that is targeted at creating entrepreneurship, education, computer science and employment opportunities for 0.3 billion young people globally.

Google’s top secret for success lies in focusing on users. Google takes great care when designing its products to ensure their products ultimately serve users, rather than its own bottom line or internal goal. Its crowdsourcing projects enable the company to understand what the users want, thereby, give them the best experience. For example, after carrying out intense research into mobile market and studying consumer expectations, Google’s has recently decided to include fingerprint support, deeper app linking, and simplified application data permissions in the upcoming Android version.

Hiring the Right People

Research shows that diversity of opinion drives innovation, and successful companies make it a goal to have a workforce more diverse than their client base. They are constantly focused on improving quality and diversity of hires they complete. Google, the company said to be “a self-replicating talent machine”, only hires the right candidates, and not the best available for a certain position. Recruitment is a part of everyone’s job; the company says that although they get approximately two million new resumes annually, they prefer referrals from current employees, because historically this has proved highly successful.

Google focuses on hiring “T-shaped” individuals, i.e. employees who not only have a depth of expertise in their field, but also a breadth of interests and experiences outside of it. The company has a potent screening process, focused on finding individuals who are ready to deal with big challenges, embrace change, and are skillful in different aspects. Besides the role-related expertise, personality, leadership, and the general cognitive ability are carefully assessed. All the points, notes and suggestions of interviewers are combined together as a report and sent to your company’s global hiring committee.

The Zappos hiring process is one of the most unique in the world today. The company trains its employees, and when the training is over, it offers $4,000 in addition to training fees for any trainee that would like to quit. This is an attempt to ensure only serious employees work for the company.

Companies like Goldman Sachs, PepsiCo or SAP invest in diversity strategically. Goldman’s CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, says that diversity is at the very core of the company’s ability to serve their clients and maximize return. PepsiCo states that one percentage point of its 7.4% revenue growth (US$250) can be attributed to new products inspired by diversity efforts, and thus it requires 50% of hires to be women and minorities. Software giant SAP uses diversity to drive innovation and eventually meet customer needs.

Hiring may be too lengthy and cumbersome, so acquiring a company with the right talent may be a more practical solution. Amazon, Google and Facebook are famous for their shopping sprees. Of late SAP has also made several acquisitions and partnered with other companies to help address the ever growing needs of their customers.

Empower Employees to be Corporate Entrepreneurs

Business complexity has made it important, but more difficult to encourage collaboration and initiative. The nature knowledge work has shifted from what existing data points to look for, and where to find them to how to identify novel and unprecedented insights from the exponentially increasing amount and complexity of information available at our fingerprints. As the world has evolved, white collar workers deal with increasingly adaptive challenges where existing expertise may no longer be an asset. These require attitudes of risk taking, resilience and agility, and corporate entrepreneurship, or “intrapreneurship” has become a buzzword.

Intrapreneurship could be defined as “emergent behavioural intentions and behaviours that are related to departures from the customary ways of doing business in existing organizations”. Developing innovation culture in an organization requires individual initiative. Creating conditions for employees to challenge the status quo is essential for success. These include psychological safety, encouraging risk taking, and tolerance to failure.

Google’s major success secret is building safety, transparency and empowering its employees. While this does not have to be revealing every single confidential detail, regular information sharing is a part of the company’s DNA. Google conducts a weekly TGIF (“Thanks Google it’s Friday”) meeting hosted by the company’s founders. Strategy, current R&D projects and HR initiatives are openly discussed. All employees are welcome to attend and ask questions about anything they think of (e.g. market trends, company’s future plans, employee compensation, management decisions). The Google founders role model the culture in their TGiF meetings;  besides business, they share personal stories and aspirations, and even joke about their own failures and idiosyncrasies. To encourage participation and lighten the atmosphere, drinks and food are provided. The meetings are recorded for those unable to attend.

Tolerating sustainable levels of risk is vital for nurturing innovation. Innovative companies invest in structures for people to allow initiative and risk taking through decoupling leadership (attitude and skill) from management (authority level and administrative function, e.g planning, organizing, staffing, coordinating and controlling). AriBnB reduced its rules to bare minimum, a strong message for employees that the company trusts their judgement. Line and Zappos introduced flat structures without management roles. Google and 3M have 20% rules in place 20% project rule in place, which means that any employee who meets performance expectations can spend up to 20% of their time on voluntary projects in different teams or functions.

Collaborate Globally

In the modern world innovation is taking place at an exponential pace. This implies that to create new and meaningful knowledge, the company may need broader partnerships. Ford Motors promotes innovation through both internal and external collaboration. The company has invested heavily in R&D and series of new products. It has great internal capability for innovation, but to excel it partnered with various universities across the world as well as software and hardware providers such as Google and Microsoft. The high innovation capabilities have enabled it come up with various products: alternative propulsion systems including plug-in hybrids, biofuels, and electric vehicles, as well as more conventional engines and gasoline engines with tremendous fuel economy; and, driver connect technologies like MyFord Touch and Ford SYNC which improve driving experience and reduce distraction. Another great enabler for innovation within the company is globalisation of the Ford Product Development System, where it revamped the old system that allowed each of its production groups in Asia, North America, Europe, and South America to innovate independently. This was time consuming and way too expensive. Because of the ever advancing level of technology, globalisation and changing customer needs innovation is a must do thing for modern companies that want to excel in business. The company’s innovation communities in the US comprise of experts from various disciplines in North America including salespeople, engineers, and developers. The company stimulates innovation through various ways key among them being formation of strategic partnerships. It welcomes anyone with an innovative idea to share it out so that both teams can work to turn it into a reality.


Innovation equals profit. It can help tackle multiple issues, including overcoming stagnated growth, creation of new markets, or new consumer behaviours. Innovation rewards both consumers and organizations; consumers get products that can better satisfy their needs, and organizations reduce production costs and increase revenue. Innovating should be the obvious behaviour of everyone in the company, whether specified in their job description or not. As discussed above, highly successful organizations share the same simple trends: they hire talented and diverse employees, focus them on inspiring goals, empower them to take risks, and partner globally.

Contributed by:

Piotr Feliks Grzywacz | |

In my most recent corporate jobs, I was a learning and organisation development executive at Google and Morgan Stanley. I have over 15 years of experience in coaching senior executives and facilitating strategic organisational development interventions. My experience includes business partnering and relationship management, talent management, leadership development, innovation, change management and technical and functional competency development). I drove large-scale learning strategy and change management projects.

I never stop to learn. My education includes two Master degrees and a unfinished PhD in linguistics, three postgraduate degrees in management consulting, marketing & business administration, and public relations. I am working on my Doctorate of Business Administration in Management Consulting at Henley Business School, UK. I have several counselling and coaching certifications. I love learning languages, social studies, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and business. I interested in many things, my hobbies range from cooking to shark diving. 

Originally from Poland, I have lived and worked in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Japan. For the past fifteen years I have worked in Asia and the rest of the globe.  

Learning and Development Best Practices is brought to you by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. They offer an innovative, fun, and easy to use language learning system that is designed to get you speaking from the very first lesson. Learn at your own convenience and pace with our short, effective, and fun audio podcast lessons, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Learning Center, and a vibrant user community. As well as custom multi-lingual corporate learning & development solutions.Click here or contact to learn more about Innovative Language Learning, LLC. 

Training Should be Fun & Social and Just in Time

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Training Should be Fun & Social and Just in Time

It is 3.30 PM. In a large meeting room with only 1 window that looks at the cloudy skies outside, 20 people are seated, and 1 person is standing and looking at the screen while talking to them. Some are looking restless, few engaged, but all (including the person standing) wants to get out and continue the work they were on. You can imagine that meeting room to be in any part of the world. It’s perhaps in your own office, maybe you are sitting in that room right now. What is happening in that large meeting room is a training on a topic that is certainly relevant for the 20 people in the room, but unfortunately, the urgency of wanting to get stuff done tends to override the need and even desire to learn a better way of doing things. Trainings have become a thing that needs to be done, rather than a thing that people genuinely want to do.

We all understand the importance of learning new things, ideas and best practices to improve our overall performance and outlook. However, somewhere between that realisation and the actual training itself, the drive to learn is lost. There are many factors that come into play here – Organisational environment, Management’s view of training, Performance review processes, Training process and methodology, and of course the learner himself/herself.

With this backdrop, which I admit may have been painted gloomier than how things might actually be, there are other silver linings which have emerged:

1. In the past 5 years or so, we have seen platforms such as Coursera, Udemy and the likes see significant uptake and enrollments. This indicates a genuine interest in people wanting to learn new things. However, the one big difference is that it is self-initiated and it is at their own time and pace.

2. At the same time, over the last decade, we have seen how social conversations on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have dominated our time on the internet, and has transformed us into collaborators and co-creators of content. When you think of learning about something or getting an opinion – there are 2 sources: (i) Google, (ii) your social network. But where do people go when they want to learn or get an opinion on something related to work? Should they wait for the training to happen 3 months later in that large meeting room?

3. Most people in the developed and developing world will check their smartphone within 30 minutes of waking up. The mobile device is the go-to-place for anything today – your work, your play, your avoid-eye-contact-device, anything. Smartphone proliferation rates are through the roof and the expectation that there must an “App for that” is fast becoming the norm. Is the smartphone really smart and delivering any learning outcomes?

By now, you must have gotten the sense of where this is headed. Can we learn from these trends and make training a more self-initiated, social, at your time kind of a learning community. Don’t get me wrong – the large meeting room with 20 people in it has its advantages, and need not disappear completely. But without adding the characteristics highlighted below, we run the risk of low engagement and outcomes for our trainings.

Next Generation of Training

The dramatic changes in human behavior in the last decade has necessitated changes in our training methodology and delivery. The workshop style of training meets the objectives of building team rapport, communicating effectively face-to-face and get quick feedback and clarifications. However, the cost of delivering such fixed time and fixed place trainings in an increasingly work-from-the-airport-lounge world is high and many times not practical.

The trends highlighted above show us a path that can lead to trainings becoming more effective, engaging and meaningful. In my view, the next generation of training must be:

Social – Trainings have to move away from being a once a year event on a specific topic, to an ongoing learning community of relevant people who can share ideas, ask questions, discuss and update each other on the related topic. As an employee, you may be part of 4 or 5 or even more learning communities depending on your interest and area of work within the organisation. I might find the link to an article shared by my colleague in the community more meaningful than a 1 hour session of online or face-to-face learning.

These communities can be private to your organisation so all ideation and discussions are within the bounds of the company walls, so to speak. The biggest benefit of a social learning community is the presence of experts or senior management who can now be involved in an asynchronous way with your learning initiatives, and provide important feedback and direction in such communities. Besides being the de-facto mode of communication today, social style of learning breeds a collaborative approach that is beneficial for all learners within the organisation.

Experience driven – What if everyone was a trainer, and in some senses, we all are. We all learn from each other, and from our experiences. If we could share the experiences with our communities, we could learn from these shared experiences. In my experience, we have seen people appreciate and learn a lot better from their peers’ experiences and sharing sessions, than a know-it-all trainer. The idea here is to allow the learners to share their experiences and become creators of the training content, along with the experts and best practices that are being shared.

Self-paced – Imagine a world where you could attend the 3.30 PM session remotely or access the resources or simply view the recorded video of the presentation at your own time sipping your cafe latte with your legs up in the hotel room, while the trainer is getting notified that you have completed the session. As cliched as it may sound, time is money, and hence allowing the learner to decide the time when he/she wants to complete the training allows for more flexibility and better outcomes, both for business and learning.

Mobile ready – It is time to put the smart in smartphone. Use the mobile device as a learning device to enable training that’s always accessible and right in your pocket. Moving to mobile learning also involves re-thinking how you are sharing your resources. A 80 page slide deck would not really appeal on your commute, but a quick 5 minute video that can be watched on the go makes more sense. Apart from having a “learning app”, you need to think about the content that fits the mobile screen and attention span.

Byte-sized and just-in-time – The idea that you should learn everything and then use it as effectively when the need arises, maybe 7 months later, is a bit ambitious. Trainings should become byte-sized and be accessible just-in-time when you need to use that piece of learning in your work. This is a lot easier said than done. But, the tools and technologies available today allow this to become a reality, sooner and easier than you think. Be it compliance, or just a knowledge sharing resource, if it is byte-sized, the chances of that getting consumed is a lot higher.

Rewarding – Everyone loves incentives – be it a pat on the back, or a badge or be top of a leaderboard or an Apple Watch as a gift. In my work in training and education sectors, I have seen more interest for gamification in adult learning and training, than in the K-12 segment. It sounds surprising but if you think about it for a moment, it makes perfect sense. Gamification can provide an extrinsic push and motivation and drive better adoption of learning initiatives. If people still don’t engage in trainings, your issue lies somewhere else!

But I am already doing e-Learning!

And how’s that going for you? e-Learning is a great first step. It allows remote access to resources, there is nobody to stand in front of the meeting room and read the slides, and you can do it at your own pace. However, the trouble with basic e-Learning is that it is delivered over systems where there is little engagement or ability to discuss anything that is being learned. Imagine, you went to Facebook, and you can see the pictures but there is no way to like, comment or ask why I have the silly face in the photos? Currently, e-Learning has some of these issues – (i) The content is not instructionally designed to be suited for online delivery, (ii) the platform of delivery is barely a way to host the content, but not to drive engagement, social communities of learning or offer any gamification incentives. The challenge that organisations have faced despite “doing e-learning” is that there is little incentive or engagement for the learners on such systems.

Trainings have to adapt to the changing landscape of learners, and I am not specifically talking about the millennials who certainly expect such social and mobile tools, but for the entire organisation to move and be prepared for the next set of changes.

(It’s 3:45 PM, stop reading this blog, and focus on the training in the room)

Contributed by:

Shivanu Shukla, CEO of Teamie – A Collaborative Learning Platorm

Learning and Development Best Practices is brought to you by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. They offer an innovative, fun, and easy to use language learning system that is designed to get you speaking from the very first lesson. Learn at your own convenience and pace with our short, effective, and fun audio podcast lessons, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Learning Center, and a vibrant user community. As well as custom multi-lingual corporate learning & development solutions.Click here or contact to learn more about Innovative Language Learning, LLC. 

You May be Ready, but How About Your Company?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

You May be Ready, but How About your company?

In a previous article, we offered several keys to increase the likelihood of success on overseas assignments, some tips to make yourself “ready” for the challenges working in a foreign environment bring.  Today, in answer to a question from one of our readers, I’d like to address the other side of the equation, namely, “What can your company do in order to welcome the overseas assignee?” 

For while some companies provide assessments and training for those employees (and occasionally, for family members) embarking on overseas assignments, few spend much time at all preparing anyone on the receiving side, other than perhaps the immediate supervisor-to-be.  And that ‘s a shame, because 50% of the responsibility for success lies with the readiness of the organization.  Are you really ready to receive?

Accepting short- or long-term overseas “transplants” can be a lot like hosting an exchange student.  Every good exchange program educates both the student and host family on cultural issues. How does your organization prepare your “Welcome team”?

Fundamentals & Fundamental Differences

At a minimum, you need the basic onboarding/orientation elements in place, just as you provide any new employee: shared mission, vision and values; mutual expectations; explanations in person on “how things are done here” (corporate culture); FAQs.  (If you don’t have these in place yet, what are you waiting for?)  But with a “foreigner” coming in, you will want to modify your approach, in at least the following ways:

1)   Exchange.  Especially if the overseas assignee has enjoyed years of experience with the firm, be sure the “orientation” is a two-way street.  Offer plenty of opportunities for the newcomer to share his or her views of the corporate culture as they have seen it played out so far in their career.  Note differences and similarities.  How are things done in their country? Overseas assignments are a fantastic way to build up and reinforce company-wide beliefs and practices.

2)   Timing.  Get that onboarding session (or sessions) started on the assignee’s first day. Don’t wait a quarter or even a month. You (and they) only get one chance to make a first impression.  What’s their impression of your satellite (or headquarter) office?  How can you give them a chance to make their best impression right away?

3)   Review.  You may have created a simple ½ day onboarding orientation for new employees or you may do more. Bu the onboarding process takes more than a day.  For someone joining the team from overseas, remember that they will be dealing with all kinds of extracurricular challenges—finding their home, perhaps settling a family, language difficulties, and more. So their personal “band-width” available to take in new information will be less than optimal. Be sure to plan “onboarding review times” and additional opportunities for one-on-one check-ins, with someone other than the assignee’s direct supervisor.


The ideal mentor(s) for the overseas assignee will depend on many different factors.  And for some senior positions, the ideal mentor may be no mentor at all.  But most newcomers will appreciate an extra pair of ears to share challenges with, someone who can help them get acclimated.   People will be coming with their own stories, their own experiences and pre-conceived ideas about what it will be like to work in their new office.  If someone in the organization has spent time in the assignee’s home country or office, he or she is potentially a great mentor.  Just make sure they’re bringing a coaching mentality rather than a professor’s.

Is it Worth the Trouble? 

At first glance, when you add up all the extra work involved in bringing on an overseas assignee, whether for the short or long term, you might question if it’s worth the effort.  But just as individual growth comes from stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone, the whole organization can benefit by gaining flexibility, knowledge, and (potentially) integrity. How many international firms boast of their “global network” without real relationships across their far flung offices?   Even a small enterprise can become more international by providing these kinds of opportunities.  And that in turn improves your ability to serve international clients.

Andrew Silberman | |

Andrew Silberman has been coaching high performance individuals and teams since 1989.  At AMT Group, which he co-founded in To- kyo in 1992, he leads a team of multi-national facilitators and staff whose mission is “Developing Global Thinkers.” His clients are managers and executives from leading firms throughout Asia (as well as occasionally in the U.S. and Europe).

Andrew’s expertise is in improving “Global Readiness®,” the theme of his book Get a G.RI.P.*: Andrew’s Ax Guide to Global Readiness®, published by Media Tectonics in 2012.

To contact Andrew and learn more about how you can better prepare your teams for global assignment, please send an email to:

Learning and Development Best Practices is brought to you by Innovative Language Learning, LLC. They offer an innovative, fun, and easy to use language learning system that is designed to get you speaking from the very first lesson. Learn at your own convenience and pace with our short, effective, and fun audio podcast lessons, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Learning Center, and a vibrant user community. As well as custom multi-lingual corporate learning & development solutions.Click here or contact to learn more about Innovative Language Learning, LLC.