Cracking the Code of Teamwork
Best Practices for Leading the Team

Team leaders and managers are under constant pressure to do more great work with fewer resources. It looks like they need to secure the power of magic to get things done. Are there other alternatives to cope with this challenging times the team leaders and managers face in the workplace?

The only option is to master practical tools and techniques relating to management & leadership principles that could Make A Difference in the workplace. This would let them manage the unpredictable workplace. These tools and techniques should enable the managers and administrators to handle the challenges they face in areas such as inter-departmental coordination, staff communication, sustaining Job Satisfaction and managing operational efficiency in their respective work areas.

What should they focus when it comes to mastering these techniques that will make their life as team leaders less stressful?

For a start, the L&D professionals could offer learning sessions that would let the team leaders & managers master the skills in the following areas, while remembering the golden principle that they should always  – “lead their people and manage the things”:

  • Every team leader understand their role in improving employee performance in the workplace
  • Know how to use the appropriate Management/leadership styles to collaborate more effectively in Teams to achieve the organization’s Mission, Vision, and Goals
  • Use techniques to manage employee expectations without compromising the organization’s values, using the best communication strategies
  • Apply best practices to enhance staff morale with practical steps that will lead to higher degree of job satisfaction

When trying to get things done, team leaders and managers should remember to start with the ‘why’ aspects of the job, instead of asking ‘how and what that need to be done to get the job completed’. Everyone should remember the fact that for companies to succeed, we need to pay attention to our people – Recognise the work of team members.


Improving the Quality of Business Education
with LEGO® Bricks

What is happening now?

It is not uncommon for education institutions to focus more on lectures as the widely used instructional practice. In this ‘chalk and talk’ approach, the teachers are seen as the dispensers of knowledge.

Today we face an ever-changing Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. The current practices in our institutions of higher learning do not prepare our graduate students for the VUCA environment. Stakeholders need to call for a change in the way we teach. Given this current chaotic and dynamic business environment, how can we train and teach our graduate students?

What are our options?

Everyone agrees on the need to change and improve our teaching approaches so that we are capable of producing graduates who are competent to take on responsibility. How can we make it happen?

For starters, researchers recommend that we let our students think and analyse the business environment using models such as design thinking. Design Thinking is a solution-focused approach that basically attempts to create the desired future. The design thinking approach allows organisations to manage complex challenges using tools such as Rapid prototyping, Assumption Testing, Rapid Concept Development & Story Telling. These tools help to develop relevant and focused solutions to manage the VUCA dimensions to improve the businesses.

 

Building upon this, we have realised one of the ways to integrate the dimensions and tools of design and system thinking in the workplace is to consider the LEGO® Serious Play® method and materials.

The LEGO® Serious Play® (LSP) method and materials offer powerful solutions to unlock the potential of employees and shift their habitual thinking. LSP, when facilitated by a competent and certified facilitator, will enable everyone who is involved in decision making to lean forward, ensuring 100 per cent engagement.

 

How does the LEGO® Serious Play® method work in education?

Participants use the specially designed LEGO® Serious Play® materials comprising Identity & Landscape Kit, Starter kit and Connections kit.

Participants using the LSP materials enjoy a high level of interaction and able to dive deeper into innovative ideas. A number of research studies confirm the usefulness of LSP as a pedogogical application to unlock new knowledge while being an interesting and new way to learn.

The use of LSP makes the learning experience effective and memorable. And the concept is not totally new. A number of universities around the world have already started using the LEGO® Serious Play® method as part of their business education.

 

According to Kris Normandin, Curriculum Director, Executive Education, Simmons School of Management, Boston who integrates LSP in his teachings, the LEGO® Serious Play® “methodology really allowed people to visualize and connect with each other’s story, as well as gain additional insights into their own leadership”.

Moving Forward

Let your MBA and other post-graduate students master essential business skills that empower them to cope with the VUCA business environment. With this ever relevant system and design-thinking skill-set, they will be ready to build better businesses upon graduation.

If you need more details on how to go about bringing the LEGO® Serious Play® method as part of your teaching & learning to your graduate students, simply contact us at info@creativityasia.com


5 Steps to Better Performance:
Achieving Business Results Through People

Facing the storm of the current Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment is not going to be easy. In this VUCA environment, the managers and team leaders are under constant pressure to keep their survival mode alive by fighting the fire on a regular basis. This is obviously not the best option. It is time for the managers and team leaders to move towards the growth path to Make A Difference (M.A.D.)

In my facilitation and knowledge sharing sessions, I encourage the managers and team leaders to adopt the following 5 steps process to M.A.D. in their workplace.

The steps are:

Step 1: Identify What is Working Well.

Ask each team member to identify one thing that is working well in the workplace/team. Once they complete the list, ask them to identify the contributing factors to the success of the one thing they have identified.

Welcome to Centre for Creative Thinking | Centre for Creative Thinking image 43

The success factors could include processes, mastery of skills, regular knowledge sharing sessions, the use of checklists, commitment to quality and safety, teamwork, extensive use of a buddy system, etc.

Step 2: It Would be Great, if …

Next, take them on a dream journey. Ask each one to complete the statement that states: “It would be great, if ….. This is a safe approach and provides the psychological comfort to team members encouraging them to seek additional opportunities to improve the work processes. 

By completing the statement (it would be great, if…) the team members are beginning to focus on activities that will add value to the organisation’s Mission, Vision & Values. If the group is small (6 or less) I repeat this step a couple more times to expand upon and capture more ideas from the team.

Step 3: Share, Sort & Prioritise the Wish List

Ask each team member to share his or her list. Pin their idea up on a board, so that everyone can see. Once they have shared their wish list that is based on “It would be great, if…”, move on to sorting and prioritising the ideas using specific criteria. Let the group sort and prioritise the findings/listings. Select 3 activities from the sorting and prioritising that will Make A Difference in the workplace.

In the absence of any specific matrix that could be used to prioritise, I ask them to consider the 80:20 Pareto Principle. This is an efficiency-focused strategy that will get us more with less effort.

Step 4: Connect the Dots Between Steps 1 and 3

Encourage the group to revisit the list that was prepared as part of step 1 on things that are working well and the contributing factors to their success. Let the team explore how the success factors can be integrated to enable the top 3 “It Would be Great, If…” statements from the wish list to come alive.

This approach is based on the assumption that people should look at their current internal best practices to close the gaps in their performance. The focus at this stage is to answer the most powerful question: How might we

 Step 5: Moving Forward: How Might We

The How Might We… approach that focuses on integrating the internal best practices will become the first draft of a blueprint to move forward. At this stage, I normally ask them: And What Else… can be added to the list to make the top 3 priority bring out the result they desire. We should encourage teams to seek out best practices from elsewhere.

Remember that these 5 steps work only when the manager/team leader is ready to adopt an appreciative inquiry mind-set, acknowledging the power of team members.


Traditional Training Practices are Broken.
Here’s How We Can Fix It

Traditional corporate trainers (aka facilitators, enablers, knowledge architects – as some call themselves) present their content with the aim of making it easy to be remembered and understood. This focus on conducting training needs analysis, content development and presentations leaves the application of acquired knowledge solely to the learner. Participants leave training sessions with knowledge, but a limited context on how they can apply it effectively in the workplace. This severely broken link needs to be fixed.

There are several tools and techniques HR Learning professionals could use to overcome this situation. These initiatives focus on context-based presentations aimed at making content stick. This strategy enables learners to apply what they have learnt to their workplace with confidence.

In the course of facilitating training over the past three decades, I have discovered that using highly interactive and reflective tools as part of context-based learning leads to better results. The context-based approach enables learners to immediately link the concepts learned to their workplace setting. By focusing on creating and sustaining adequate opportunities for learners to connect the dots between the content delivered to what they experience at work, we are able to enhance the competency of the learning outcome.

The first and most meaningful step is engaging learners through individual and group-based experiential activities throughout the learning session. Puzzles and activities such as Challenging AssumptionsBroken Square, Children Storybooks, and Image-Visual Cards could be used to add value to the context-based learning experience. These hands-on and interactive activities are designed to help learners contextualise the concepts to their actual work environment. We can make this easier by framing the right questions aimed at connecting the concept to their workplace.

Beside these interactive tools to enhance the context-based learning, I found the LEGO® Serious Play® approach* (commonly abbreviated as ‘LSP’) brings out the best in participants. The LSP is one of the most powerful interactive initiatives available to fully engage participants. The 4-step process of the LSP model (question/theme, build, share & reflect) enables learners to feel and experience real world situations to the concepts learnt during the training session.

The sharing and reflection elements of the LSP approach make it possible for the content covered to become context based and relevant to the real world. When I use the LSP process during the learning, learners are able to bring out the problems and solutions to the attention of everyone in the room. Learners take ownership to answer the most critical step of ‘now what’ and ‘what is next’. The 100 per cent engagement from every learner and the collaborative learning environment not only makes the learning stick but also moves the group forward to Make A Difference in the workplace.

There are several tools and techniques HR Learning professionals could use to overcome this situation. These initiatives focus on context-based presentations aimed at making content stick. This strategy enables learners to apply what they have learnt to their workplace with confidence.

If, as a member of the HR professional team, you ever found yourself asking, “What should I do to manage the ‘broken’ link of my training sessions for better outcomes?”, you are not alone. The best way to respond to this question is by ensuring that the learning you provide is interactive, reflective and context-based. This will ensure that your training sessions will help achieve the learning outcome that will benefit your organisation.

With the context-based training initiatives, we no longer need be concerned about the ‘broken practices’ in our training sessions. The context-based approach to training practices will make our training focused on our desired outcome: Improved Results.

* LEGO, SERIOUS PLAY, IMAGINOPEDIA, the Minifigure and the Brick and Knob configurations are trademarks of the LEGO Group.


Effective Problem Solving with Creativity

The preference to stay as we are right now is the norm rather than exception. The uncertainty and risk associated with new things and new ideas are the main reason for the avoidance attitude. We need to adapt and change to survive. Remaining status quo is not going to bring you anywhere. Organizations need to accept the truth - either they innovate or die.

Managers who wish to survive and grow need to adopt innovation as one of their basic strategies. Innovation demands that the people in the organization learn to THINK CREATIVELY, so that they are able to bring about new ideas. We are trained to filter and sort information. This makes the decision making easy. Solutions are brought to the surface from the past experience. This limits creative and innovative solutions to our work related problems.

Managers inclination to view creativity and innovation as the concerns of artistic and R&D department is one major reason for not seizing the full power of creativity. If we are serious about enhancing the overall quality of our problem solving then we need to incorporate creative thinking when managing decision making.

Problem solving process is normally seen as a logical and rational process. Most managers failed to recognize the need to incorporate creativity. The problem solving model is generally described as involving the following steps:

  • Identify the problem
  • Gather data/information
  • Clarify/diagnose the problem
  • Develop possible solution
  • Analyze each possible solution
  • Implement and Evaluate

The creativity component becomes a dominant element during developing possible solutions (step 4). At this stage of problem solving, we need encourage divergent thinking and insist on developing a whole range of diverse ideas and solutions to the well defined problem (step 3). Problem solving through creativity in managing step 4, simply means we are able to look at new ways of solving problems. This is particularly critical when you are not satisfied with the standard solutions - the byproducts of traditional linear thinking.

To take full advantage of creative development of ideas during step 4, we must train our employees on creative problem solving techniques. Only then they will be equipped with competencies and skills to develop new ideas, when dealing with problems in the workplace. You can start with simple tools you can access using the Internet as your source. Blogs such as http://lifeskills4success.blogspot.com/ list a number of tools you can use as part of creative problem solving.

Experienced managers who are involved in creative problem solving recommends training the employees in asking the following 2 questions, when developing new ideas:

  • What else can we .......?
  • What if, ......................?

To supplement the questions, they also recommend that we fill in the words from the SCAMPER model. The SCAMPER model, originally developed by Bob Eberle provides easy to follow prompters when you are keen to develop new responses to your problems. SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

This would mean asking questions such as "What else can we combine or eliminate in managing the work process?". Another option is to ask question such as, "What if we reverse the process?". These questions invariably will bring the most new and innovative ideas and solutions to the problem. Just remember this - Creativity and innovation can be learned. After all the uncreative thinking is a learned behavior. We just have to unlearn and relearn to become more creative when managing problems at our workplace.


How To Identify Your Creative Employees?

Everyone recognizes the importance of creativity and innovation. It is the creative thinking that leads to innovation. Creativity is about being able to generate new, novel and unique ideas that are significantly different from existing situations. Using the ideas, we move on to develop new products, services or processes. While it is a fact that all of us are capable of coming up with new and innovative ideas, some do not think that they are creative. The truth is, all of us are capable of thinking creatively, but how sure are you that you are creative?

Though many argue that the creative potential in each of us is similar when we were young, the degree of creativity differs in adulthood. How do we bring back the high level of creativity juice in us? What can we do to unfold the creative potential in us? One way to get that done is to be with people who are more creative. The very fact of being in the presence of highly creative people will infect you with their creative idea virus. As managers you should identify the creative people with the right qualities and make them part of the team. Once you have a small group of creative pool of employees, you can bring in others to be with them. The challenge is how do we know a person is more creative than another person who is just averagely creative?

Creative people demonstrate certain qualities. Creative people exhibit the following qualities:

  • Adaptable - creative people do not stay put with a fixed mindset. They are willing to go with the flow. They are highly adaptable to the changing environment and work situations.
  • Bring out highly imaginative ideas - their ability to synthesize and present problems and solutions in a new way is their prime strength of creative persons.
  • Challenge the status quo - while everyone finds comfort in a routine way of doing things, creative people are the first one to challenge the practice, policy or the assumption. If you do have a person who keeps on asking why or why not, he/she is the person you should bring into the team.
  • Demonstrate high degree of Curiosity - Creative people find everything fascinating. They are always curious, by asking why.
  • Emphasize the future oriented solutions - their action and thinking are very much future oriented. While they accept the usefulness of past and present, they use them to generate new solutions or ideas, without letting the past and present limit their options.
  • Follow their gut feelings - when every one view things from a firm mindset, they are prepared to follow their intuitive feelings without feeling guilty or uneasy about it.
  • Generate ideas by going beyond the normal idea - They insist on asking 'what else', even when they are presented with a good idea that almost appears to be the right idea.
  • Help others to see the link between ideas - asking open ended questions is one best way to let others see the link and relationship between ideas.
  • Initiate new ideas - most of the time it is the highly creative people who get the ball rolling by putting a unique and innovative ideas.

Creative people demonstrate a high degree of perseverance that enables them to remain focused on the task at hand. Creative people find it easy to break away from an existing connection and make new connections to ideas and thought processes that are completely new. While we would be able to use the above list to identify highly creative people so that we can make them as part of the team, it would be a great start to use the list to answer "Am I Creative?" If someone were to ask us 'How Creative Are You?" or "Are you creative?" we should be able to answer those two questions by saying 'yes', with confidence. Are you creative?


A Seven Steps Model for Sustaining Organizational Success Through Creative Thinking

In a rapidly changing world business leaders are finding it difficult to keep their competitive advantage on an on-going basis. Technology and cost control are no longer adequate to sustain the lead. It is the organisation's ability to innovate through creative thinking that makes all the difference. No one questions the need for innovation in the business. Organisations recognise the importance of creativity and innovation for acquiring and sustaining success.

While mission and vision statements are useful to keep the activities focused, the people in the organisation at all levels need to make the mission and vision real. A more focused and well written mission statement provides the employees much needed direction. An effective vision or mission statement should bring out the passion and commitment from the employees. In the process of their journey towards the mission and vision, employees need to think creatively, so that they are able to innovate the whole range of activities, including the processes and the products.

Successful organisations not only ensure that every employee is able to remember and passionate about the mission and vision, but provide adequate training and support to achieve the goal. Toyota's mission is "To sustain profitable growth by providing the best customer experience and dealer support." It is the passionate employees of Toyota who are willing and ready to take the challenge to make the mission a reality.

Paul Sloane in his book titled 'The Innovative Leader' in discussing on how to inspire and drive creativity in the workplace suggests that leaders in the organisation must explain to their people how their 'role is crucial in fulfilling the vision'. In the case of Toyota, the organisation decided to identify major sources of waste that prevent the company from achieving its mission. It identified seven major sources of waste. Using the seven sources of waste, Toyota moved forward to eliminate them. The list provided a more focused approach for employees to work towards a common goal. By making every idea count and encouraging the employees at all levels to use their creativity to the fullest, Toyota was able to become one of the best manufacturers.

Shoichiro Toyoda of Toyota Motors views creativity, challenge and courage as 'the 3C's of Innovation'. You need employees who are passionate about what is going on before they are willing to challenge the current processes and practices that prevent the organization form moving forward. Courage demands commitment. When an employee has the courage to challenge what goes on, aimed at bringing out better results, is only part of the answer for acquiring and sustaining success. Moving from the status quo is innovation and that requires a different style of thinking. The creative thinking enables and encourages every employee to contribute new ideas that will make it possible to launch new products or services and eliminate the sources of waste. In the 21st century it is creativity through innovation that will add value. Only then you can sustain success in the market place.

What is so special about the organizations that are able to sustain success through creativity and innovation? They train their employees on creative problem solving skills and empower them, so that the employees make the right decisions to put their ideas to work. There is high degree of trust among the employees right across the organization with minimal status differences. Employees are challenged to generate high quality innovative solutions through creative thinking. These organizations also believe that creative thinking is a transferrable skill that can be acquired in the right work environment. Recognizing the characteristics of successful organization that managed to sustain success through creative thinking is the best way to get started.

Any business organization can acquire and sustain success through creative thinking by adopting the following practices in the workplace:

1. Let each employee understand about the organization's mission and vision and how they can make that mission and vision a reality.

2. Communicate enthusiastically sharing the best practices, so that they will continue to seek out even better solutions to take full advantage of business opportunities. In the presence of Open communication employees become passionate about the mission and vision.

3. Train your employees on creative thinking skills, so that they understand the power of creative thinking.

4. Empower the staff at all level, by getting rid of micro management style in managing your operation.

5. Create a dynamic work environment that encourages trust and commitment across departments and work units.

6. Provide the required resources (manpower, money, methods, materials and machinery) so that the employees are able to implement creative and innovative processes.

7. Continuously work toward creating and sustaining creative work environment, so that everyone is enthusiastic about demonstrating commitment and innovation in their work practices.

In the process of attempting to create and sustain success of your business through creative thinking, remember the three C's of Innovation - Courage, Challenge and Creativity.


Decision Making Made Easy

We face problems and opportunities all the time. This would mean we need to make choices. Making choices is about making decisions. Unfortunately making decisions is not always easy, unless we master the skill using some reliable tool. In meetings we are always under pressure to make decisions. Unfortunately, when inadequate time is spent in problem identification and solution development, the quality of decision making suffers.

Are we ready for the decision Making?

When you have to make a decision in your next regular management meeting, because it has been in the agenda for some time, just ask "Are we ready for making a decision?". Unless everyone can answer with confidence that they are in a position to say 'YES' you should not rush into making a decision. A quick check list comprising the following questions is the best way to get started:

  • Was a brainstorming conducted to gather as many alternatives as possible?
  • Did we spend adequate time to understand the consequences of the various options?
  • Do we have all the required data and information?
  • Was the problem identification and solution generation handled by competent people?
  • What happens if we choose not to make a decision on this issue today?
  • Are we under pressure to make a quick decision that is likely to prevent us from making a good decision?
  • Are we in a position to make a decision without any restrictive and limiting assumptions that are basically not right?

Do we have the decision criteria?

Answers to these questions will make the next step much easier to manage. Most often, we ignore these questions and eventually we pay a price. Once we complete this part of decision making aspect, we should move on to critically evaluate each option we have developed earlier. This will only be possible if we have a comprehensive checklist. Criteria that are too general and inadequate are not going to be of any help here. Spending adequate time at this level is critical. We may depend on the following checklist to make this step a meaningful one:

  • What are the key success factors?
  • Have we identified the most critical criterion that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the choice?
  • Do the identified criteria recognise the resource limitations we are experiencing?
  • Should the list of criteria include financial elements?

Do we have the tools to evaluate the alternatives?

While most of us simply use the decision criteria on an ad hoc basis, without using specific decision-making tools. Adopting appropriate decision-making tools will enhance the overall effectiveness of decisions made during meetings. Learning to use the right tools is the best way to make right decisions. There are a number of choices as far as the decision-making tools are concerned. Some of the commonly used tools by effective decision makers include the following:

  • Forced-Field Analysis - This model developed by Kurt Lewin, enable us to identify the factors/forces that will enhance/facilitate changes as well as the forces that will restrain that are likely to oppose the proposed solutions. This tool enables the decision maker to seek new ways to manage the opposing forces.
  • Pros and Cons Analysis Model - the advantages and disadvantages of each option is identified. In the process the decision maker should be able to determine possible solutions to the problems identified, thus making the final choice more relevant.
  • Prioritisation Matrix - a simple tool to use that will allow the decision makers to prioritise the options developed during brainstorming/idea generation stage. This model is a powerful tool to sort the various alternatives into a meaningful order of importance.

Using some of the reliable tools is critical to make sure the decisions we make in our meetings remain relevant and effective.


Managing Workforce Diversity for Better Corporate Results

While diversity is a problem for most organisations, successful corporations learn to manage to their full advantage. By adopting new structures and work practices that are radically different from traditionally minded management, these organisations managed to acquire a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. The whole purpose of managing diversity is to bring out the best of employees Talent, Abilities, Skills and Knowledge for the benefits of individual employees as well as the well-being of the corporations. When workforce diversity is well managed, no employee in the organisation feels disadvantaged.

Business firms are beginning to recognise the power of workforce diversity as a competitive tool. Cascio in his book 'Managing Human Resource: Productivity, Quality of Work life, Profits (published by McGraw-Hill in 2006) recommends asking the following questions in order to justify that diversity is, in fact a competitive factor:

  • How can diversity help business corporations expand their operation into global market?
  • How can diversity help to build and sustain brand equity and improve consumer spending?
  • How does workforce diversity enhance an organisation's HR strategies?
  • How does the diversity element build corporate image among the consumers?
  • Does diversity improve operational efficiency?How?

Cascio citing studies done by several researchers, answers each of the above questions with examples to make a business case for diversity. In the process of discussing the business case for diversity, the author want the readers to ask an important question - 'What steps can you take as a manager to become more effective in a work environment that is more diverse than ever?".

Workforce diversity should be seen in terms of age, gender. Race, ethnic composition, religion and nationality. Successful 21st-century corporations no longer view diversity as a problematic issue. They view diversity as an opportunity that can be utilised to compete more effectively in the local and global markets.

According to Cascio (2006, p.119) managing diversity means aiming for a 'heterogeneous workforce' that is capable of achieving its potential in a non-discriminatory, fair and just work environment.

What are the reasons for diversity being considered as an important activity in managing the human resources? Cascio lists the following 5 reasons as to why diversity has become an important activity:

  • Shift from manufacturing to a service economy
  • Globalization
  • Innovative business strategies that demand teamwork
  • Mergers and Alliances
  • Changing labour market conditions

Unlike the jobs in the manufacturing industry, service industry (banking, financial services) job holders need to maintain close and constant contact with their customers. Service industry employees are required to understand the needs and expectations of their customers. With increased customer base that is diverse, no business firm has the luxury to ignore the customer groups. To take full advantage of the opportunity corporations need to bring employees who understand and can relate to the diverse customer base. This is to ensure in the words of Cascio "workforce should mirror their customers". This enables smooth operations and more cordial interactions between the business firms and their customers.

Recognising the limited market locally, more and more corporations look at the global market for sustaining and enhancing the market share. With the Globalization of markets, business corporations should learn how to manage the workforce diversity. Successful corporations try to learn from their colleagues around the world. This will enhance corporate performance. That would not be possible without a system to manage diversity.

In their attempt to cope with the problems and challenges facing their corporations, managers realise the limitations of the traditional forms of organisational structure. The strategies that need to be put in place can no longer be managed by the traditional hierarchy based command and control system. For these strategies to work, you need a team effort. Teams basically mean diverse labour force. Successful team management is about successfully managing workforce diversity. To emphasise the usefulness of teams, Cascio (2006, p.123)quotes the words from Ted Childs, vice president, IBM Global Workforce Diversity: "When a company's vision includes the growing mix of the talent pool and the customer base, then the real argument for diversity is the business case".

Mergers, acquisitions and alliances are becoming more common than ever before. When two business corporations decide to pool their expertise and other resources following mergers, acquisitions and alliances know the difficulties they will face, if they do not have an effective system in place to make them work together. The cultures of merged companies differ. The strategic partner's way of doing things may be different. The values, beliefs and the norms may not be a 100 percent match. To avoid culture shock and clash of culture, organisations should put a system in place, so that employees at all level understand and accept their differences while working towards taking full advantage of diversity that came about following mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliance. Here the focus is on seizing the opportunities arising out of diversity and being proactive in managing the diversity-related issues. To make this work, managers at the top level must be convinced of the competitive advantages of workforce diversity.

The labour market is changing rapidly. More women are entering the labour market and they continue to remain in the labour market for a longer period of time. Business corporations should adopt appropriate measures to meet the unique needs of the women. Balancing work and life appear to be the main focus when it comes to managing the female workforce. Cascio's Managing Human Resources: productivity, Quality of Work Life, Profits lists the following six ways that corporations may adopt to take the interests and well-being of their women employees:

  • Alternative career paths
  • Extended leave
  • Flexible work scheduling
  • Flexi-time
  • Job sharing
  • Tele-working

Organisations need to train their employees about diversity and its usefulness to the well-being of the corporation. Diversity training is a critical part when managing diversity. According to Cascio (p.124) employees need to 'understand and value' the differences among them. The acceptance of differences in a positive manner is critical if the corporation is keen to enable innovation through creative thinking in the workplace.


Enabling Your Employees To Think Smart - Seven Principles of Creative Problem Solving

When faced with a problem, our instinct is to attempt to solve the problem straight away. A Smart Thinking strategist is likely to adopt a different approach. They ask: Should I really solve the problem, diverting my energy, resources and time towards it? If the problem is insignificant or if it is a problem that is not worth the effort, why waste the resources in the first place? The most important benefit of this type of thinking is you are able to maximise the use of your resources. According to Nadler and Hibino in their book titled Breakthrough Thinking: The Seven Principles of Creative Problem Solving, they argue that competent people approach a problem by 'questioning the purpose of solving it'. This strategy enhances the effectiveness of managing the problems.

The authors citing research that document the breakthrough solutions to problems list the following seven basic principles for effective problem-solving.

  • Each problem should be seen as unique - Despite the presence of similarities between problems for each encounter, we must learn to recognise that when solving each aspect of the problem we must consider the uniqueness of the situational needs (context). Only then we will be able to develop solutions that will meet the unique situational needs.
  • Focus on the reasons for solving the problem - This is essential if you would like to minimise the waste of resources - money, materials, manpower, machinery and methods. Only when we are able to focus on the purpose(s) we are in a position to view the larger picture of the situation. Instead of asking what is going on here and what is wrong, learn to ask what are we attempting to achieve out of this situation. This will trigger our mind to seek a large number of desired solutions. To keep going for more and more solutions, we should learn to ask: "What else...?". This will help us to develop as many solutions as possible.
  • Seek solutions with a long-term perspective - Whenever possible identify the ideal and desired solutions and then work backwards so that you can work on practical short-term solutions that will become part of the long-term solutions. The authors describe this practice as 'The Solution-After-Next Principle'.
  • View the problem(s) from a systems approach - Once we learn to view each problem as part of something else, we are beginning to adopt a systems approach to managing problem. The realisation that each problem we face is part of larger problem enables us to anticipate the problem(s) we may face when implementing the solutions. This will enable us to develop appropriate strategies we are likely to encounter in implementing solutions.
  • Learn to work with minimal information - Many of us are trained to seek out a full set of information that is complete and comprehensive when managing problems and work-related challenges. Having too much of information in hand may prevent us from considering new and innovative solutions. The intuitive element goes missing with too much of information.
  • Keep the people factor in mind when developing solutions - As far as possible, involve the people in developing solutions. Their participation and involvement are critical to the overall success of the proposed solution. Keep the solutions broad and flexible so that those who will be managing the solution will have some degree of flexibility. A Standard Operating Procedure type of solutions should be avoided.
  • Incorporate timeline principle - Each purpose developed to manage the problems should be in the right sequence. Only then we can maximise the outcome of the breakthrough solutions.

Enabling employees to think smart should begin with focusing on the purpose of solving the problems. While most of these do adopt some of these principles, sometime in managing some of our problems, for the benefits to be realised we need to learn to use these principles in all our decision making. It is only through a consistent and coordinated approach that we will be able to make the breakthrough thinking as part of our decision-making process.

Enabling Our Employees To Think Smart is about encouraging them to adopt the above seven principles in a consistent and coordinated manner. We need to let our employees understand the importance of defining the purposes of working on a problem. The emphasis is to find out what are we trying to accomplish with the problem situation. The problem(s) should be seen as situations that require some changes. The best way to bring out the change is by asking: What are we trying to accomplish here. That is about bringing effective and meaningful change to our life.