Make Room for New Ideas

Why is it some individuals are able to come up with new and innovative ideas, while others are unable to think of even one idea to improve work practices? 

Every company wants to be innovative. Fuelled by this desire, many business leaders spend considerable time and money on learning & development initiatives for their employees. By retraining their people to think creatively, innovation must surely follow, right? If we empower everyone with the tools and techniques needed to develop creative solutions, surely the objective of innovation will be met. 

Well, that is true to a large extent. People matter. People play the biggest role in the quest for innovation. People develop ideas, create plans, make decisions, and execute strategies. 

Developing people is indeed necessary for innovation, but the fact is this alone is not sufficient

In placing all their focus on training people to have the right skill set, organisations pay no attention to actually building an environment where that skill set can thrive. Leaders fail to understand that creative thinking tools and techniques simply do not work in the traditional management and workplace setting. Even if individuals and teams did create innovative solutions, their creative ideas will get killed by the bureaucracy and standard operating procedures that still permeate the company. Not enough is being done by leaders and employees at all levels to develop an innovative environment within which creative ideas can actually thrive.

Ideas, in their nascence, are like embers in a fire. If not nurtured and given a chance to kindle they will eventually get extinguished. But, if we add fuel to sustain it, they can develop into something much larger. To that end, here are some tips on how every individual, leader, and team can play a part in helping to build and sustain an innovative environment that allows creative ideas to spread like wildfire.

Encourage everyone to keep an open mind

This is the first step you need to take to make way for new ideas. Colleagues, leaders and teams collectively should be encouraged to adopt this mindset. No one should be showing signs of rigidity in their attitude.

Do not micro-manage

Any attempt to keep track of everything in the workplace hinders innovation. Provide greater autonomy to employees, so that they are free to think out of the box.

Keep your S.O.P. Short and Sweet

The presence of large, comprehensive Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P.) is the surest way to kill any and every new idea.

Encourage people to ask “What if….”

When teams are seeking creative solutions to a problem, encourage them to ask: “What if…?”. This is the best way to challenge age-old assumptions – the greatest barrier to innovation.

Insist on more than one solution

Let employees know that it is in the interest of the group and the business organisation to seek more than one solution to every problem. You can start with a minimum of three solutions and gradually increase it to 4, 5, 6 and 7. 

Make the group diverse

Ensure team members are from diverse backgrounds in terms of age, gender, experience, culture, race and area of specialisation. Involving people from other units and departments is one of the best ways to seek new and innovative ideas.

Make Idea Generating sessions fun

Start the session with some unexpected activities- distribute fruits, candies or chocolates. A pleasant positive emotional experience will bring out new ideas.

Conduct regular Brainstorming sessions

Make sure the facilitator is well trained in the art of conducting an effective brainstorming session.

Ask children for new ideas

What better way than tap on the great potential of your employee’s children.

The above tips work well within your own team and department. But steps also need to be taken within the entire organisation in order to make room for new ideas. Business leaders need to eliminate old and useless practices that currently occupy the room, by reviewing current policies and practices and being prepared to get rid of them if they do not line up with their innovation objectives. Until you create adequate space, you will not be able to bring in new ideas.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this works with regards to your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Seven Principles for Intelligent Problem Solving

Throughout our work day, things don’t always go according to plan. At some point, we might encounter something that went wrong, or maybe someone else brings a problem to our attention, expecting a solution. 

When faced with such problems, our first instinct is to attempt to solve the problem straight away. However, a Smart Thinking strategist should adopt a different approach. 

Instead of immediately thinking of solutions, ask yourself: “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 resources in the first place? The most important benefit of this initial analysis of thinking is maximizing the limited resources we have at our disposal. In their book Breakthrough Thinking, authors Nadler and Hibino argue that competent people approach problems by first ‘questioning the purpose of solving it’. This simple strategy enhances the effectiveness of managing workplace problems.

The authors continue by listing seven basic principles for effective problem-solving.

1. Each problem should be seen as unique

Despite the presence of some similarities between problems we might encounter, we must learn to recognise the uniqueness of the situational needs (context) when solving problems. Although our inherent schemas might serve to solve simple hiccups easily, they hinder the process of addressing the complex and larger needs of our workplace. By look at the unique circumstances of each challenge, we will be able to develop solutions that will meet the unique situational needs.

2. 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) will we be in a position to see the larger picture. Instead of asking what is going on here and what is wrong, learn to ask what are we attempting to achieve from this situation. This will trigger our minds to seek a number of possible desired solutions. To further propel this process, we should learn to ask: “What else…?”. This will help us to develop as many solutions as possible.

3. Seek solutions using a long–term perspective

Whenever possible, identify the ideal and perfect solution to the problem, and then work backwards so that you can create practical short-term solutions that can eventually become a part of the ideal long-term solution. The authors describe this practice as ‘The Solution-After-Next Principle’.

4. View the problem(s) from a systems approach

Once we learn to view each problem as part of something else, we begin to adopt a systems approach to managing problems. The realisation that each problem we face is part of larger problem enables us to anticipate the challenges(s) we may face when implementing the solutions. This will enable us to develop the appropriate strategies we need to successfully execute on our solutions.

5. Learn to work with minimal information

Some of us are trained to seek out a complete and comprehensive information set when managing problems and work-related challenges. However, seeking this much information is usually extremely time-consuming, and even after we collect it, we become overwhelmed by the data.  Having too much of information on hand also prevents us from considering new and innovative solutions. Our intuitive spark goes missing when inundated with too much of information. This principle, of course, has to be balanced with actually having enough details to understand the real problem at hand.

6. Keep the people factor in mind when developing solutions

As far as possible, involve those who are impacted by the problem and potential solutions. The participation and involvement of these individuals will be critical to the overall success of the proposed solution. Keep solutions broad and flexible so that those who will be managing and executing the solution will have some degree of flexibility, and not be disoriented when everything doesn’t go according to plan. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) type solution should be avoided.

7. Incorporate the timeline principle

Each and every purpose we develop to manage problems should be in the right sequence. Only then we can maximise the outcome of our breakthrough solutions.

Enabling our people to think smart starts with 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. Problems and challenges should be seen as situations that require change. 

The best way to bring out the change is by asking: What are we trying to accomplish here?

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this could work with regards to your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Why Workplace Diversity is Your Greatest Asset

Divided On Diversity

Through years of conducting training workshops on managing workplace diversity, I’ve discovered that on the whole, most organisations and leaders view diversity through one of two lenses. The first lens perceives diversity as a problem – as yet another challenge of operating in today’s business environment. Their take on how best to handle workplace diversity is to seek solutions to mitigate and minimise any issues that might arise from insensitivity, misunderstandings, and prejudices. 

The second group embraces diversity as an asset. Despite acknowledging that diversity could potentially bring about additional challenges, they believe that if managed appropriately, diversity itself can be leveraged to produce better organisational results. 

Diversity's Role in 2017

Workforce diversity can be seen in terms of Age, Gender. Race, Ethnic Composition, Religion and Nationality. The trend towards diverse workforces has been increasing over time, but its importance within organisations and teams is more pronounced now than ever before.

Wayne F Cascio, in his book Managing Human Resource: Productivity, Quality of Work Life, Profits, lists 5 reasons as to why diversity is becoming increasingly important:

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

Unlike jobs in the manufacturing industry, service industry job holders need to maintain close and constant contact with their customers, understanding their needs and expectations. With an ever increasing customer base that is diverse, no business firm has the luxury to ignore any customer group. Organisations need employees and teams who understand and can relate to the diverse customer base. In the words of Cascio, the “workforce should mirror their customers”.

Recognising the limited local market, corporations have looked globally to sustain and enhance market share. With globalization, business organisations need to learn how to manage workforce diversity. Integrating an organisation’s culture (originating in the head office of one country) with the local culture of subsidiaries and international offices becomes necessary. To avoid culture shock and clash of cultures, organisations need a system whereby employees at all levels understand and accept their differences while working towards taking full advantage of the diversity that has arisen.

Embracing Diversity

Let us return to the two groups of thought with regards to diversity. This discourse in perception is more than just academic. Proponents of the first group seek to suppress the knock-on effects of diversity, while those of the latter wish for diversity to flourish.

Advocates of diversity look for ways to best leverage their asset. They implement new structures and work practices that are radically different from traditionally-minded management approaches, putting together the building blocks of a fair, effective, and collaborative working environment. Leaders of these organisations understand that, at its core, the purpose of managing diversity is to bring out the best of peoples’ Talent, Abilities, Skills and Knowledge for the benefit of individual employees, their teams, and the well-being of the overall organization. When workforce diversity is managed well, no employee feels disadvantaged. Such a culture brings about higher levels of motivation, creativity, and efficiency.

Long term, there are no surprises as to which of these two groups will be more successful. 

Cascio, in the same book, recommends a few questions leaders can ask in order to give credence to the fact that diversity is a competitive factor:

  • How can diversity help business corporations expand their operation into global markets?
  • 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?

Asking – and truthfully answering – these questions allows leaders and organisations to really open themselves up to the need for diversity, and understand the possibilities that diversity has to offer. 

How to Leverage Your Asset

To extract value from any asset, one must first understand how to use it. The same applies with diversity. Organisations need to train their employees on diversity and its usefulness within the organisation, their team, and themselves. Employees need to understand and value the differences among them. This acceptance of differences in a positive manner is especially critical if an organisation is keen to enable innovation through creative thinking and collaboration.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this works with regards to your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


How to Create Innovative Solutions to Problems

I recently wrote about how changing your mindset and asking questions can help you understand and embrace innovative practices within your team. Today, I will go into detail by providing practical and tactical steps that managers and leaders can take to promote creative ideas and solutions.

Although many organisations wish to be innovative, few actually achieve it. For a disproportionate number, this lack of innovation can be attributed to one thing: InertiaA preference to remain in the status-quo and to keep the same approach as long as it appears to be working.

This preference to stay as we are is the norm rather than the exception. The uncertainty and risks associated with new things and new ideas are the main reason behind this avoidance attitude. But in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) Business Environment of today, holding on to what worked last year could very well be the leading factor of a firm’s downfall.

The fact is this: Organisations either innovate, or they die.

Managers who wish to survive and grow need to adopt innovation as one of their basic strategies. Innovation demands that people in the organisation learn to THINK CREATIVELY so that they are able to bring about new products, services, and approaches. But how can we think creatively? Through repeated tasks and cognitive schemas, we train ourselves to filter and sort information quickly. This makes everyday decision making easy. Solutions are brought to the surface from the past experience- the way we know things should be. But it is also this very same paradigm that limits creative and innovative solutions, simply because creative solutions and ideas lie OUTSIDE the norm.

We simply cannot attempt to be innovative while holding on to the same mindset as we had before.

To best seize the full power of creative solutions, we need to incorporate creative thinking when managing ALL our decision-making processes. Because the problem-solving process is usually seen as a logical and rational process, most managers erroneously fail to recognise the need to incorporate creativity.

The general problem-solving model can be described as involving the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Gather data/information
  3. Clarify/diagnose the problem
  4. Develop possible solutions
  5. Analyse each possible solution
  6. Implement and Evaluate

The creativity component becomes a dominant element when developing possible solutions (Step 4). At this stage of problem-solving, managers should encourage divergent thinking and insist on the development of a whole range of diverse ideas and solutions to the well-defined problem (Step 3). Problem-solving through creativity in Step 4 simply means we are able to find 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 the creative development of ideas during Step 4, we need to 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. In the course of the past 30 years, I have found that managers who advocate creative problem-solving always recommend their team to ask the following 2 questions when developing new ideas:

  • What else can we…?
  • What if…?

To supplement these questions, they also embrace the SCAMPER framework. The SCAMPER framework, originally developed by Bob Eberle, provides easy to follow guidelines for those keen to develop new responses to their problems. SCAMPER stands for:

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

This would mean asking questions such as “What can we combine or eliminate in managing the work process?”, “What if we reverse the process?”, and “What happens if we substitute this approach with another?” These questions invariably will bring out new and innovative ideas and solutions to any problem. Just remember this – Creativity and innovation can be learned. We just have to unlearn and relearn to become more creative when managing problems at our workplace.

Adopting this approach of asking questions and using the SCAMPER framework will give you the ability to foster innovation within your team, overcoming any natural inertia and fear to embrace innovation in your everyday decision-making process. 

As always, if you have any questions about this article, need more information about how to implement this within your company/team, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


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.

If you have any questions about this article, need more information about how this approach can improve your team’s performance, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


Improving the Quality of Business Education

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?

Students 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 have any questions about this article, need more information about how this approach can help in Business Education, or simply want to say “Hi”, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].


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.


Make Room for New Ideas

Managing productivity, profits and people is not always easy. While successful corporations adopt a whole range of strategies to become successful, almost all of them focus on their employees. Managers attempt to build practical skills covering all areas of operation. What employees basically need is a core skill that will enable them to manage and succeed in the very diverse work situations and challenges of the 21st-century workplace. They need to learn to THINK. The smart and creative thinking is critical to bring out new and innovative products and services. Managers should 'Make Room for New Ideas'. Managers need to create the right work environment to 'Make Room for New Ideas'. Why is it some employees are able to come up with new and innovative ideas, while the majority is unable to think even one idea to improve the work practices. The problem does not lie only with employees alone. Their colleagues and their supervisors have a significant effect on the creative and innovative behaviours of the employees.

It is true to say that individual personality and attitude play a dominant role in creating innovative ideas. That is not the only component in the creativity and innovation process at work. The colleagues (peer) and the supervisor with their own personality and attitude have the potential to influence the final outcome. In other words, an individual who is talented with the gift of creative personality and attitude eventually may not contribute any new ideas, simply because of the absence of favourable work environment.

As managers, you need to make a concerted effort to reach out to all employees at all levels in the organisation. All activities and training programs should attempt to create the right environment that will encourage creativity. You may adopt the following measures to make way for new ideas:

  • Encourage employees to keep an open mind: this is the first step if you want to make way for new ideas. The individual employee, the colleagues and the supervisor collectively should be encouraged to adopt this mindset. When they show signs of rigidity in their attitude, encourage them to ask: What else ...
  • Do not micro-manage Any attempt to keep track of everything in the workplace. Provide greater autonomy to the employees, so that they are free to think out of the box.
  • Keep your S.O.P. Short and sweet: The presence of large, comprehensive Standard Operating procedures (S.O.P.) is the surest way to kill any and every new idea.
  • Encourage them to ask "What if...." When the team members are seeking creative solutions to a problem, encourage them to ask: "What if .....?". This is the best way to challenge the age-old assumption, the greatest barrier towards innovation.
  • Insist on more than one solution: Letting employees know that it is in the interest of the group and the business organisation to seek more than one solution to a problem. You may start with three minimum solutions and gradually increase it to 4, 5,6 and eventually 7. The moment they start asking "What if'..., generating more than 3 solutions shall not is a problem.
  • Make the group diverse: Ensure team members are from a diverse background in terms of age, gender, experience, culture, race and area of specialisation. Involving people from other units, departments is one of the best ways to seek new and innovative ideas.
  • Make the Idea Generating sessions FUN: start the session with some unexpected activities- distribute fruits, candies or chocolates. A pleasant positive emotional experience will bring out new ideas.
  • Conduct regular Brainstorming sessions: Make sure the facilitator is well trained in the art of conducting an effective brainstorming session.
  • Ask employees children for new ideas: What better way than tap on the great potential of your employee's children.
  • Provide creativity training: High performance in any areas depends on employees' Abilities, Skills and Knowledge. Getting their foundation right on these three areas is the best way to get started when trying to make way for new ideas.

'Make room for new Ideas' also require the managers to eliminate the old and useless practices and ideas that occupy the room. Review your current policies and practices and be prepared to get rid of them. Until you create adequate space, you will not be able to bring in new ideas. Get ready to 'Make Room for New Ideas. Master some basic techniques that will place you in a better position to get started.