Hoboken, NJ (December 2009)—As another year draws to a close, managers and business owners everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief that they survived the tidal wave of uncertainty that was the recession of 2009. And if there's one thing that's on every business owner's wish list this year, it's big profits in 2010. But if you're thinking that idea seems more far-fetched than Santa Claus himself, "Think again," say Cyndi Laurin and Craig Morningstar, authors of The Rudolph Factor: Finding the Bright Lights that Drive Innovation in Your Business (Wiley, July 2009, ISBN: 978-04704510-3-8, $21.95). They recommend that rather than turning to Santa and his elves to deliver your profits, turn to the folks who deliver for your company every day—your employees.
That's because every organization, including your own, is full of what they call "Rudolphs"- people who are true agents of innovation. They are highly-engaged, creative thinkers that populate approximately ten percent of every organization—and for the most part, their talents go untapped, a phenomenon that Laurin and Morningstar hope to change with their new book. The Rudolph Factor tells the story of The Boeing Company, one of America's oldest and best aircraft manufacturers, zeroing in on its C-17 Progam's spectacular turnaround at the edge of collapse. The authors use Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer as an analogy to delve inside a corporate culture that reinvented itself in record-breaking time. In the process, they share lessons Boeing learned about innovation—lessons that can be applied and replicated in any business.
"Depending on the business culture, political structure, and reward system, Rudolphs either let their nose glow, or they cover it in mud so as to not create any career-limiting moves with their non-traditional, and generally unconventional ideas," says Laurin. "Obviously, the more progressive and innovative the business culture, the easier and safer it is for Rudolphs to contribute business-growing innovations or cost-saving solutions to their company's bottom line."
So if ten percent of your "herd" is already made up of Rudolphs, how can you motivate the other 90 percent to help light the way in 2010? Well, this holiday season, instead of twelve days of Christmas, Laurin and Morningstar recommend that you try twelve new ways to motivate the Rudolphs in your organization: Give them ample time to shine. No one knows your company and its customers as well as your employees. After all, they are the ones closest to the processes that work and those that don't. That's why they are best suited to uncover the solutions that will make your organization a success in the New Year.
But great innovation doesn't necessarily happen overnight, so it's important that you give your employees plenty of time to brainstorm their bright ideas. "Allowing your employees time to brainstorm each day will likely produce some great cost-saving ideas," asserts Laurin. "Even if it's just for fifteen minutes. Some of the most progressive companies begin and end each workday with a five-minute huddle. It's a great opportunity for the Rudolphs in your workplace to shine!"
Include your Rudolphs in the reindeer games.
Management often has difficulty solving problems due to a natural level of disconnect between their position and the work itself. "Start listening to the unlikely voices amongst your workforce," suggests Morningstar. "If a red nose is shining, pay attention! Include workers in strategy meetings, and ask for their opinions. You may be surprised at the solutions and innovation that is generated this way."
Be on the lookout for a red nose.
If you aren't sure how to spot the Rudolphs in your organization, here's a tip: one of the most obvious signs of a Rudolph is that they light up when talking about their work. Maybe not literally like the nose of the most famous Rudolph of all, but you can definitely see and feel their passion for their work. To pinpoint your Rudolphs, look for a face that is shining bright and listen for a passionate voice, and that will be the person who can help you through your company's foggy nights. "If you want to inspire this phenomenon in others, make sure you take the time to connect with your employees everyday," explains Laurin. "Ask them about their projects and ideas for improvements, and watch them light up with excitement when they speak."
Keep their curious spirit alive.
Another surefire sign of a Rudolph is that they ask a lot of questions. And they have a tendency to ask those questions even when it isn't the most popular thing to be doing. It's important for you to understand that when your employees are asking questions, they are engaged and generally trying to gain a better understanding of the company's goals, which should be encouraged. "Make sure you are not inadvertently discouraging their questions," warns Morningstar. "Encouraging questions in your employees helps you to develop a dialogue with them, and it encourages a dialogue for them amongst one other—precisely the way most great innovations come to life!"
Don't put your Rudolphs (or their ideas) in the corner.
Most employees want to work in an environment that is safe, supportive, and offers them an opportunity to make a difference—it's our human nature. Rudolphs have a natural tendency to see their world through a lens of potential and opportunity. Encourage this type of thinking in all of your employees by listening to their ideas—even if they seem unrealistic or just plain crazy. "Some of the greatest innovations in history seemed unrealistic or un-marketable at first," Morningstar explains. "For example, the concept of a wireless telephone was being discussed at the famous Bell Labs in the 1950s. Look at how many decades it took to come to fruition, and think about all the great ideas that could be simmering in your own organization."
Congratulate them on a job well done.
One of the more interesting characteristic of Rudolphs is that they are not interested in self-promotion. Instead, they are genuinely vested in wanting their organization to succeed. And while they aren't looking for personal accolades, it's still a good idea to let them know that you've noticed their good work. It will keep them motivated in the long run. "Make sure that all your employees understand how their individual work has contributed to the organization this past year," says Laurin. "It may seem trite, but a simple acknowledgement goes a long way in today's business cultures. Try taking advantage of the season and send a simple holiday card with a hand-written note thanking them for a job well done. You may be surprised at just how far a small gesture will go."
Reward your Rudolph with action.
The greatest reward a Rudolph can experience is seeing their ideas in action. Encourage all employees to share their ideas, and have a system in place for reviewing them. Remember, there is nothing more de-motivating than being asked for ideas only for them to end up in some organizational black hole. "Be prepared to respond to ideas quickly and briefly," says Morningstar. "And seek more information if the idea is not clearly presented. The only way to keep the creative Rudolph juices flowing is to encourage all ideas, good or bad, and to never discourage an employee from offering suggestions."
Encourage your herd to be, well, a team.
Rudolphs are natural team players, and when they need help, they are generally not afraid to ask. To bring out the Rudolph-ness in everyone at your organization, make sure that the doors of communication are open. And give people an opportunity to collaborate with one another, if necessary, so that ideas can be shared, refined, and encouraged within your organization. "It's amazing to meet workers who don't even know the person sitting in the cubicle next to them," says Laurin. "You may be missing out on some great ideas by simply not encouraging the great minds in your company to work together."
Be willing to branch out from the eight reindeer you know.
Encourage diversity in thought as well as other types of traditional diversities. Many employees intentionally stop sharing ideas if their work environment is not conducive or if the perception is that management doesn't care. This can result in "million-dollar" ideas forever locked in people's minds. "Make sure your organization recognizes diversity in thinking as a legitimate and unique human quality," adds Morningstar, "And you may also want to consider hiring employees with non-traditional or diverse backgrounds who may offer a completely unique and value-added perspective."
Give them some ownership over the workshop.
Rudolphs are natural entrepreneurs, a quality many managers will tell you is a great asset to an organizational team. To encourage entrepreneurial thinking, be open with your employees about business information. Employees will feel a greater sense of ownership over your business if they have a basic understanding of the organization's current strengths and challenges. "Keep in mind that this may require some basic training for all employees," says Laurin. "Every employee should understand the fundamentals of profits and loss, budget creation, and how their work contributes to the bottom line. Without a clear value proposition to employees, it will be difficult to reap the rewards of innovative thinking."
Let all your reindeer lead the sleigh (in their own special way!)
Rudolphs tend to be natural leaders because of the way they define leadership. Rather than looking at leadership as a position on the organizational chart, encourage employees to lead from where they are. "This can be easily accomplished by offering a new definition of leadership," asserts Morningstar. "Try to define leadership as 'a commitment to the success of people around you' or 'connecting people to their future.' With the appropriate verbiage in mind, all employees can start leading today!"
Always offer your Rudolphs the resources they need.
When Rudolphs are working on a solution to a problem, they are strategically resourceful in gaining necessary skills or information to transform their ideas into reality. To light the way for all of your employees, give them the tools, training, and resources they need to contribute to the organization's bottom line. "Ideas that come from the bottom up tend to impact the organization more quickly and efficiently than ideas mandated from the top down," Laurin explains. "Make sure that your employees know you are there to help."
"As the year comes to a close, we are left with uncertainty about what's to come in the New Year," says Morningstar. "Rather than hiding under you desk and hoping for the best, take action by harnessing the power of creativity and innovation from the people right under your own nose." "And remember, your people are your most sustainable competitive advantage, and many are just chomping at the bit to make a significant impact to the bottom line," concludes Laurin. "So when you see those red noses shining bright, why not give them the chance to guide your company's proverbial sleigh this year? And by next Christmas you just might be singing a different holiday tune altogether."
About the Authors:
Cyndi Laurin, PhD, is an author, international keynote speaker, and founder of Guide to Greatness, LLC. She specializes in process improvement and performance management. She is also the bestselling author of Catch!
Craig Morningstar is an experienced senior-level executive whose background includes positions at Southwest Airlines and Charles Schwab. He is also an entrepreneur who has founded, operated, and sold several companies.
For more information, please visit www.TheRudolphFactor.com