The core challenge is to let energy be the currency for access to engage in executing pertinent ideas. I.e., freedom to work on what gets people excited, whilst ensuring alignment.
If the MIX is any indication, there are many people out there with lots of hunches, dreams, and a whack of curiousity about how to think and do things differently.
So, what if you could take the corner-of-the-desk, napkin drawing, moonshot into a publicly visible forum - a moonshot market so to speak - and have folks volunteer to get involved. A sort of MIX meets Kickstarter meets TedX-event type mash-up.
By "folks", I primarily mean employees, but it could be possible to involve other people too; from the community or from "competitors" (i.e., a competitor in one space may be a partner in another), or students from colleges/universities, etc.
If you have x% time (e.g., 3M 10%, Google 20%), it could be part of that. Otherwise, perhaps you could barter your time. "I'll help you with X idea for Y period of time, and in exchange, you do something comparable for me."
You only need to worry about alignment if the investment is meaningful. I.e., a few hours here and there are unlikely to be a determental use of time (I'd argue the opposite). If substantial investment of time is require, then some light guidelines could be appropriate. I'd emphasize light. Nothing kills energy like inflexible conditions.
In theory, this could also connect with employee development plans helping individuals to realize and leverage their strengths, engage in meaningful work, and express their creativity.
As an 'almost aside'...
The future of work may mean that employers are not simply a means of "having a job" but rather, organizations become platforms through which opportunity to engage in work is enabled - either with that particular organization, or another, or for a community, or a blend. Membership (employment) is then more about a mutual partnership, or alliance, of achievement where contribution is exchanged for meaningful compensation (independent from time, or 1:1 working relationships). Visible (physical or virtual) markets or bazaars or "spaces" to connect, are probably a key vehicle for this.
The opportunity is a simple idea. Inside every company are people and most of them (if not all, once you get down to it) have hunches, notions, insights, and zany ideas which are sitting, invisible or buried on the corner of the desk, drawn on a napkin, or scribbled on some surface somewhere.
The problem is, for the most part, all these ideas-in-waiting lie dormant. They’re unknown, unseen, and unexplored. Companies are struggling with efficiency, innovation, and engagement (of employees, customers, clients, markets…) and they are literally overlooking a tremendous amount of idea capital collecting dust, falling on deaf ears, blind eyes, or rigid thinking.
The solution is about three things: visibility, connection, and empowerment.
- Visibility – idea capital needs to be exposed, easily, to everyone, 24/7
- Connection – idea capital needs to be shared, debated, built upon, combined with.
- Empowerment – rule of thumb being, you don’t need to ask for permission – each interaction and depth of interaction is about choice
This is the antithesis of most organizational activity: initiatives, projects, ideas, and discussions (invisible, disconnected, and restricted). Some should be invisible, disconnected, and restricted; others, not so much.
Actually, there is an invisible fourth quality – treat people as adults. As Netflix likes to say, “We don’t have a dress code policy, yet nobody comes to work naked.” The principle here is simple, there is no need to moderate, control, or censor what is shared, said, or debated, which is typically associated with dated management paradigms. Jerks will do a fine job of isolating themselves, and people who want to will move on together.
In a moonshot market, there are no appointed leaders, no hierarchy. There are simply people with ideas. As people collaborate or interact, no one is asking “who’s in charge?” but rather “how can we make this better?” and seek to understand one another.
The moonshot market could take many forms so long as it adheres to the three principles: visibility, connection, and permission; and the fourth assumption/decree – treat people as adults.
As a group, this could be as simple as low tech as a flip chart paper taped to a wall in a central space with an invitation to share hunches, notions, ideas – moonshots. People could then put stickers, stars, check marks (whatever you want really) as indications of like, and could leave comments or simply brief messages “Hey this is a cool idea, let’s chat - ext. 4123”.
Likewise, idea authors could invite collaborators. This could take on any form. “Funky idea looking for cool collaborators to kick ass and have fun…” etc.
Collaborators then – as adults – determine how much time and thought they’d like to invest. Simple recognition (badges, tallies, experience points, etc.) and publically visible kudos could help facilitate collaboration behaviours: liking, commenting, exploring, prototyping, experimenting, etc.
Depending on the level of investment, the supporting technology could be quite sophisticated (enable profiles, public & private recognition, ideation tools, summary interfaces, liking, commenting features, etc). The benefit of a high(er) tech solution is the capacity to scale visibility, connection, and recognition.
The challenge for HR is minimally to get out the way and let it happen. Better still, facilitate the uprising of moonshot markets by helping groups to do this (if there is interest from the employees) based on their means. Then, at the organizational level, success stories can be shared to help others learn about successful techniques and approaches.
The solution could even go beyond the walled garden of any one organization. This solution would probably include some kind of soliciting and identification of organizations interested in allowing their employees time and resources to work on a variety of ideas with others (employees for the same or different companies, members of the community, consumers, etc.)
By creating a central space (whether virtual or physical), modeling the desired behaviours to capitalize on / communicate how the space is designed to work, you enable “the possible.”
Impact on attitudes: people feel encouraged to come up with ideas, share them, and contribute to others ideas; people are inspired to be curious, to ask questions, and to dream; people look forward to meeting others and appreciate thought diversity; people view success as less determined by functional silo or physical location and more as a collaborative process
Impact on actions: greater sharing and contribution of ideas, more frequent spontaneous networking and invitations to collaborate to a broader, more diverse population of collaborators; greater likelihood to seek prototyping and experimentation, to push ideas farther;
Impact on outcomes: more, better ideas with the potential for value generation for the organization; learned and practiced ability to collaborate on a variety of themes/topics with a variety of interpersonal styles and visions; the development of a climate or culture of “how better” and “what more”; a more sophisticated understanding of various areas, subjects, and people across the community of participants leading to deeper business insight; connecting people with their passions and intrinsic motivation to do good by doing well; helps to empower the growing number of “intrapreneurs.”
As I’ve stated elsewhere, the first challenge is mindset – overcoming “the now.”
There will be many excuses: “this isn’t a good time”, “we have other priorities”, “who else has done this before?”, “if it wasn’t made here, we don’t want it”, “we tried something like this before and it didn’t work”, “we’re different...”, “so and so doesn’t believe in doing things like…” and so on.
The other part of overcoming the now is about overcoming vulnerabilities. HR and leadership will need to accept that a moonshot market self regulates. Some topics might be sensitive – for good reasons or bad. However, if there is a real desire for results, the discomfort will just have to be stomached.
The other piece around vulnerability, probably moreso for HR, will be around tradition and skill. HR will need to become comfortable with these kind of open source collaborative movements and at the same time, work to build their own skills on helping to facilitate the execution of these markets.
The second challenge is modeling/learning how to use the space. Whether physical or virtual, there will be some level of modeling, coaching, and learning needed to really get the benefit of the space. This is not about dictating, but about inviting people in and showing them “how to drive” to really get the benefits of visibility, connection, permission, and treating people like adults.
At the same time, teams or groups need to be able to take ownership to curate ideas and activity around ideas in their own way.
The third challenge is congruency or fit. If everything else the company does and refuses to change is invisible, disconnected, and restricted than on the one hand employees might appreciate the “breath of fresh air” but on the other, the apparent values gap might be so glaring that it augments cynicism, skepticism, or general negative feelings about the current working environment and work practices.
The fourth challenge is getting the recognition right. To properly incent the right kinds of behaviour, will mean the appropriate application of recognition / gamification practices that allow participants to feel recognized, but also have a shared sense of equity and procedural justice. That is, there is no way to “game” the system to over or under recognition different kinds of behaviours or different individuals.
The fifth challenge is tackle “to align or not to align”? Do the ideas people share and develop need to be aligned to the company priorities or not? If yes – how closely? Alignment gets at an important issue – spending time on the “right things.”
In the moonshot market however, alignment is a non-issue. Much like X% time at companies like Google, 3M, and others, the true goal is to “go for quantity.” Google knows that for every 300 or so side projects, one of them is likely to be the next Gmail. So, the issue isn’t to ensure alignment with “the now” it is to make space for many possible versions of “what could be” and then see what is worth powering up with some serious investment.
The moonshot market would adhere to the same principle – more is better. Yes, the signal to noise ratio may not always be where you want it, but in order to generate the signal of “what could be” you have to accept that there might need to be a lot of noise.
Management can certainly add their problems and puzzles to the mix to help inspire conversation around current organizational priorities, but these additions should not become (implicitly or explicitly) “the only ones that matter.”
The sixth challenge is tackle the expectation of the incremental. This means being comfortable with the natural, probably slightly chaotic, and mostly uncontrollable (that’s the point!) nature of the kinds of exchanges a system like this welcomes. What progress is or could be, and how it emerges will take time to appreciate and nuance appropriately given the context, environment, process, and the people.
The culminating challenge is really for HR to help teach and facilitate new leadership skills. Leaders will need to be comfortable not always being the leader, collaborating as ‘just one of the team’ and yet helping to be a ‘tie-breaker’ as needed. Leaders will need to shift gears towards coaching others, providing feedback, and seeking to remove obstacles – and in some cases, without overly focusing on “the now.” Having leaders who can spot when and then be comfortable leaning back and leaning in, as teams need will be a substantial organizational challenge – both for leaders and for HR who will need to be a great development partner in helping to build and practice these new skills.
If the group is small, another challenge might revolve around idiosyncrasies. In groups or communities, the influence any one person can have relative to the others is larger. So, if there is one person with a toxic attitude or who unknowingly and despite good intentions overcontributes and dominates most of the “shared space” it risks turning others off.
Start small. Ask who is currently capable of helping teams to do this? Seek volunteers (teams, groups, committees, or departments) who are open to testing a concept like this, and accompany the team closely.
You may want to consider progressive leaders, or teams with a reputation for taking risks and experimenting. Look for areas of least friction with existing practices, policies or mindset. Leaders with a “ask for forgiveness vs. permission” approach might be the best partners.
Before investing in a high tech solution, prototype the low tech paper and sticky note version. Adjust the dynamics to meet the needs of the community group (e.g., what kinds of recognition mechanics work best; what location or space/time makes the most sense based on operational context).
Commit to a “high touch” solution, and provide a lot of accompaniment to ensure proper modeling and recognition.
The smallest possible version is probably one support member (from HR, OD, Talent Management, Human Capital, etc.) and volunteer one team of 10-20 people with a progressive leader.
1. Shop the idea to the leader, if yes, shop the idea to the employees, if yes continue
2. Discuss and collaboratively build how it works / will be recognized
3. Engage in a pre-mortem
4. Construct the space with the team, have fun and meet the three principles
5. Model the use of the space by facilitating a session where people practice posting ideas, liking, commenting, and signaling interesting collaboration
6. Do step (4) as many times as needed until people start saying “oh ok, I get it. Cool!” and make adjustments to help it (if people say “hey what about…”, explore the possibility and attend to the principles)
7. Observe the activity on a weekly basis and prototype conduct check-ins what is working well, what isn’t working, what do you love / loathe about this, how might we… (better incent, recognition, communicate, etc.)
8. After the first major “patch” and bug fixes, move to a two week cycle (similar to agile development) and continue to make adjustments
9. After a few patches, say around 4-6 months, look for the value; help the group to self-sustain by taking ownership of “patching”
Consolidate the journey and share the experience with others who might be a good fit.