Hidden Talents – The Gems for Becoming an Innovative Company


In his book “Acres of Diamonds” Russell H. Conwell (founder of Temple University, on Broad Street in North Philadelphia. USA) there are 2 lessons for businesses:

(a)   There’s no need to look beyond yourself and your immediate circumstances to find the seeds of your fortune.

(b)   Service is the key to success. Don’t just sell things. Find out what people really want. This requires greater than normal thought and observation.

Every business needs to adapt to the changing business environment, in order to continue to exist. The aim is to continue to grow in revenue and profitability through the ups and downs of the economic and business cycles, and continue to stay relevant and contribute to who the business chose to serve.

If you are a MBA graduate, you would have remembered the SWOT analysis and TOWS matrix. Those case studies you did at graduate school were easy classroom exercises. However when you are in business, the first hurdle is to have a framework in place that identifies and collates information on the relevant PESTLE or STEEPLED business environmental factors. The second hurdle is to interpret or second guess the business situation (scenario analysis) and then develop the corporate goals, strategy and plan. The third hurdle is to deal with the difficulties in execution of the seemingly perfect strategy and plan.

Assuming all the SWOT and PESTLE are done, how good can the goals, strategy and plan developed by the Board or the top Management team be since they sit so far away from the day to day business operations and the customers? Also there are fewer of them than the rest of the people in the company, who are involved in and thus more familiar with the daily business operations and who interact with the customers first hand. How can a business continue to innovate and grow despite of everything against it?

The key is Management’s attitude and treatment of employees (Manager’s perceptions, bias and behaviors), much like the wealthy farmer Ali Hafed in Conwell’s story.

If manager’s beliefs relating to how people should be managed is wrong and that manager’s behavior is horrible, employees will become disengaged and quiet. They know that in return for a good idea, they will likely be the only one working overtime to implement it or on the other hand, they run the risk of the Manager’s wrath for speaking up.

It is also the main reason accounting for why the “command and control” hierarchical organizational structure is not working – the risk of the manager-employee relationship going wrong is too high.

Let us take an imaginary example – A manager needs to work through others but often wants to be pleased; to be “the one who does the talking”; “ the one who get the credit for other’s hard work or ideas; “ the one who order other around ” and the one who get the big salary and raises. Employees will not speak up when things go wrong or when they have ideas to improve the business or when they come to know about new customer needs. However, the business needs to keep track of the changing needs of customers; have better and more competitive solutions to customers’ problems. Like the diamonds in Conwell’s story, these are what generate the revenues and profitability for the business. They are there, right in the backyard of the business.

“In a study by management researchers Kathleen Ryan and Daniel Oestreich, 70%25 of people said they hesitated to speak up about problems at work or suggest possible improvements to their firms because they fear repercussions. The average implemented employee suggestions save a company $6,224 in operational expenses according to the Employee Involvement Association. So, if you don’t have 100%25 participation for employees offering suggestions you are missing out on a very real opportunity to improve your bottom line.” (Source: Listening to Employee Pays Big Dividends- $6,224 per suggestion! Written by Kathryn Carlson 8 Nov 201 http://www.kpaonline.com)

HR professionals are caught in a difficult spot. We are asked to implement a suggestion scheme; rally for Department Managers’ support, evangelize the scheme with employees at large, mostly with poor outcomes. In the last analysis, the culprit is usually the behavior of the department head or the immediate supervisor or just uninterested staff.

We can appreciate the situation better as well as why Management is not able to see the gems lying at its feet. Here are some words that can be used to describe mistreatments. Check if you ever experience or observe such behaviors at your workplace.



Invisible or Transparent not able to be seen; able to be seen through
Stereotyped An over-generalized and preconceived idea or impression of what characterizes someone or something, especially one that does not allow for any individuality or variation;
Bias An inclination to favour or disfavour one side against another in a dispute, competition, etc; a prejudice.
Discriminated (usually discriminate in favour of or against someone) to give different treatment to different people or groups in identical circumstances, especially without justification and on political or religious grounds.
Ostracized To exclude someone from a group or society, etc; to refuse to associate with them.
Overlooked A failure to see or notice something; an oversight.
Thumbed down Under someone’s thumb; completely controlled or dominated by them
Downplayed De-emphasized, played down
Neglected Disregard; to give little attention or respect to
Disabled Incapacitated
Snubbed To check or stop with a cutting retort, rebuke
Gagged To prevent from exercising freedom of speech or expression
Deceived, Misled To convince (oneself) that something is true when it is not.
Blamed To find fault with,  to place responsibility for
Sacrificed Something offered in sacrifice
Shortchanged, cheated To deprive of or give less than something due
Neglected To give little attention or respect to, disregard

Source: Merriam-Webster online dictionary; Chambers online dictionary

If managers mistreat their staff, how then can they become engaged, committed or passionate with their jobs? It is a relatively easy and a lucrative job for consulting companies to conduct company-wide employee survey and show a report that staff is disengaged. However, they do not have any concrete solutions to the problem.

Some companies and organizational development specialist tried to short-circuit the problem by working around the normal bottom up or top down communication channel. Examples are on line suggestion systems and skip level proposals.

These may address some of the symptoms but they are not the cure. On the flipside, they are better alternatives to the physical suggestion box, the manual suggestion form and having to hold meetings to rally staff to put in their suggestions.

The real solution is to take a long hard look and take the bold step to change the way the organization is structured to operate and to change the practices.

Job redundancies and outplacements are one of the most dreaded tasks administered by HR professionals. They impact directly on the livelihoods of employees. Yet Board or top management staff that are often the culprits are able to hold on to their jobs or directorships and still receive their bonuses, while staff numbers are being cut. This is a disgraceful situation.

Remember, the objective of promoting innovation is to stimulate growth and remain relevant. If the Board and management staff can only achieve results by working through others, and they do not have the mass to deal with so many opportunities and issues at the company’s structural and business system interfaces, what good is having them at all? We only need to do a search of corporate collapses and scandals to realize that the current way that organizations are run is not working. Worse, some of the businesses that companies are formed to run or the business model are not sustainable.

Businesses need to put people back at the heart of all it does. I encourage you to read the heart-warming article “Take care of your employees and they will take care of you” written by Dal LaMagna (www.dallamagna.com). It is about being a socially responsible company. Employees are the most important partners in your business. Also read the article “Flooded factory is brought back by its workers.” (The New York Times 1 May 2013 www.nytimes.com).

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