The Americans asked for horses – Henry Ford gave them cars. In the beginning of the 20th century, he disrupted the transportation industry. He created a new market outmatching established leading companies, products and alliances. And he got the idea himself.
We all want to disrupt our industries with new innovations that change our world. But not all of us are Fords.
Sometimes company leaders ask me: Where should we look for inspiration to develop the new Pokémon GO, iPhone or Airbnb? How did you do it? This was the subject for my speech at Deloitte Denmark’s yearly HR conference in Copenhagen in September, where I presented how Milestone Systems led the surveillance industry through a disruptive change to IP technology.
So how do you do it? Very often, your own employees and business partners hold the answers to your questions. So what you really should ask is this: What can you do as a leader to cultivate the ideas that grow in your organization, bring them to the surface, and most importantly how do you put them into action? I call this a cultural disruption.
At the end of the day, everything is about culture.
All my life, I’ve been an innovator. I ‘started companies, I ‘created successes and I had failures. I’ve learned lessons, and in this blog I will share some of my best learnings with you. In my work as a leader I am guided and inspired by these three principles, and maybe they can also inspire you on how to strengthen your corporate culture with: 1) a can-do attitude 2) openness and 3) empowerment.
1. How to develop a can-do attitude
If you want to cultivate new ideas among your employees, it’s important to let them know that they are allowed to challenge the status quo. Actually, it should be part of your job description. They should know that it is ok to go in a different direction. It is ok to fail. Your job as a leader is to make them feel safe and empowered to bring their ideas to the surface. And when the ideas work and create value in the company, you should let everyone know about it.
Let me give you a simple example: One of our employees in the US took a tech support call, and the customer asked for support on a free product, which we do not normally provide. Our employee was aware of that, but found the time to help the customer anyway. After two weeks, we all learned that he did the right thing: that customer placed an order for 200 software licenses.
Human judgement can feel when the rules are not best to follow.
You should be aware, however, that there are two sides of the same coin. It is not always easy to keep direction in a can-do culture. When people take a lot of initiatives you can very easily end up with more projects than you can handle. This happens to us at Milestone, and we are working on how to deal with it. But still, our can-do attitude has got us to where we are today and the alternative is not for me – or for Milestone.
2. How to open up your company
For me and for Milestone, it’s also important to truly commit to openness among your employees and partners. Openness is strongly connected to the can-do attitude. Without openness, there is no can-do! So how do you make your organization more open? At Milestone, we take this very seriously.
Let me give you another example. Every year, we ask all employees to rate their managers – and to rate themselves. On a day-to-day level, we rate ourselves and each other very often, i.e. during meetings. Was the last hour good use of your time? How would you rate the ideas from the guy next to you? It takes a lot of guts to ask these questions and to listen to the feedback, but it keeps your mind open and ensures that you always perform your best – all the time. Open discussions are more likely to bring forth great ideas. It’s very important for me to let our employees know that even at a meeting with the CEO, they do not have to agree with me.
I believe that Milestone’s commitment to openness with employees and partners is one of the main reasons why Milestone is a global success.
3. How to empower your employees
Empowerment is all about mutual trust. We have to trust our employees to make the right decisions. And a can-do attitude empowers people.
So, how do you empower your employees in daily life? Let me give you some illustrations.
In the beginning of 2016, we invited the entire company, almost 600 employees from 20 countries, to Hilton Hotel in Copenhagen to get input on a new strategy and new ways of working together. We asked them: This is your future, so how do we make the plan successful? Where do you see the weak spots?
I know this is what they preach in management books, but I rarely see companies who actually do it in real life. With ALL employees. Our CFO was not happy about the cost of gathering the global staff and I admit, it is an expensive exercise – but definitely worth it. Try it! We got 4,000 ideas of which 150 were so good that we decided to include them in the strategy.
Is it really that simple? Yes, this is how we create disruption and innovation every day at Milestone – this is how we make Milestone a great place to work and how we ensure that Milestone is a good business partner who keeps exceeding expectations.
In my book ‘Business Magnetism’ I unfold the story about how a Danish software company managed to end up selling software to both Apple and Microsoft. Get your own copy of ‘Business Magnetism‘ on Amazon.
by Lars Thinggaard, President & CEO of Milestone Systems