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The Game that Destroys Innovation -- Part III: A Better Game: Calm Voice

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Recap: In Part I, I gave a few examples of the Game that is played in most every company.  It is an insidious game of unwritten rules that forces people to play in a sandbox of pretense so that everyone can claim to be doing the right thing.  I discussed how the Game damages both the company and its innovation efforts.  In Part II, I provided an overview for how to ferret out the Game and eliminate it.  Here in Part III, I discuss the cultural infrastructure that can keep the Game from reappearing and can even lead to major improvements throughout the company.

As I mentioned in Part II, bouncing back from the Game is akin to recovering from a disaster.  People will be raw, stressed, and concerned about both their future and the future of the company, and it will take an influx of time, effort, money, and trust, to rebuild.  But, what should be built?

After discarding the ashes of the old Game, the company must build an infrastructure that rests on nine pillars.  These must be in place fully, or the Game will reappear.  The mnemonic to remember is CALM VOICE:

1) Coaching -- When people make mistakes, and they will, they need assistance with rectifying the situation and growing from it.  Mistakes are occasions for learning and opportunities for coaching.  Coach -- don't reprimand or punish!  (Remember: turnover is expensive!)
2) Accolades -- People need to be rewarded intrinsically and/or extrinsically (as appropriate) for doing work well, and should receive extra rewards for going above and beyond the call of duty.  Exceeding expectations should not be a requirement -- raise the expectations, or raise the rewards!
3) Listening -- Management and leadership at all levels must be able to listen to employees' concerns and ideas -- they are the front line, and they often have a different perspective of which both management and leadership must be aware.
4) Mission/Meaning -- A clear and concise company mission, which doubles as its value proposition, and from which each employee can derive the meaning of his/her work.  This also serves as a benchmark that any employee can use to determine if what (s)he is doing fits with the company and whether (s)he is adding value.
5) Voice -- Employees must be able to speak up (respectfully!) and voice both disagreements and concerns without fear of retaliation.
6) Owning Up -- People need to be able to own up to mistakes and take responsibility for them without undue repercussions.

7) Ingenuity -- People need to have the freedom to unleash their ingenuity while still being cognizant of the constraints of the company (e.g., timeline, budget, etc.).
8) Collegiality -- Honesty and mutual respect must be institutional values that are operationalized at all levels.
9) Explicit -- Any unwritten rules must always be identified and acknowledged once the pattern becomes evident.

A good look at these items would reveal that nearly every good company is built on these nine elements, and it is eminently doable for any company!  Putting these pillars in place after finding a Game, however, is a long-term process that can be painful and costly in the short term, and can take at least 3-6 months for even the smallest and fastest companies.  Some people may need to leave their posts, but make sure that they are reassigned or assisted with procuring another position elsewhere so that they do not face unemployment or the tarnish of termination.

It may sound like too much, but ask what it would cost if the company does not succeed or dies a slow death.  Better yet, ask why even the sky should be the limit!

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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