The (Non)Sense of Employee-Focused Innovation Training


A lot has been written about Innovation Training in the recent past. At Culturevate, we clearly see the sense of such training, but there are some important conditions that needs to be met for these efforts to generate long-term impact for an organization. Not all companies understand these conditions, which often leads to mediocre results and missed opportunities. One extra difficulty is that a good Innovation Training should be driven by and aligned with several functional parts of a large corporate organization.

An innovation training effort should be an integral part of any corporate innovation program/strategy. A concrete training effort gives a clear message that innovation should be taken seriously and supports your employees who may not know how or where to begin.

However, just launching an innovation training effort independently, without context to a company’s strategy or culture, will create confusion and generate low output at best. We prefer a model that makes use of the momentum of a training effort to explain (and reinforce) the organization’s innovation program and strategy throughout the curriculum. This way, you achieve the additional advantage that a big picture strategy is much better understood by the community and that the training fits in the big picture strategy of the company.

Read the full blog about The (Non)Sense of Employee-Focused Innovation Training visit Innovation Management. Also get updated with our Latest Articles related to Organizations and Culture, Strategy, Life Cycle Process etc.


13 Practices of the World’s Most Innovative Organizations


Successful organizations know the significance of innovation in business. Apple is a good example of how effective innovation management can improve your products and scale up your business. After reaching on the brink of collapse, it achieved new heights of success by implementing effective innovation management policy. The success of its innovative management strategies once again brought it in the league of leading organizations. If you are an entrepreneur who wants to learn from innovative management strategies of successful organizations, consider the following thirteen strategies.

In non-technical language, innovative management is any process that involves changes in planning, ideation, technical execution and production of resources in a way that can make a system more functional for people. In context of business, it focuses on two major objectives:

  • Improving operational systems of an organization
  • Enhancing products/services for end-users

In the former case, it takes into consideration the leadership, management and resources that make up the working machinery of an organization. In the latter case, it works on the systems and processes involved in creative and technical aspects of developing a product/service. An effective innovation strategy results in better performance of employees, increased productivity and higher customer satisfaction.

Read the full article about 13 Practices of the World’s Most Innovative Organizations at Innovation Management.


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Translating Unseen Needs into Innovations

The world is changing, yet people constantly assume, incorrectly, that tomorrow will be like yesterday. When business leaders make this mistake, the outcomes are generally bad because opportunities are lost. Competitive advantage is gained with the ability to transform insights into useful innovations by seeing the unseen. In this chapter excerpt of Agile Innovation, Langdon Morris explains how ethnography drives better innovation at a top-five U.S. financial services company.

Part of what is so fascinating about the transformation process is that, once successful examples are revealed, almost everyone immediately grasps the significance, and the world is changed. It’s a paradigm shift.

Even after the telephone was invented, quite a few people thought it had no value. Many companies, quite contented with the communication tools they already had, shortsightedly turned down the opportunity to own Alexander Graham Bell’s technology, and indeed a memo written at Western Union in 1876 said, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” An enormous opportunity was missed.

This is but one example among a great many. A humorous list of similar comments is circulating on the Internet, in which very smart and famous people reveal their incapacity to imagine the usefulness or the possibility of new technology.¹

They said what?

On a Web page titled “They Really Ought to Have Known Better,” you can view a very long list of comments that are humorous in hindsight, such as²:

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”

—Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”

—Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

—Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.”

—Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon- Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873

“We are probably at the limit of what we can know about astronomy.”

—Simon Newcomb, 1888

Noted computer industry pioneer (in mainframes and minicomputers) Ken Olsen pronounced in 1977 that no one would ever want a computer in his or her home. (Today, not so many years later, my home has more computer chips in it than I can count.)

Lord Kelvin, quite a talented scientist, nevertheless revealed his own ignorance when he proclaimed the heavier-than-air flying machine to be impossible. He made this remark just a few years before the Wright brothers proved him wrong.

Speaking of airplanes, Sir Sam Hughes, while Canadian Minister of Defence, commented in 1914 that “The aeroplane is the invention of the devil and will never play any part in such a serious business as the defence of a nation.” Marechal Foch of the French War College said something quite similar around the same time, because it was a commonly held opinion.

These are examples of people making predictions based on their experiences of the past. This phenomenon is notable only because it’s so common—people constantly assume, incorrectly, that tomorrow will be like yesterday. When business leaders make this mistake, the outcomes are generally bad because opportunities are lost. Later on, when things do change, we wonder why we didn’t see something so obvious and simple, something that was staring us in the face all along.

Once you master the ability to see when things really are broken, countless innovation opportunities will unfold before you. You’ll then start asking questions such as, “How could this be improved through a different approach, a new process, or a new technology? How could this be radically improved?”

This way of thinking, of course, goes to the roots of the very process of learning, and developing skill in this way of seeing differently becomes a core competence that you can apply over and over in many contexts. The power of your new competitive advantage will be the ability to transform insights into useful innovations by seeing the unseen (understanding unarticulated needs), translating unseen needs into innovations (anticipating future or hidden requirements), and bringing them to market.

Furthermore, these competences must be developed at every level of the organization, not only in innovation or in research and development teams. In fact, the sales staff may be the most important group, because when they understand what hidden information is, then they can recognize it and use it to become better at selling, and when they know what good design is, they’re also better at selling. They have done this quite successfully at Wells Fargo Bank, a top-five U.S. financial services company.

Ethnography achieves $20 million in top-line growth at Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo embraces the power of ethnography and uses it extensively throughout its operations. For example, the bank conducts ethnography studies at client sites to uncover innovation opportunities both internally and for its clients, and to provide feedback to improve products and services.

Steve Ellis, EVP at Wells Fargo, along with EVP Pam Clifford and senior vice president Kim Pugh, had a brilliant idea to do a technology transfer project with coauthor Moses Ma and Michael Barry, a professor at Stanford’s legendary The objective was to teach the bank’s customer insight group how to do ethnographic research.

Ellis, an extreme snowboarder, explains:

When you go heliskiing, it’s about the feel of the mountain and reacting to the texture of the snow and the hill. It’s about intently listening to yourself, your body, and your emotions. In business, it’s about listening as closely as you can to the customer. So it made sense for us to learn ethnography, which is all about listening harder. We created a small team to literally camp out at a customer site for several days to observe how customers do their jobs and interact with financial services. I felt this would give us a fresh approach to look for ways to reshape our services.

Vice president Paul Kizirian was tapped as the first official Wells Fargo ethnographer because of his keen skills as an analyst, paired with a remarkable level of empathy. He manages client studies in the Southwest and special projects. Kizirian explains the correlation between listening harder and being innovative:

Listening more intently to our customers was both our objective and our greatest challenge. We needed to find a way to sit with the individuals who do the actual work in a customer’s back office. To do that we needed to align the interests of several key people: the bank’s relationship manager, the customer firm’s leadership, and the individuals with whom we’d be sitting.

At first the program was a hard sell because nobody had heard of ethnography. Relationship managers were hesitant: “Let me get this straight, you want me to introduce your ethnography service to the CFO [chief financial officer]?” And customers would say, “Okay, what is that . . . and does it hurt?” So we quickly realized that we needed to give something of value to our customers so that they would let us sit and observe their back-office operations. The service was free of charge, and we threw out the notion that they would only get what we paid for by wrapping up each study with a top-shelf consulting deliverable. The customer received insight into how they could improve business performance; relationship managers gained a much deeper understanding of their customers; the lives of customer employees were improved; and the ethnography team analyzed the data to identify opportunity areas for Wells Fargo.”

After a careful start, the group’s first few studies were so successful that news spread quickly through Wells Fargo’s grapevine. Before long, relationship managers were calling to put their top customers into the pipeline. Even though the group could manage only a handful of studies at a time, the service gave leadership something to talk about as not only a source of innovation but also an expression of the bank’s commitment to listening to its customers’ needs.

Customers and relationship managers started having deeper conversations, and although customers are, of course, never obligated to implement anything that is recommended, the team tracked results and found an unanticipated so-called side effect—every customer that participated in a study subsequently bought more solutions from Wells Fargo.

One customer, a global sugar manufacturer, invited its long- time relationship manager to its global banking roundup meeting for the first time, marking the first time that Wells Fargo had a seat at the proverbial table. Its CFO commented about Wells Fargo: “This is a bank that really cares about us and wants us to succeed—it’s not just a bank, but a partner.”

Listening harder has also led to many other successes. Here are two.

Ethnography Drives Better Innovation Management

Ethnography studies are powerful at accurately identifying previously undiscovered customer needs, and in one case, ethnographers identified an unmet need that kicked off a new service for the bank. Today, this service helps hundreds of large corporations manage billions of dollars in cash around the world.

It all started with cash managers, who log on to various portals to aggregate account information for their firms. Then they call, e-mail, and fax others within their company to ask about their cash needs and put all of that into an Excel spreadsheet to assess how much cash they will have and need in their accounts after all transactions settle at the end of the day. At one company, the CFO mentioned, “Every day we end up in both a borrowing and investing position.” One cash manager who works fast within a limited period refers to this deadline as a ticking time bomb, because daily she hunts down information from 15 people across 10 subsidiaries and three time zones.

This turned out to be a very consistent need across many customers, so Wells Fargo developed a next-generation treasury management workstation. Understanding the core needs accelerated product delivery by 12 months, saved millions by avoiding unnecessary features, and elicited customer responses, including “How did you know this is what I’d need?”

Creating a simplified solution that also solved customer needs meant that the service could be offered at a price one-tenth that of the nearest competitive offering.

Empathy drives $20 million in top-line revenue growth

The studies and final presentations were not a sales effort, yet customers bought services they had resisted for years, surprising the relationship management teams.

Ethnography studies also led to new ways for Wells Fargo to sell its services. After each study, customers described the shift in the relationship between customers and the bank as “being on our side.” The studies and final presentations were not a sales effort, yet customers bought services they had resisted for years, surprising the relationship management teams.

At one point the head of Wells Fargo’s Treasury Management sales asked a sales consultant, “What? They finally bought what we’ve been telling them for years?! I’ve been out to meet them for two to three years and they’ve never budged. What was it that did it for them?” to which the sales consultant replied, “It was an ethnography study.”

Because of these successes, Wells Fargo’s sales leadership asked the ethnography team to train the entire sales force of more than 800 to perform scaled-down versions of ethnography studies to give Wells Fargo an edge in the market.

The key learning is that sales professionals put aside their expertise so that they could listen, have empathy, be humble, and be curious about what it’s like in their customers’ shoes. By doing this, salespeople were able to transform their conversations, and Kizirian estimates that for Wells Fargo’s 1,000 relationship managers, empathy and ethnography drive a contribution of $20 million in new sales each year.

In summary, ethnography at Wells Fargo identifies the right problems to solve, and then innovation management helps find the right solutions. It helps increase customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and ultimately new revenue, and it is as effective with new product development as it is in the sales process.

One of the keys to success is that listening and empathy aren’t just buzzwords or marketing gimmicks; they’re skills practiced throughout the Wells Fargo organization. At the top, Ellis practices what he preaches—he regularly studies what the ethnographers hear from customers, and he acts on it. From the front line to the back office, it is now a cultural norm for people within Wells Fargo to listen to their customers actively.

7-Tips To Consider Around Your Innovation Training Efforts

In recent years an increasing number of innovation professionals have been exploring opportunities to training, connect and engage employees around innovation skills. As this competency becomes more established, chatter and analysis is generated (just see many of the great articles on Innovation Management) and, perhaps inevitably, vendors create some interesting solutions. It is pretty exciting.

Before proceeding further, and in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I run an innovation training company called Culturevate . However, it may be worth noting that the thinking in this article is based on my experience in creating and running a successful innovation training program at BNY Mellon. So I may have some bias, but it is based on corporate experience, which perhaps is a bias in and of itself. Anyway, I am getting too meta. You get the idea.

So training employees around innovation skills is no small feat, with lots of details that can (and likely will) go wrong. With that in mind, you really do want to get this kind of activity right, driving the most value to your organization and making you look like a champion in the process.

So, what are some important elements to consider as you explore innovation training for your organization:

1) Alignment of training approach to existing processes

There are many different approaches and methodologies to innovation. It is important that the training aligns with the organization’s existing processes and approaches. In my experience, this type of training should also incorporate information on Corporate, Business Unit and Innovation Program priorities. Additionally, consider including information around the various channels and tools that are available to employees to assist their innovative thinking.

2) Targeted audience

Be sure that the training you are setting up is aligned with the needs of the intended audience. Too often I see training that is developed for one audience, but shoe-horned into another employee segment (career level, cultural, Business Unit, geographic, etc.). Taken further, think about how training approaches and content may differ by segment. For example, senior leaders may benefit from more personalized, in person experiences, but economic pressures may dictate more scalable, cost effective approaches for junior employees.

3) Engaging format

Is the training going to really engage and educate employees in ways that they can use to create business value? Online training is all the rage these days, but I often wonder how impactful it is in engaging employees. If 55% of online page views are under 15-seconds, how is someone expected to engage with a webpage for 60-minutes? Your training needs to get participants thinking about how the lessons can be applied to their day-to-day role. Hybrid online / offline training models can be ways to address this issue more effectively.

4) What happens after the training?

It is relatively easy to get everyone excited about a new approach while they are in a room with colleagues. It is more difficult to consider what is going to happen to graduates when they get back to their day-to-day role.

Here are some examples of ways to tackle this issue:

  • Booster courses: Getting participants to come back and do another “booster” course can encourage ongoing behavior change and knowledge retention.
  • Network development: Organizations have been developing innovation employee networks, using names such as Intrapreneurs, Catalysts, Champions, etc. for some time now. Training can be positioned as an entry-point into these networks. Networks can also provide ongoing support to trained employees, with a goal of seeding the broader organization for broad behavior change.
  • Technology: Utilize technology platforms to continually engage trained graduates with discussions, new content, tools and templates. Just be aware that these efforts need to be managed over time and it is easy to lose focus on them, while providing a high quality resource.
  • Include participant’s bosses: These people have a big impact on participants before, during, and after the training. Consider how they can be engaged and directed with your efforts?
  • Rewards and Recognition: Encourage behavior change, during and after the training, with some nice recognition carrots, including promoting successes to the organization. More broadly position the training as a desirable value add to participant’s career development.
  • Track learnings: While lots of training efforts track employees during the training, it is equally important to track the retention of learnings once the training is completed. This kind of data can be tough to source, but is really valuable in terms of tracking success.

5) Take the long-term perspective

As I mentioned, these efforts can get complicated really quickly. Even if only looking at a pilot training effort, be sure to take some time to consider some long-term questions, such as:

  • What internal partners do you need to make this effort work?
  • What will training really do for my program and the business overall?
  • How does the training support or link with my other activities and channels?
  • How can these newly trained people be useful to me beyond the training?
  • How can I make this easy for myself?

Of course, there are no right or wrong answers here. It is just important to consider these issues, by yourself and as a discussion with your colleagues.

6) Appropriate metrics

Running an innovation program within a corporation is always a tricky balancing act. You are trying to create a sense of creativity, but at the same time, you need metrics that align with business value creation. While metrics around attendance, session / presenter ratings, etc. are important, more substantive metrics need to be considered. For example, participant perceptions around the organization being innovative, or employee engagement are valuable, especially if tracked over time.

More substantive metrics can come from tracking the business impact of ideas or thinking generated from the training. These kind of harder, more impactful metrics should be built into your training efforts as much as practical.

7) Ranking elements

You can’t have everything, so consider what are going to be the most important elements to make your training a success. Scalability, cost, online / offline, tailored or set content, participant time commitment, management time commitment, perceived value of training entity, etc. It is important that you define what elements of a training program are going to be most important to participants, the organization and your innovation goals.

A couple of other quick points to consider, which are from more of a personal perspective:

  • Focus on what drives value: Don’t get distracted by bells and whistles. Focus on what will drive a positive result for your program and the participants.
  • Personal relationships: You won’t be working with the sales person long term, so ignore them. Focus on the account managers and vendor leadership. What are they like? Are they going to make your training program a success?
  • Consider the real cost: Vendors will talk about costs, but other prices will emerge over time, so make sure that you really understand what the eventual cost of the program.

Training and engaging employees around innovation skills is where both corporates and the vendor marketplace is heading. It is an exciting point to be and I am happy to provide you with my insights. The above list is not exhaustive, so let me know what else you have come across?