How this CTO encourages sustainable innovation
Innovation is easy – if you’re willing to sacrifice everything in the process. Sustainable innovation is what we really want. Peak 10 CTO Mike Fuhrman has a unique insight into how to facilitate growth without sacrificing stability.
The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Frequently you'll hear that rules and regulations strangle innovation, but it seems the opposite is true here. How have you created new rules that allow you to pursue opportunities?
Mike Fuhrman: We’ve adapted the rules to encourage innovation. As an example, we’ve stated very plainly that we expect people to make mistakes. You cannot expect great things without failures at one point or another. And when someone makes a mistake – and it’s done with good intent to drive the business forward – we all stand by that person as a team. However, we ensure that customer-facing systems (and impact) are off-limits for risk-taking. We also plainly state that, while we will all have your back on the first mistake, that you are on your own when repeating the same mistake over and over.
People work best with defined boundaries and expectations, and our team has embraced the new structure. We have quarterly hackathons, which is a day for our teams to break away from the daily task-list and spend uninterrupted time working on something they are passionate about. But it comes with rules: The work must be related to the business, you must work in teams, and you must present your findings and recommendations to the executive team when complete.
With these rules and boundaries in place, we’ve seen a renewed enthusiasm from our team and results that are adding positive business impact above and beyond the formal road mapped items. We literally had one idea up and become operational in our customer support center within 24 hours of the executive presentation! You can just imagine the level of job satisfaction across the team.
TEP: How does this improved structure facilitate calculated risk taking?
Fuhrman: With a firm understanding of expectations, our team can now feel comfortable taking calculated risks. Gone are the days where you are scared to stick your neck out for fear of reprimand. Amazing things happen when you are actually encouraged by your manager to take risks and when you have confidence in knowing the boundaries to stay within.
TEP: What is the biggest pitfall when pitching ambitious opportunities to the rest of the organization?
Fuhrman: Ambitious projects too often coincide with large, long, and complex projects – and the antibodies tend to come across the company when someone attempts to pitch such ideas. The key is taking what may be an amazing and much-needed idea, and being able to break it down into digestible pieces. These pieces should have clearly defined start and stop dates, hard and soft cost estimates, and a defined outcome at the end.
It’s also important to know your audience. We train managers in my organization to learn how different leaders make decisions and then to ensure they tailor the message to that decision maker. Peer support is another factor we encourage. It’s so much easier to sell an idea when you have a supporting cast of peers giving a thumbs up on your idea versus popping out of a vacuum with a new idea that no one has had involvement in.