Little BIGS®: How Small Changes Create Real Innovation Success

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Synopsis

Throw out the notion that fostering innovation requires large corporate overhauls and change initiatives. Lisa Bodell shows how small changes—the “Little BIGS®”—can create big ripple effects across your organization.

Slippers placed by the bed, gourmet chocolate on the pillow, a bottle of water on the nightstand: who doesn’t appreciate nightly turndown service? Hoteliers (and their loyal guests) recognize the power of details, and in my new book, Kill the Company, I translate this idea into a powerful culture change concept that works, called “Little BIGS®.”

Two decades of experience with Fortune 500 clients have shown me, without exception, that employees resist large-scale mandates. So if we want people to approach change differently, we have to change our approach. Showing people how you want them to behave is more powerful than telling them—or worse yet, mandating it. Instead of top-down initiatives that generate eye-rolling or fear of increased work, it’s the small things—the “Little BIGS®”—that can truly ignite powerful and lasting behavior change. Little BIGS® can be as simple as changing a policy, approach, contract, or a meeting. But it all starts with you.

While a grand announcement about your innovation plans sends a signal for change, the change often stops there. People don’t have the time or energy for big change plans unless they believe that, this time, leadership will genuinely participate. How? Start by quietly shaking up the status quo through your own behavior. Little BIGS® are about “showing vs. telling,” so when you and your team start leading by example, you create opportunities for people to witness change firsthand. Here are a few ideas for small changes proven to create big ripple effects:

•                  Respect Other’s Time. Resist the urge to hit the “reply all” button. Limit your meetings to five people. Wrap up five minutes early. Dismiss your team at 4pm on Wednesdays during the summer. These gestures signify respect for the team’s time and encourage efficient use of resources.

•                  Use Positive Inquiry Techniques. Try replacing defensive or skeptical language with open-ended questions: “In what ways might we do X?” is much more productive—and respectful—than “Why didn’t you do X?” By reframing discussions, you can turn the usual litany of excuses into a solutions exchange.

•                  Invite ‘In the Box’ Thinking. Place a box outside each manager’s door to encourage anonymous suggestions from employees. Maintain momentum and morale by implementing at least one suggestion a month.

•                  Kill a Stupid Rule. Like a suggestion box on steroids, this exercise has the power to invigorate employees across a department—or an entire company. Host a meeting and ask your team which company or departmental rules should be killed. Organize them on individual sticky notes and classify them according to how easy they are to kill and how strongly the impact would be felt if killed. After a spirited discussion, take a vote and kill a rule—or two. Most likely, many of the “rules” are really just annoyances like long reports, reimbursement protocol, and sign-offs. Killing these processes not only energizes employees, it frees up their time for projects that can help grow the business. Further guidelines for Kill a Stupid Rule are illustrated in Chapter Four of Kill the Company.

•                  Try Random Acts of Kindness. Put it into workplace practice with handwritten thank-you notes, birthday balloons, or afternoon lattes on your dime. Your team will not only notice—they’ll start following your lead.

•                  Encourage Empowerment. Demonstrate trust in your teams’ judgment by asking them to make three decisions a week without your approval. This Little BIG is a win-win: they’ll hone their critical-thinking skills and you’ll get a few hours of your life back.

Like a chocolate on the pillow, Little BIGS® are small gestures that radiate outward and organically encourage large-scale cultural change. Small adjustments in your own behavior unhinge the status quo and set off a ripple effect. Instead of overwhelming employees with a massive overhaul, take a bite-sized approach to the workplace revolution. By applying a few of the simple ideas above, you will witness real results that create a lasting—and strategic—change in your company.

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Tags: business, innovation, kill the company, little bigs, positive inquiry techniques, workplace culture

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