When Hewlett-Packard (HP) Norway appointed Anita Krohn Traaseth managing director in 2012, she implemented a “speed date the boss” program. She invited every employee from every organization level for an informal, five-minute conversation based on three themes. She encouraged people to bring their big ideas on innovating individually and collectively.
- Who are you, and what do you do at HP?
- Where do you think we should change, and what should we keep focusing on?
- What do you want to contribute beyond fulfilling your job responsibilities? Or, do you have a talent or skill you don’t get to use now in your position?
Everyone’s an Innovator: Ramp up creativity with your frontline employees
Krohn Traaseth’s initiative defined the roadmap for her tenure. It pushed HP to become one of Norway’s top workplaces within three years. HP Norway improved every major organizational performance measure, such as staff turnover, customer satisfaction, top-line growth, and bottom-line performance.
Not only that, her discussions uncovered that there were 30 skilled musicians on her payroll. HP Norway formed a band, which played live to 1,800 company executives in Barcelona in 2013, gaining better visibility to her Norwegian outpost.
Following Krohn Traaseth’s success, other HP divisions and employers have now introduced the concept of ‘Speed Date the Boss’ initiatives in other countries.
Idea for Impact: Value the frontline people in your organization as talented assets, not cheap cogs.
Krohn Traaseth’s program was so successful because, as the top boss, she showed that she was willing to listen. She also openly modeled her willingness to listen to her management teams and foster their engagement.
- When employees see the boss willing to receive honest feedback and no one’s head rolls, they’re more likely to speak up.
- Soliciting ideas directly from employees individually, rather than holding brainstorms, takes the edge off group dynamics. Group settings aren’t where all employees feel free to share their best–and bold—ideas.
- Rank-and-file employees can be a great source of innovation if only their leaders listen to them. Organizational innovation doesn’t have to trickle top-down or emanate from the R&D team. The best way to produce great ideas is to start by generating many ideas. Encourage everyone on your team to think, contribute, and participate.
PS: Anita Krohn Traaseth is now the CEO of Innovation Norway, a state-sponsored project focused on promoting innovation and economic development. She’s the author of Good Enough for the Bastards (2014,) a Norwegian version of Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013.)
Cf: See my guide on preparing an action plan at a new job by collecting the expectations of all the people with whom your new role interacts.