When we think of innovation, we typically think of something new in the realm of product, business model or distribution. We often fail to realise other opportunities for innovation. I came across a talk by Peter Read on the topic of Mindfulness and Entrepreneurship and was pleasantly surprised to see a different type of innovation; innovation in the way we manage people.
As you would imagine from the title of the talk, both examples reference mindfulness, the practice of focusing yourself on your thoughts and emotions in the present moment and is often honed by meditation.
The first example is the London based startup ROLI whose founder Roland Lamb is trained in Zen Buddhism. They encourage mindful practices such as a meeting for sharing appreciations and scheduled Yoga sessions. They have also created the ROLI index, a weekly response to be filled by each team member with the aim of judging their emotional well being and happiness in order to see if this fluctuates or changes on average with the successes of the company (new product release, funding announcements etc.)
A second example is the Search Within Yourself course at Google. Initiated by Chade Meng-Tan, a Singapore-born engineer, the course teaches principles of mindfulness and meditation in order to help Googlers increase their emotional intelligence, awareness and productivity. In his TED talk, Meng is sure to emphasise the positive benefits for the company as a whole, not just the individual.
Both examples strike me as very forward thinking. If we remind ourselves that a company is really the sum of its people, building in practices that systematically increase productivity, happiness and emotional intelligence is a wise investment of time. The above examples focus on mindfulness but innovation in managing people need not be limited to this practice. You can innovate in the way you hold meetings, the way you use your office, the way your teams communicate, the way you manage tasks, the way you pay your staff and so on.
In many ways this is linked to culture. But whereas culture provides a framework for decisions and actions within the company, the approaches above provide a focus on the individual.
I’d imagine many founders will see this as “fluffy” or subordinate in importance to other areas of the company. The effects of investing money in product development are more visible than investing in employee development and happiness. You can imagine the monetary benefits though: higher productivity, more creative ideas, higher employee retention to name a few. (I wish I had numbers to back this up, but I don’t, so for now this is qualitative.)
If anything, I hope the above serves to simply highlight the opportunities available in the innovation of how we manage people and teams. In startup world, where your team is your most valuable resource, this is an area that should not be forgotten yet is often overlooked.