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Improvisation is the Fulcrum to Leveraging Your Greatest Asset

Do you know what your greatest asset is as a CEO, CFO, or partner in an accounting firm? If you answered your employees, you would be correct. Leveraging your greatest asset means multiplying the productivity of that resource without a significant input. Each one of your employees can be leveraged by incorporating improvisation to create positive results in a business economy that favors innovation.

Creativity is the Foundation of Innovation

When I hold creativity workshops, the common theme I run into is that people think they have bad ideas. I say, bad ideas lead to good ideas and that having no ideas leads to nothing. In order for creativity to flow, the inner critic inside of all of us has to be silenced. The inner critic is that voice that says you will fail. It is the voice that says they will think your idea is stupid or that, if your suggestion is not used, you are a failure.

When you get a whole office being dictated by a collective force of inner critics, you end up dead in the water because today’s market is based on the current innovation running all around the world.  You get stuck doing the same thing as last year and the year before. It has become a race to see who will meet the shifting needs of the rising generations in both your external and internal customers.

Many times, when we leverage sales, we will upsell or upgrade, throw in a bonus right before the sale. It yields a greater profit. To, leverage the profitability of your employees you are looking for a way to silence their inner critics and release a collective flow of creativity so innovation can lead the way.

Improv Silences the Inner Critic

There are unlimited team building workshops and activities we send our employees on. But most people will attend because they are required and as soon as Monday rolls back around, it is back to counting beans and pushing papers. There was no real connection made between the employees and the events have become more of an excuse to have fun, as a type of paid for bonus rather than applying real team building principles. The inner critics remain alive and creativity dead.

What if you brought in a completely new approach? What if the organizational status is left out of the room when brainstorming ways to innovate the processes and what if everyone’s ideas are respected? What if you began to approach employees using the skills of improv?

The concept of improv is more popular now off stage. Business schools are rapidly adding improvisational acting classes to their curriculum. Kip Kelly is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at UNC Executive Development. He wrote a paper on leadership agility and how to use improvisation to build the critical skills needed in our rapidly evolving business climate. In response to how to develop agile business leaders, he hit the nail on the head. “While knowledge and experience remain critical, it is becoming increasingly important to develop leaders with the ability to deal with ambiguity and change, to lead and foster innovation and creativity, and to make and implement decisions quickly.

The Principle of “Yes, And…” Promotes Creativity

Focus on creating a culture that encourages bad ideas! Better yet, throw out a bad idea on purpose to see what your team does with it. Lead by example. Bad ideas lead to good ideas and though it may be intimidating for a first-year analyst to be tossing ideas around with the CFO, try to start incorporating regular brainstorming sessions.

Their inner critic will probably go crazy. But when that one person speaks up and throws an idea in the hat that doesn’t fit in the budget right now, how you respond will make or break the climate you are trying to cultivate. “Yes, that is a good idea, but… that won’t work right now. Anyone else?” Saying “yes… but…” shuts things down. Listen to the difference when you use the “yes, and…” approach.

Yes, that is a good idea, and I think that is worth looking into more. How can we make this something we can jump on even quicker?” Maybe the event can be scaled down. Maybe it can be planned for in the future. “Yes, and…” is about being agreeable and continuing the conversation. When the conversation is continued, you are promoting an atmosphere of acceptance and possibilities, not one of rejection and defeat.

Every effective leader knows how to leverage their greatest asset. It may be by implementing regular brainstorming sessions, mind mapping, and even bringing in improv educators to improve communication within the workplace. When employees communicate better, get along better, and have a more open line of communication all the way up the chain, productivity goes up because innovation is flowing through a strong current of acceptance. 

Focus on creating a culture that encourages bad ideas. Bad ideas lead to good ideas. No ideas lead to nothing. 

Ep. 90 – Laura Stoll: Using Improv to Develop Internal Talent & Manage Change

Laura Stoll is the Talent Development Consultant at Ernst & Young, and she has a fascinating perspective on how you can develop top talent within your organization that is influenced by her background in improv.

Laura studied at Second City, iO, and ComedySportz Chicago. She even has the distinction of being the only student ever thrown out of previous guest (and current husband) Jay Sukow’s classroom!

At EY, Laura strategizes, designs, and consults on large-scale programs designed to improve the value of the internal talent organization, which includes over 8,000 people. Their big focus right now is on the Career Journey.

In every organization, people tend to resist change, especially the kind of large-scale change that Laura aims to create. So change management becomes critical, and that’s where the fundamentals of improv can really come into play.

Improv isn’t about making things up––it’s about planning like mad, and then being prepared to throw your script away to meet the needs of the person you are talking to or working with. Learning improvisational skills inspires a more adaptable mindset, and you can’t approach change without that.

Possibly the most exciting thing about Laura’s work at EY is that other people see the value of these skills, and the top leaders in the organization are getting excited about improv. There’s simply no way to effectively inspire a change in culture without buy-in from the top, so this is a huge step for a huge organization.

And taking that step isn’t optional any more, for any organization. Global markets and whole industries are shifting rapidly – the organizations and individuals who resist change will be left behind.

“If you’re not actively moving to shift your skill set so that you can be more in the moment, react, and respond – and ultimately be a trusted business advisor – you’re going to be left behind because that’s just the way things are evolving.”

If you want to take your first step today, just practice awareness: When you feel yourself putting up a wall, saying no, or reacting negatively, pause and ask yourself, “How could it work?” It’s basic, but that little tweak will start you on the path to change.

 

Resources:

Getting Creative

Silhouette People Meeting Team Creative Process ConceptWhen asked what you do for a living, what do you answer? Accountant or business manager or maybe partner in a CPA firm? That may be what your business card says, but in reality what you should say is “I am a problem solver”. That’s the value you bring to clients: you make their businesses run more smoothly by resolving problems that create obstacles to success.

The best problem solvers are also very creative. They look beyond the obvious job duties and investigate opportunities. Rather than complete the tasks assigned by clients (or bosses), creative problem solvers look deeper into the project. They identify potential liabilities, brainstorm potential solutions, do their research and discuss the options with their client.

Now you may say that you just aren’t creative, that it’s right brain versus left brain, that it’s something you are born with or you aren’t. Not true. Creativity can and should be nurtured and developed in every person. Even accountants!

Most business leaders are driven by the bottom line. Investing in developing creativity in your staff has to yield dividends, and it does. Here are the facts*.

•  Companies that embrace creativity outperform those that don’t 1.5 to 1
•  58% of those who foster creativity increased annual revenue by 10% or more. Only 20% of less creative companies had similar growth.
•  82% of companies believe there is a strong connection between creativity and business results.
•  60% of companies who foster creativity in their team have received award and recognition as a “best place to work.”
•  Despite the facts, 61% of senior managers do not describe their companies as creative!

So what does it take to bring out the creativity in your team? Start with yourself.
•  As the leader of your team, are you open and receptive to new ideas?
•  Is brainstorming a part of the process – actively soliciting ideas that challenge the norm.
•  Is your team encouraged to try something new, to avoid SALY (Same As Last Year).
•  Are you a “Yes, but…” leader or a “Yes, and…” leader?

If you answered no to any of these points, you may be the problem. The solution: get professional help. Let’s talk – you can be a creative, problem solver.

 

* Results from a Forrester Consulting Survey

Embrace Your Inner Superhero!

It’s true…every CPA has Superhero potential. One of my most popular keynotes and presentation, Embrace Your Inner Superhero, presents helps break down barriers and provides tips and tools for pushing yourself to a placed that allows you to perform great feats!

Here’s a portion of my presentation…Enjoy!

 

Georgia Society of CPAs

Leadership From A Slightly Different Perspective

Leaders create growth their companies and in others through their vision, passion and integrity. If you are serious about becoming a more effective leader, but ready for a slightly different perspective, this fun and unique class is just what you are looking for.

This course will discuss how to incorporate the principles of improvisational comedy into your own personal leadership style. Explore how leadership is enhanced by the power of networking, the diversity of the generations, and communication between departments. Leverage your creativity, inspiration, public speaking and presentational skills to bring more value to your company and your career.