Companies say staff development is critical for their success. But what do they do?
Some have their staff building toy bridges out of Lego Blocks to learn “creativity.” Others engage their staff in extreme physical activities, like running through mud, to learn “teamwork.” My first reaction when I learn that a company is doing these things is to want to short their stock. Why aren’t their people learning creativity and teamwork doing their jobs? If you are not excited and learning new skills doing your work, something is very wrong with the company.
A Silicon Valley company has adopted the Shark Tank format for funding potential new innovations. You can imagine how they might rationalize doing this. It captures the hip spirit of Silicon Valley where people compete for funding from hyper-aggressive venture capitalists (VCs). It brings company-wide attention to the need for new innovations, it motivates a few staff, and it creates visible rewards for coming up with new ideas. It may also interest staff to watch Shark Tank, where they might learn a bit about giving pitches to VCs. Those benefits are likely true, but overall this is a bad idea.
Sharks kill people. The Shark Tank image is negative, where most lose. Words and images matter. It does not reinforce the fundamental idea that value creation is the responsibility of everyone in the company. The Shark Tank model does not enhance enterprise-wide collaboration, one of the hardest and most important behaviors needed for sustained enterprise success.
A Shark Tank is a poor setting for making decisions and making investments. These pitches are just to start the discussion. It is almost certain that if an idea has any value, then the first pitch is the beginning of a long value-creation process. That is, it is not a good way to emphasize the importance of value creation, which is where almost all proposed new innovations fail and where almost all companies do a poor job. In all of our workshops, fewer than 1 in 5 of the initiatives presented would deliver any value. They decide this, we just provide a platform for them to come to that realization. The waste in people and resources is tremendous.
At the enterprise level, the idea of everyone being an entrepreneur and knowing how to fill out 15 VC charts is not helpful. There are very few entrepreneurs in companies but everyone can and should be a value creator. The problem in companies, national labs, incubators, and university technology transfer programs is that they almost all use poor value-creation methodologies, the precursor to innovation and entrepreneurship. Shark Tanks are not focused on the main problem — value creation — which is where so many initiatives and companies fail and where our attention should be placed.