I want to share a real-life example of an organization leading change intelligently to help you on your leadership journey. Through their process, “The Innovation Pipeline” (TIP), AT&T has been able to overcome abysmal 70% change failure rate and achieve continuous innovation.  Although it sounds too good to be true, let’s take a closer look at how their leaders pulled-off this notable – and all-too-uncommon – triumph.

Let’s start by defining TIP. As described in Forbes, “TIP is AT&T’s online crowd-sourcing innovation tool that allows any employee to submit, vote on, and discuss innovative ideas.  Participants use virtual currency to ‘invest’ in the proposals they think will have the greatest impact.  The top-ranked ideas get pitched by their ‘founders’ to senior management, and any approved proposals then move to other phases of incubation including Prototyping, Production, and Commercialization.”

Is it effective? The results speak for themselves. Amazingly, this global organization enticed over half its workforce around the world to “proactively participate in creativity, innovation, and change,” leading to 25,000 ideas and over $38 million invested in potential projects.  

How did they do so? By putting Heart, Head and Hands into action.

Engaging the Heart

As we know from research using the CQ Assessment, most front line leaders lead with the Heart.  Their focus in change is to rally the troops toward new futures.  However, many often feel disempowered from doing so, disenchanted with their ability to make an impact and have their voices heard.  They are like the “bologna in the sandwich,” caught between often legitimate resistance from below, and demanding edicts from above.

AT&T’s TIP enabled front line leaders and employees to have their smart thinking bubble up and get noticed by decision-makers.  It also reinforced to team members across the organization that their contributions matter – regardless of whether their ideas are “chosen” or not.

Inspiring the Head

The CQ Assessment clearly demonstrates that executives lead change from the Head, focusing on scanning for new trends impacting the business and creating strategic visions and plans to bring transformation to their organizations.  However, they can be disconnected from the impact of their “exciting” new visions within their companies.  Leaders at the top are often isolated from the majority of those they lead and are challenged with obtaining real-time, genuine feedback about the status of initiatives.

AT&T’s TIP opened up lines of communication up, down, and across the geographically dispersed system.  Miles of red tape and stifling bureaucracy were eliminated by the crowdsourcing process.  Instead, people with the best ideas and in the best positions to hear real-time, actionable input from key stakeholders (everyone from front-line employees to actual customers) are now able to get them in front of decision-makers who could sponsor them and devote resources.

Help the Hands

Regardless of level, we know from the CQ Assessment that the biggest blind spot during the change process is execution – moving beyond grand visions and motivational kick-offs to “making it real in the field.”  While many leaders have their radars tuned to setting strategy and participating with the people, far fewer have their eyes on the implementation ball.

AT&T’s TIP equipped the people who saw the opportunity and offered the solution to move forward with velocity through design and implementation of their innovation ideas.  With the open, transparent nature of the process, everyone is able to see who these innovators are, how they worked, and the successes they achieved – spawning a lot of information about “internal best practices” as well as internal mentors to connect with for guidance for future projects.  This web of connection will go far towards increasing the probability for sustainability and transforming AT&T even more towards the culture of an agile, resilient, learning organization.

By engaging the Heart, inspiring the Head, and helping the Hands, AT&T’s TIP is a powerful example of impactful innovation, and one that we can use as leaders to create lasting results and sustainable change.

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