Tag Archives: leadership

Curiosity, continuous improvement and innovation. RiverRhee Newsletter, September-October 2018

By Elisabeth Goodman, 8th October 2018

Francesca Gino’s article on “The business case for curiosity”, in the September-October issue of Harvard Business Review (pp. 48-57) is my source of inspiration for this issue of our bi-monthly newsletter.

The newsletter also includes details of our remaining scheduled courses for 2018, and some early plans for 2019.

2018-10-08 12.59.13

Key points from Francesca Gino’s “The business case for curiosity”, Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct 2018, pp.48-57

Francesca Gino’s article has lots of great fact and data from surveys and studies and case studies – which make the article a fascinating read should anyone wish to take a look for themselves.

I’ve pulled out the conclusions under three main headings: how curiosity leads to better performance, the barriers that can get in the way of curiosity, and how to encourage greater curiosity at work.

Greater curiosity leads to better performance

Curiosity in practice equates to an interest in new ideas, learning and development, continuous improvement, creativity and innovation.

Individual team members and leaders who demonstrate curiosity in these ways are more likely to:

  • Be more collaborative as they listen to and build on each others’ ideas
  • Demonstrate less un-constructive* conflict (for the same reasons)
  • Gain more trust and respect from their colleagues
  • Make more effective decisions (as they consider a wider range of alternatives)
  • Enhance their personal (or ‘soft’) and technical skills
  • Better position their organisation for success

[*We at RiverRhee strongly believe in the value and power of constructive conflict as a way of encouraging the open exchange of ideas, feelings and opinions – as described in this blog “Conflict is the lifeblood of high performing organisations”]

The barriers that can get in the way of curiosity

As with so many things, a leader or manager can easily discourage curiosity by their behaviour towards it

A leader or manager will put barriers in the way of curiosity if they are overly concerned about:

  • Timelines and efficiency
  • Avoiding potential chaos or conflict

How to encourage greater curiosity at work

And so a leader can do much to create a culture of greater curiosity at work.

Managers and leaders can role-model curiosity

A manager or leader who asks questions. listens to and acknowledges what others have to say will demonstrate what it is to be curious.  This, rather than telling, is likely to lead to trust and respect from others.  It’s OK to not know the answer, especially if that is followed-up with a desire to find out and learn from others.

Managers and leaders can give individuals the time and resources to explore

Key performance indicators are important drivers of performance, but so is the opportunity to learn and be creative.  If individuals and organisations are focused solely on meeting deadlines, there will be little scope for reflection, exploration and innovation.

Francesca Gino quotes Ford’s and Toyota’s approaches to process improvement and one of the principles that we teach is that it should be used to free up people’s time for reflection and creativity.

Dan Pink also emphasises the importance of giving people time to explore to satisfy their motivational need for autonomy and mastery. (See Motivation – a refresher… eight years on..) Some organisations go as far as giving people a periodic creativity day when they can do this.  Or they pay for learning and development opportunities that might be outside the immediate scope of the employees current role.

Hire for curiosity

There are some suggestions for how to do this in the HBR article:

  • Ask the interviewee about their interests outside work.  What they enjoy reading or learning about can be a good indicator of curiosity – especially it this goes beyond their area of expertise
  • Assess them on their collaborative skills as well as the depths of their skills (described as ‘T-shaped” skills by IDEO.  The horizontal stroke is the collaborative capability which should include empathy and curiosity.  The vertical stroke is the depth of skill.)
  • Listen to the questions that the candidate asks – especially if these go beyond questions on the immediate role – as another indicator of curiosity.
  • Administer a curiosity assessment (of which apparently there are many validated examples…)

(We have more tips on the interview process in our training on Recruitment and Interview skills.)

Teach and encourage people to ask ‘Why?’ and ‘How could we?’

The ‘5 Why’s’ that we teach in our Lean and Six Sigma training echoes one of Francesca Gino’s recommendations.  We also teach managers on our management training courses the value of asking open questions to promote the sharing of ideas by their direct reports.

“How could we?” is a great way of engaging people in finding ways to address problems – and one that Ludo Chapman of The Innovation Practice use in a recent strategy and team building event that I co-facilitated with him.

Create an environment that supports curiosity

We know that people learn and explore in different ways.  Some people do so more through individual research and reflection, others do so through their interactions with others.

Francesca Gino puts more emphasis on the latter: giving people the opportunity to network with others, creating collaborative working spaces, promoting cross-training.  We also believe that people need the opportunity for individual reflection, and encourage our delegates to find creative ways of scheduling such opportunities into their agendas.


Our schedule of remaining courses for 2018 and early planning for 2019 can be accessed on our web site and is also shown here:

For those on a management journey:

  • Introduction to Management (11th-13th December). An in-depth three-day course for those who are new to management or have been doing it for some time
  • Transition to Leadership* For those moving into a leadership role
  • One-day Supervisors’ course (10th January 2019). If all you want is one day of training to get you started
  • Coaching Skills for Managers (11th June 2019) To further develop your coaching skills
  • Recruitment and Interview Skills* Essential skills for managers involved in the recruitment process

For day-to-day process and project management:

  • Introduction to Lean and Six Sigma (6th November). Explore how you can gain up to 20% savings by improving your processes
  • Introduction to Project Management (8th November). All the basics for managing your projects effectively

For essential capability and confidence building skills in other aspects of your work:

  • Assertiveness*
  • Effective Influencing and Communication*.
  • First steps in selling (7th November). Building effective relationships with your customers when selling is not necessarily your thing
  • Presentation skills (13th November).
  • Managing change (15th November). How to deal with and lead change in your organisation

* Please enquire for dates in 2019.


All of RiverRhee’s courses can be scheduled on demand, either to run in-house for your company, or to publicise as an open course for other delegates. We can also explore most topics in one-to-one coaching sessions.

Do get in touch if you would like to find out more about RiverRhee, and how we can help you to create exceptional managers and teams.  See the RiverRhee Consulting website or e-mail the author at elisabeth@riverrhee.com or contact Elisabeth on 07876 130 817.



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Adaptability, leadership and teams. RiverRhee Newsletter, July-August 2018

By Elisabeth Goodman, 8th August 2018

We like to build our bi-monthly newsletters around specific themes, inspired by recent events, or subjects we have come across.

Daniel Goleman et al’s booklet no.3 Adaptability, in his Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence seemed a fitting subject for this issue, which also includes details of our remaining scheduled courses for 2018

Adaptability_Daniel Goleman et al

Extract from Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence – 3: Adaptability, by Daniel Goleman et al, Key Step Media & More than Sound, 2017

Why is adaptability so important?

For the individual

As Goleman points out in his introduction to the subject, adaptability is the strongest predictor of an individual’s success in life and in their career (whatever the definition of success might be).  Apparently, adaptability tops all of the other 11 emotional or social competencies defined in the series for this effect.

We have been truly impressed by the quality of delegates that we have been getting on our training courses in recent months, and the extent to which they have demonstrated adaptability.  We encourage our delegates to develop action plans at the end of the courses.

These plans often demonstrate in-depth personal reflection and include intentions to adapt their behaviours and working practices.  Where we’ve had the opportunity to carry out follow-up coaching, the individuals have implemented the plans with very good results for themselves, their direct reports and their teams.

For the team

Adaptability is also an important competence for operational and project teams.  As Vanessa Druskat describes in her chapter on “Team and Adaptability”, change is a constant factor for teams.

They need to be nimble and respond to changes in remit and timelines if they are to be successful.  Druskat suggests that the highest performing teams regularly assess and update what they are doing in terms of their goals, plans and working practices.

Team diagnostic tools can help with this and feature in our Management courses and Team Development workshops. We also put a strong focus on proactive behaviours such as risk management in our Project Management courses, and problem solving techniques in our Introduction to Lean and Six Sigma.   All of these are approaches will help teams’ adaptability.

Adaptability is also a condition for innovation.  As Richard Boyatzis points out, in his chapter on “Adaptability and Leadership”, a leader can influence a team’s ability to innovate by being open to new ideas – not only in how they respond to suggestions from the team, but also by actively eliciting ideas from the team.

What is adaptability?

The illustration above is a handy description of adaptability.  Adaptability is about how one responds to change and uncertainty, how one innovates – whilst still being focused on the end goal.

Boyatzis has a useful addition to this.  He says adaptability is about being able to alter your thinking, approach and feelings to a response that is more useful or effective.

He also contrasts adaptability with rigidity.  Individuals, teams, organisations, nations etc. that demonstrate rigidity will often find themselves in power struggles.  The outcome of these struggles will be win / lose situations and unresolvable conflict.

However, Boyatzis also suggests that people might also want to retain a certain amount of rigidity to protect their values – so that it’s a question of balance.

Goleman emphasizes what distinguishes highly adaptable people in his concluding anecdote.  The individual concerned demonstrated a high level of tolerance for risk, ambiguity and stress – combined with a strong confidence in their ability to tackle any challenge that arose.

How to become more adaptable?

The authors of the various chapters have some great tips, ranging from the better known “Situational Leadership” approach that we teach in our management and leadership courses, to personal and team reflection, and neurological practices.

Adapting your leadership style

Vanessa Druskat reminds us of the importance of adapting your leadership style to the context.  This could be a team that requires a more directive or hands-off approach depending on the situation.  It could also be an individual that is in need of more coaching and support, as opposed to delegation and more scope for their initiative.  An adaptable leader will be aware of the best style to adopt for the given situation.

Personal reflection

Richard Boyatzis has some great tips for the kinds of questions you can ask yourself which I have adapted slightly as follows:

  • Ask yourself: “Is there another way… ?”… to do this, to respond etc.
  • In a conflict situation ask yourself: “What questions can I ask to better understand the other person’s perspective?”
  • In a group situation ask: “How could we approach this differently?”

By the way there is more about this in booklet number 10: Conflict Management, which is written up in Elisabeth Goodman’s blog Conflict is “the lifeblood of high performing organisations”.

Team reflection

The section above on why adaptability is important to the team already references some of the approaches available for teams to carry out self-evaluation.  Vanessa Druskat emphasizes the importance of making this a regular formal process for the team, with everyone included, and healthy open communication.

We also teach a range of learning approaches for teams in our Project Management, and Knowledge Management courses.

Druskat talks about the importance of a positive mindset or “Affirmative Environment” as a team norm.  And also a “Pro-active problem solving” team norm.

Neurological practices

Richard J. Davidson’s chapter on “Training your Brain to be Flexible” has some great insights on the neurological basis for adaptability.

He suggests that a healthy hippocampus is the key to this.  It is connected to other brain regions such as the amygdala (for emotions) and the prefrontal cortex (for guiding behaviour and anticipating the future.)

A healthy hippocampus will enable us to respond to the different contexts or situations that we find ourselves in at home and at work; when focusing on processes vs. interactions with people; when dealing with stressful situations.  It will enhance our adaptability.

The hippocampus has a high density of receptors for the stress hormone cortisol.  High levels of cortisol can apparently result in cell death and abnormalities, which will negatively impact the performance of the hippocampus and hence that of the other brain regions.

A healthy hippocampus is one where there is good cell growth (also referred to as neuroplasticity), and where this new growth is encoded with positive experiences.  We can encourage this healthy development through regular aerobic exercise and stress reducing activities.  Davidson’s suggestions include walks in nature, petting our pets, acts of kindness to others and meditation.


As Goleman and others point out, adaptability also relates to other aspects of emotional and social intelligence such as self-awareness, self-control and a positive outlook.

Goleman concludes that adaptability relies on a mindset where:

  • change is viewed as positive
  • problems are opportunities
  • conflict is productive

[Again, great messages that we reinforce in our courses that have been mentioned above, and also in our courses on dealing with or leading change.]

Adaptability relies on openness, flexibility and resilience.  People who are adaptable focus on anticipated benefits rather than a fear of the unknown, of pain or of loss.

Goleman encourages us to look for role models that we can learn from!


Other booklets in Goleman et al’s series that we have already written blogs on:

Our schedule of remaining courses for 2018 can be accessed on our web site and is also shown here:

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 15.58.11

Do get in touch if you would like to find out more about RiverRhee, and how we can help you to create exceptional managers and teams.

See the RiverRhee Consulting website or e-mail the author at elisabeth@riverrhee.com or contact Elisabeth on 07876 130 817.




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