Five ways to get out of a rut and get moving

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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Stuck. That’s how slow growth economies make everyone feel. Just when companies need fresh ideas and strategies to secure the future, employees are overloaded and disengaged. Organizations in every field need innovative approaches.

Here are a variety of ways to climb out of the rut and get moving in a positive direction.

Break up the formula. Shake up structures and time blocks. Add surprises that vary the routine and encourage customer attention and employee creativity. Use pop-up stores that appear temporarily, then disappear, to capture attention for short bursts of intense effort. If the formula is a big bag of crackers, make it in a 100-calorie mini-version. If the company is known for big box stores in the suburbs, create small box stores in the city. The important thing is to encourage a culture in which assumptions can be constantly challenged. Sure, it’s efficient to do things one way repeatedly, but it’s boring and stifles innovation.

Demonstrate new capabilities through social purpose. One way to entice customers and motivate employees is to give new products, services, or capabilities to great causes before they’re fully commercialized. A telecom company showed the world the power of high-speed data transmission by putting it first in a middle school in a disadvantaged community, thereby dramatically improving the school and refining the product. IBM set up World Community Grid as a not-for-profit organization to donate new high-powered grid computing networks to significant and compelling scientific projects, such as seeking cures for cancer and mapping rivers for environmental purposes. Community good works can be an opportunity to showcase the best and latest capabilities, thereby benefiting society, promoting the company, and inspiring employees.

Decorate with ideas. Corporate art is often beautiful but over-rated as a source of inspiration. The walls in restricted corridors near the lunch buffet at Mars headquarters are filled with posters and photos featuring employee achievements, such as the winners in a global innovation contest. Everyone can see the ideas in details and get to know the teams behind them. Employees can find the same information on the web, but the impact of the live “art” is powerful. Similarly, a small tech company hangs flip chart pages with the results of employee brainstorming. People vie to have their ideas recorded to be seen among the charts. Lavish oil paintings wouldn’t have the same effect

Create a diplomatic force. Enthusiastic employees in any job, from cleaning crews to middle managers, can help tell the company story to friends, family, neighbors, media, and local institutions — but only if they want to. Find those with positive views and communication skills. Give them training that makes them feel special, outfit them with badges and materials, and offer bonuses. Encourage each group to recruit others, with no limits on how many people can get involved.

Offer employee amenities that spread relationships and ideas. Besides basic compensation and benefits, organizations can add amenities of value to individuals that also build relationships, spur innovation, encourage trend-spotting, and generally create a motivating culture. For example, Bloomberg’s coffee and snack bars that nudge people to mix and mingle, or PepsiCo’s buses that bring carless urbanites to its suburban campus while encouraging conversations and setting the tone for the day. Outside of work, companies can give employees coupons for discounts on vacation travel to business-strategic locations or places that the company might be considering and ask for any post-trip observations.

A little imagination and modest strategic investments can lift spirits and growth prospects.

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Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of Confidence and SuperCorp. Connect with her on Facebook or at

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