November 5

Creating an Innovative Organisational Structure

From now on we’re all going to be innovative! Hurrah! Much cheering and releasing of balloons into the night sky! But of course we still need to keep an eye on profitability and cash flow so our zero tolerance policy on wastage will still remain in force and we’ll still be targeting and rewarding you based on a minimum time spent answering customer queries and the number of products sold.

Does that sound familiar? Does that feel right, or very very wrong? The fact is that you can talk about innovative corporate strategies and about changes in organisational culture until you’re blue in the face but unless you are prepared to transform the basic structure of the organisation then you are simply wasting your time. How can you expect people to interact, to collaborate in creating forward-thinking solutions if you don’t allow them to leave their desks? How can you expect people to be adaptable, to experiment in order to speed up the time to market if you punish failure? And how can you claim to promote insight, to really understand your customers if your people are targeted on call volume not quality of interaction?

This is why when we talk about building a culture of innovation, we stress the fact that it’s not a bolt on to an existing culture, but a complete culture change which will eventually affect every aspect of the organisational structure. This concept, the need to create an innovation environment was discussed by Paul Hobcraft on the Hype Innovation Blog earlier this year. In the article, Paul analysed two particular assessment models which he believes have applications for creating and assessing an innovative structure; Terisa Amabile’s Climate for Creativity model and the Creative Climate Questionnaire developed by Gören Ekvall.

His conclusion was that reviews of this nature may provide a snapshot but can become a powerful enabler to change. In other words with the climate and conditions “constantly improving the environment for innovation – the culture learns to adapt and recognize this as the everyday ‘way of working’.”

It’s an important lesson, and it’s one which we echo in our new book ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’. Changing the organisational culture at any time can be somewhat akin to the challenge of stopping and turning a supertanker. The intention may be immediate, but the momentum is such that it can have travelled some distance from the original point before any change is seen. When you’re talking about modifying the organisational culture to embrace innovation then unless you plan, structure and introduce the change in the right way then the sheer weight of momentum will roll over the attempt to change, crushing it in its path.

So when you’re building a culture of innovation, it pays to be prepared. Be prepared to overcome resistance, be prepared to change the risk reward matrix, be prepared to change departmental structures and outlooks and expectations. But most important of all, be prepared to change your own leadership style. Creating an innovative organisational structure means first creating an innovative outlook throughout the leadership team. After all, if you can’t change then how can you expect your people to change?

There’s nothing wrong in having a party to grab the attention and introduce forthcoming changes in the organisational structure and culture. But if you’re not prepared for all that change means, then all you’ll be left with is a hangover.


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