March 24

Leading the Way Towards Innovation – Part 2 of 4

The speed with which the “computer says no” catch phrase flew out from the Little Britain sketch show and into the national consciousness says as much about our instinctive response to authority as it does about our reaction to the way in which computers were taking over our lives.

The truth is that even as we like to think of ourselves as having free will, there is something strangely comforting about having the decision taken away from us; of relying on rules and processes to govern our actions. And whilst some rules arise from basic common sense, others seem designed simply to make life appear simpler for those in charge.  Chart the growth of the vast majority of organisations and sooner or later statistics, time sheets, reports, processes, hierarchies, procedures will all start to creep in to the mix.  Almost without realising it, what started as a small flexible enterprise becomes an entity in which even if the computer doesn’t say no, the day to day life is governed by procedure and the perception of what the boss would want.

It is this perception of how things should be which is dependent on the actions of the CEO and leadership teams and which only the leadership team can turn around.  Anyone who thinks they can create an innovation culture by sitting in an office and issuing directives had better think again.  In our article “The first step towards innovation” we looked at the importance of creating an innovation strategy.  In this article we are focusing on the ways in which the CEO and leadership teams need to take that strategy to the organisation.

Let’s get one thing clear at the outset.  Creating an innovation culture doesn’t mean throwing all the rules out of the window but it does mean balancing metrics and corporate governance against the establishment of an environment which is supportive of innovation and risk taking.  Part of this means accepting that failure is a bi-product of learning and that some projects may not succeed.

So the first step on the road which leads towards an innovation culture is for the leadership teams to be seen to step away from punish and blame and to embrace a learning culture.  Turning the organisation away from one which punishes mistakes into one which accepts “learning episodes” is not easy but each time that mistakes are punished, employees are given the message that error is wrong and they will be less likely to try.  Conversely, when the “learning episode” model is embraced employees are freed to have a go and with each “learning episode” being used to springboard the next iteration, improvements flow.  In effect, organisations should embrace “juvendiceed”; the acceptance of:

“ A fully justified and considered venture which for reasons outside our control just didn’t succeed.

Juvendiceed is from my latest book, The Road to Innovation, available here

By being seen to launch and support initiatives that lead to more experimentation and to appreciate failure as a part of learning, the leadership team is already starting to turn the culture of the organisation around.  The next step is to start to build a community which will work as a unified whole towards the innovation ideal.  Silos kill innovation whilst a strong networking culture incubates a strong innovation culture.  By being seen to network both internally and externally the executive team can not only lead by example, they can start to rewrite the rules away from hierarchies and silos and towards a freer more innovative dialogue.

Once the move towards innovation is well under way it is tempting to sit back and leave it to the middle managers to carry on the momentum.  But whilst the middle managers are the key to making an innovation culture stick, as soon as the CEO and leadership teams step away the signal will go out that innovation is not the priority and inertia will swing the organisation back into the old ways.  It is therefore vital that the CEO and leadership teams not only develop the innovation strategy and start the change but that they carry on the drive by being seen to lead innovation, to attend frequent meetings and to continue to preach the innovation message.

However, this is not to undermine the role which middle managers play in embedding the innovation strategy.  Middle managers are quite simply the gatekeepers to innovation in large tiered organisations.  They are “corporately bi-lingual” as they converse and influence both upwards and downwards. Getting their buy-in and alignment to innovation focussed behaviour is key.

We have seen how leaders need to take the lead, to be visible, to live the innovation strategy so that others will follow; in effect to move towards a culture which has done away with the “computer or leadership team says no” attitude towards a “have a go” strategy. In our next article we will take a look at how the culture of the organisation needs to change to create a true innovation culture.

On a final note, for any leaders who are still unsure the best way to behave in creating an innovation culture I would suggest they should be like Elvis. Their ‘performance’ needs to be aspirational and inspirational. But it must also be sincere. Employees need to know that leaders are fully committed to innovation and the behaviour it requires and they must be inspired to contribute.  Be visible, live the innovation culture; in effect lead by example and very soon the entire organisation will be saying let’s have a go.

To learn more about how Cris and his team can helpd rive innovation inside your organisation, get in touch.



Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Juvendiceed, Leadership, Strategy

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