Leaders for Leeds member Anamaria Wills with some thoughts on innovation…
In this week’s Innovation Excellence digest, which is a useful addition to their weekly newsletter, there is a contribution by Innovation Labs illustrating the framework they have developed for establishing the why, what, how, who and where of innovation.
These attempts to simplify innovation are often interesting, although there is always a risk of sounding a little glib; less a Master Plan, more a list of ingredients! In this case, they rightly make the point that innovation is not easy – but their Master Plan does not seem to me to show the subtleties that make the process challenging.
Particularly in an age where incremental innovation may be more accurately described as the commitment to continuous improvement, a long established characteristic of Total Quality Management principles, innovation today has to go beyond the incremental. To have real impact, you have no choice but to meet the challenge of transformative action. If you simply focus on improving how you do things now, you will get left behind. There is no room for complacency.
So the challenge is enormous and the risk is daunting. Perceptions, assumptions and mindsets will almost certainly have to change. Shibboleths such as ‘the leader knows best/has the answers’ or ‘our Innovation department does all that’; or ‘it’s not in my job description’ or ’if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ will all need junking – easy to say, harder to do. You and your team of champions will need to embark on a series of preparatory and joined up initiatives before embarking on this journey, addressing challenges which are not identified in the Innovation Master Plan above, and which provide some of the biggest hurdles any leadership team will face. Failure is likely to be a regular companion – ‘fail fast, fail often, to succeed sooner’ – and will need to be redefined as an occasion for analysis and learning, not for recrimination and rejection. Organisational learning must be recognised as valuable and organisational resilience as essential. This recognition then needs to built in throughout the organisation – a philosophy of ‘yes and…’ not ‘no, but…’. . In versions of the traditional command and control styles of management, this alone represents a sea-change, especially for established leaders. But innovation is esssentially about changing behaviours and it has to start at the top. Experience shows that the quality and commitment of the leadership itself can be the most important challenge to be faced in establishing a commitment to innovation practice.
We live in a time of changing leadership styles – we are moving from the traditional heroic style to the more collaborative leader. Success in 21st century organisations is increasingly seen where strong leadership is characterised by the ability to do three things:
- to create a customer-focused environment where talent has the best opportunity to blossom;
- to redefine leadership so that everyone at every level understands it to mean nurturing, facilitating and challenging;
- and to redefine employment to mean a mutually respectful relationship where everyone recognises that success of the whole depends on the contributions of each individual, both independently and as part of a team.
The old rule book must be thrown away – today’s effective leaders are found at many different levels of age, experience and authority, and often the nearer to the front line and the customer, the better. The common factor, however, is that, in creating environments in which their teams will blossom, they are necessarily developing new ways of leading and working with talent that will inspire the team to keep innovating and creating continuous value for customers. To do this, leaders have to take responsibility for the long term. They must understand that, even in, or especially in, the most distributed leadership models, the ultimate role of the leader is to sustain commitment to creating customer value. So leaders have to reverse the current focus on short term results and sign up to long term endeavour. And if that commitment is not overt and sustained despite the many stresses it will face, then the rest of the organisation will also withdraw from engagement. Your innovation ambitions will fall at the first hurdle.
The second issue that will need to be addressed before the Master Plan ™ can start to be implemented is an awareness that this is not a one-time fix. It is in fact the start of a new journey, one that will take time, effort, commitment, imagination and customer focus at every level. Effective innovation is never the fiefdom of one department, one branch. It is the collective responsibilty of the whole organisation and whole organisation engagement is essential if a full 3600 approach is to be taken. An organisation needs the different skills, knowledge and experience of its workforce if it is to identify and produce real solutions to unmet customer needs. In the majority of organisations, this usually means a significant culture change. It is not merely a question of new management principles and practice. Today’s workforce is too sophisticated to respond as they did to top down management initiatives. Over a hundred years of unions, negotiations, collective bargaining, strikes, pay deals and productivity agreements have all left their mark. Culture change cannot be imposed; it can only be achieved through the informed and willing engagement of those involved. If you cannot take people with you, you will change nothing.
Thus, laying the groundwork before embarking on your innovation Master PlanTM is a prerequisite for success. Part of the reason innovation is so difficult to do, and defeats so many of the MBAs and PhDs who all fully understand the theory but fail to translate it into effective practice, is that the practice is utterly dependent on four key principles: the leadership must create and share a vision; they must then demonstrably sustain commitment to the vision, even through challenging times; they must inspire belief in the urgency for change amongst the workforce; and, finally, they must involve the workforce in the design and implementation of that change.
Once you have started on this process within your company, you then need a framework to ensure that the innovation practice is aligned with the strategic context of your organisation. In our experience, the most effective framework is the one we use based on that created by Paul Hobcraft and Jeffery Phillips, illustrated here:
The fundamental truth about this process is that it makes strategic sense of the innovation process, aligning it wth the strategic context (mission, vision, goals and strategies) and the business context (trends and scenarios) of the organisation. Of course, at Stage 3, the Systematic Innovation Process, you can insert whichever process you are most comfortable with. In our case, we find that the most effective is the COSTAR process, first developed by Herman Gyr and Laszlo Gyorffy for SRI International in Silicon Valley and now adapted and used by CidaCo clients all over the world. It is both challenging and revelatory for all levels of the organisation – I’ve seen CEOs of listed multi-nationals experience the same epiphany as stage door-keepers. It secures buy-in faster than most we have worked with; and it demystifies the concepts by making the innovation process accessible to all, stimulating internal cross disciplinary collaborations that are self evidently essential rather than imposed. Through the COSTAR process, you can usually secure some valuable quick wins with your in house ‘early adopters’ that serve to persuade the rest that this process works – seeing is believing.
At Stage 5, the STEP programme is the methodology we use for rolling out innovation practice across the organisation. It provides the mechanisms for creating organisational ownership of the future and encourages a shared responsibility for achieving that desired future. Once the Framework is in place and is recognised and owned by the organisation, it is the leader’s role to ensure that it becomes cyclical, embedded within normal organisational practice, to create an environment where constant customer value creation becomes the daily responsibility of everyone who works there.
So, before you start work on your Master Plan, make sure you have laid the groundwork. Without that, you will have a tough time securing the engagement of your colleagues. We’ve worked successfully with many different sized companies on this journey so give us a call if you think we can help.
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Innovation: We can do this!