Opportunities to grow and innovate exist at every level of an organization. But many organizations – especially large, global companies – struggle to help employees discover and seize the right opportunities, and put them in action.
Many organizations are suffering from change fatigue and burnout, which has a direct impact on the needed creativity and risk-taking to support innovation. There are several reasons:
- Outdated mindsets about strategic planning (a static and long-term focus that is no longer sufficient in fast-moving markets).
- Leadership mindset (“it’s only the leader’s job to spot opportunities”).
- Change overload (flavor-of-the-month syndrome).
- Creativity is viewed as a “luxury” in a relentless drive for efficiency and productivity in most organizations.
To lift the fog that obscures people from seeing new opportunities takes effort and patience. Employees at lower levels of the organization contribute the best ideas and discover opportunities when leaders balance the tension between creative energy and maximizing productivity. To accomplish this requires connecting senior executives (who set strategy) to employees on the front lines and customers through ongoing communication and structured events. Many organizations look more like the movie Groundhog Day than Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. It’s a repetitive trance of unconscious “going through the motions without question” reinforced by outdated work practices that are more appropriate for driving a robotic manufacturing line than for solving problems in creative ways.
If your organization wants to sustain organic growth, it is imperative to signal to people that their creative ideas are ESSENTIAL to the growth and well-being of the company. (not a luxury, a “suggestion box” activity, or something that has to be instantly monetized). It’s magic when someone stumbles on a new idea inside an organization. (Remember 3M and post-it notes.). Often, the best ideas do happen by accident. You’re looking in one direction for what you expect … when suddenly a bus comes around the corner from another direction!
There are many ways to structure this process in an organization.
One company we worked with created a competition where radical new ideas for retail innovation were presented to the senior executives. People work for months to “think out of the box” during which they were allowed to charge 20% of their work time to the endeavor.
Atlassian, an Australian enterprise software company, is known as much for its fresh, energetic, relentlessly clever approach to engaging and unleashing people as for its software development and collaboration tools. It has grown in 9 years to to $100 million in sales (with no salespeople) and 18,000 customers world-wide (including Citigroup, Nike, NASA, Facebook, and Zappos) on the basis of that approach.
Atlassian is constantly inventing and refining practices to unleash and ignite its people. One of those practices has gone viral. It’s called FedEx Day, a twenty-four hour innovation blitz of hacking, prototyping, and presenting that involves almost everybody in Atlassian’s three offices around the world once a quarter.
Source: Management Innovation Exchange, Delivering Innovation Overnight, March 21, 2012.
Does your culture get in the way of the innovation process? Check out our free tool “4 Cultures That Hinder Innovation.”