Sunday, October 11, 2009

Innovation Behaviorial Challenges

In most companies, the nurturing of innovation, especially disruptive innovations that leads to major changes in the marketplace and within the business is more often a weakness of organizational culture vs a strength.

Some of the behaviors that I have experienced or observed in leading companies (Citicorp, Xerox, Nortel Networks, Bell Canada) that I have grown up in have consulted to has some of these key behaviorial challenges.


Innovation is one of the top mantras of CEO and senior executives. However, when one digs into the depth of innovation capabilities more often one finds that more company's pay lip service to innovation, than really have substantive programs. It would be politically incorrect not to embrace innovation—but they do little beyond that.

A few questions to probe into your organization:
1.) Does your organization have a unifed clear definition of innovation (one sentence) and everyone knows it?
2.)Does your organization have an innovation governance process and sustainability model?
3.) Does your culture have innovation as a core value, and it is systemically measured?

Unfortunately leadership at the top of the house have typically achieved these positions because of their consistency in achieving operational results, meeting sales objectives, improving products and services to keep up with competitors, supporting existing customers and acquiring new ones, managing mergers and acquisitions, achieving the required financial results quarter after quarter, etc.

Unfortunately as executives rise up in the organization, they transition from being a manager to being a leader.

Management is about business results and processes. Leadership is about people.

The key quality you need in good leadership is passion—the urgency to explore, tackle with tenacity and solve the complex problems that allorganizations face.

To do so, you need to be surrounded by talented people, and you need to find a way to transfer your passion to them, so they will buy into your vision, perform at the high and empowering levels, and come up with innovative ideas to solve the challenges of achieving the vision. Developing a culture of barrier busters creates incredible energy excitement and empowering dynamics.

Typically managers are very very good at executing tactical, incremental strategies to help achieve operating excellence. However, their skills are typically not looking in all directions all one once, they are typically highly focused vs curious and exploratory. They like to set a course and focus on the course, and often missed complex disruptive signals. Unfortunately high performing leaders are often not typically resilient or innovative leaders.

Operating managers who do not actively encourage new ideas and innovations in their organizations do so because of indifference. They will typically listen politely to your new idea, provide some encouragement, and offer good advice. If they are being honest, they will tell you they barely have the time, energy, and budget to help much beyond a pat on the back now and then.

In other cultures they nod like it is a good idea, smile and take no action, or work to deflate the value of your ideas. At Xerox, they call this "grin f..king" - and it is part of the cultural folklore that has impacted their ability to harness their innovations successfully. Many of Xerox's inventions were the first innovations - but their own cultures could not embrace and bring these capabilities to market successfully.

Unfortunately often reliability managers that like to keep the ship on course often reactive very negatitive to new ideas, especially if the idea comes from someone outside their own organization.

Some of them also exhibit characteristics that many of us would associate with being a bully.

Organizational Silo Isolation

Isolating people in organizational silos is one of the biggest obstacles to innovation. Companies that are serious about innovation do everything possible to break down silos and encourage communication and collaboration across the organization and beyond.

Fostering innovation is very hard, especially if the innovation is disruptive in nature.

A spirit of innovation and collaboration does not come naturally to an organization.

For such a spirit to take hold, it must become an integral part of the company's culture. None of this is easy, but it is what a company must do if it truly wants to create a healthy culture in which innovation can successfully flourish.

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