Ten Ways Weak Managers Stifle Innovation

30 June, 2016 / Articles
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They say that form follows function. How can you design a tool before you know what the tool is supposed to do?

We built the “modern” business framework about two hundred years ago. It is old and creaky now and unequal to its task in the new millennium. The old, stiff and formal business worldview is falling away. It has no place in this Knowledge Economy.

The old ‘work machine,’ the system of ideas, organizational structure, processes, metrics and tools invented in the Industrial Revolution was built to crank out widgets one after the other. It does not support innovation, collaboration or agility, the very things any organization needs to survive in the new-millennium marketplace.

We ran companies for two hundred years using fear and control as tools to keep our employees in line. Now we know that people aren’t motivated by fear to do any of the things we need them to do.

Every company says “We want innovation!” but every one of their management tools and principles stifles and thwarts innovation.

Hierarchy combined with rigid job descriptions make it almost impossible for people to step far enough beyond the painted lines to come up with something bold and important. We can’t simply command our teammates to innovate!

Innovation springs up on its own when conditions are right. When people at work understand the big goal, buy into the vision that the big goal has been established to bring about, and have the freedom to come up with their own solutions to problems, you’ll get breakthrough ideas from them.

You only need to hire brilliant people, then step back and watch them change the world! Your job as a manager is to take obstacles out of their way, from corporate red tape to pointless processes that would otherwise slow them down.

When people are poked, prodded, measured, evaluated and spied on at every moment, you can kiss any hopes for innovation good-bye!

Here are 10 ways weak managers stifle innovation on their teams:

  1. They hammer their employees on daily, weekly and monthly goals instead of asking “What’s the most important thing we could accomplish in our department if we set aside our goals for a while to do it?”
  2. They constrain employees who have big ideas by telling them “That’s not your job description” or “I want you to do it the way we’ve always done it.”
  3. They reward uniformity and metrics instead of out-of-the-box brainstorming.
  4. They (knowingly or not) pit employees against one another so that each team member’s focus switches to beating out his or her teammates instead of a group win.
  5. They shut down independent thought. Really unequipped managers even say “I don’t pay you to think.”
  6. They reward the achievement of numeric goals, giving employees a big incentive to make another phone call or write another line of code instead of stopping and looking at their work from a higher altitude.
  7. They keep employees out of the high-level vision and strategy conversations. Who can come up with a brilliant solution to a problem you don’t fully understand?
  8. They are too afraid of their higher-up managers to propose any change in their team’s plan, schedule or budget. Innovation will always require a shift in at least one of those elements, if not all three!
  9. They punish employees who take risks when those risks don’t pan out. That’s a surefire way to stifle any thoughts of innovation their teammates might have had.
  1. Lastly, their own mindset tells them that a good day at work is a day when nothing breaks or goes wrong. You will never get innovation from your team with that worldview. You have to be willing for things to get messy and unclear for a while if you want to achieve big things.

A new management mindset is required for this new millennium. Do your managers have that mindset? Will they speak their truth to you, if you’re their CEO, and argue for good ideas and great employees? That’s the only kind of manager you can afford on your team — the kind that will tell you what you need to hear, whether you want to hear it or not.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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