Why Your Company Isn’t Innovating

30 November, 2016 / Articles
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The answer could be sitting in front of you. Literally.

Growing businesses have to innovate at a speed and scale that outpaces the competition. So why do so many organizations have only a small number of innovators? A recent HBR article has some interesting conclusions. If your hunch is that your organization is grossly underperforming, well…you are likely correct.

The Current Reality

The study finds that only 50% of your top performers also ranked as your top collaborators. Put another way, 50% of your best collaborators – those who want to work across traditionally disparate boundaries to generate real impact (and are very good at it) are seen as average employees. They’re painted into corners. Overlooked.

How do you fix this, and fast? How can you lead differently to draw out the contributions of these hidden assets and increase innovation? Here are five shifts I have seen leaders make that achieve immediate, game-changing results:

Your Definition Of Innovation Is Off

The words innovation and change are too often confused. Your ability to decipher (and articulate) the difference between the two, in your context, is your first step in the right direction. People often lead change efforts relying on hope that results drop out at the end. Innovation is change with a purpose.

Set The Direction

Remember – you are trying to poise your collaborators to innovate and impact what is most important to your organization today – not just to innovate for innovation’s sake. What are your organization’s windows of opportunity that are opening and closing now? What are the areas that you know will have a disproportionately positive impact on getting your business to the next level? Where do you want to see people mobilizing to get there faster? Whether you are CEO or a line manager, hone your message so people will see and feel what success looked like. Doing so will have a direct correlation to the relevance of the innovations that emerge from your team.

Explain Why And Why Now

Why is innovation so opportune right now – not next quarter, next fiscal year or when “things settle down a bit?”  What makes this moment in time unique?  When trying to engage people in new ways, don’t forget that you’re asking them to adopt a new set of behaviors, build a new muscle, shift their mindset. That’s no small request. Answer the questions rolling around in people’s minds: Why this, why now, why me? It seems impossible to believe, but we’ve seen it repeatedly in our work – when people are aligned, they volunteer to play in new sandboxes, take on different roles, dream up new solutions to challenges. An urgent population becomes an innovation engine.

Make It Personal

Can you remember the last time you were truly energized by a mass corporate email?  Me neither. If you are currently not reaching latent talent, potentially 50% of your best collaborators, you need a different approach. How can you personally connect with people – individuals – throughout the nooks and crannies of your organization? Make your outreach efforts as personal as possible. Short videos, small group conversations – let authentic connection trump efficiency.

Make It Broad

A general manager I’ve worked with realized that his third shift crew was not being impacted by exhaustive emails and cascading priorities from management. When asked how he had tried to connect with these folks in the past he said, “we take a video of the town hall speech I give and they watch it while eating leftovers from the food at the event.” (Nothing like being an afterthought, right?) I worked with him to try something more personal.  He showed up at midnight to give his town hall speech to the third shift and brought fresh food. After discussing the strategic priority to improve turnaround time and why it was so important now, the crew started sharing ideas of how they could immediately impact turnaround time. Instantaneous innovation from the people closest to the product. In this single meeting the third shift came up with tens of thousands of dollars of savings and shaved days off the turnaround time. When the general manager asked, “Why haven’t you all shared these ideas before?” one veteran responded, “You never asked.”

Be the manager who does.

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

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