To innovate means to renew or make new. Ironically, leaders of stale company cultures are typically the ones holding the bullhorns at company picnics giving the same canned pep talks about innovating that could be cut and pasted into any company. Not much renewal there.
Creating an innovative company isn't just about getting people on the shop floor to work differently. It's about changing the ethos of the social community employees find themselves in at work. It's about using a whole new recipe for leading starting with leaders finding ways to "renew" themselves to create the social community that supports innovation.
What are the top priorities for making it happen? Commitment from the top dog, gutsy leaders, lots of meetings, and plenty of sweat.
Commitment From the Top Dog
Here's the rule of thumb: If the leader is too busy to show up for meetings about the change, then he or she really doesn't care about it. There's no delegating with this one. Either the boss is on, or he's off. If he's off, forget it. He doesn't get it and won't support changes. As I said, it starts with leaders changing themselves.
Leading a culture change is not a delegate-able job. A CEO or business unit leader has to walk the talk and be the face of innovation to employees. Before employees jump on board and start taking risks, they want some assurances that their emotional energy and effort will be worth it. They need to see their leaders leading by making radical changes to old practices breaking those that stifle new ideas and risk taking, and supporting employees who speak up and take initiative.
So, for the boss, it's off with the bullhorn and on with the white coveralls walking the halls painting the workplace innovative. Anything less from the top is a NO-GO.
Bosses from the front lines to the tip-top of the organization pyramid have to fire themselves as babysitters and re-hire themselves as mentors, facilitators, and true leaders. Comments like, "Great job! It didn't work out this time, but it was an incredible try! So let's keep working at it" have to become the new normal. Delegating, empowering, teamwork, or whatever you call it, bosses have to find ways to pump up employee skills and knowledge instead of emotions. They have to start working with their employees more like adult equals using discussion and collaboration instead of one-way blasts to the team giving them the freedom to try their ideas and learn from their experience.
Bosses have to stop hoarding information and start sharing it. They have to get over their fear that when they tell employees what's really going on they'll get some tough questions in return. Being authentic and transparent will now be the name of the game so employees know enough to own their contributions to the business.
Lots of Meetings
When will people get the work done? It's the miracle of innovation. It will seem like everyone is in meetings all day instead of doing work and yet the work will get done even faster and better than ever.
Of course it's not just about sitting in meetings. It's what occurs at the meetings that matters. Line workers -- and everyone else -- will be collaborating a whole lot more. They'll be reporting to each other how they solved this problem or that. They'll suddenly become a bunch of strategists, analysts, and business people showing off the value of their great ideas and successes. And from time to time they'll sit around outdoor barbeques behind the office celebrating someone's breakthrough.
How many meetings do you need? Well, if nobody complains there are too many meetings, then you probably aren't having enough of them. And when somebody does, you make sure the time is filled with brainstorming, problem solving, planning, collaborating, committing, and reporting. Run well, these meetings will engage employees in creating and executing the innovations that drive breakthrough business results.
Plenty of Sweat
Boosting innovation in the workplace is a tough process. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Why? Because to create a highly innovative workplace bosses have to look at themselves as the targets of change. And making personal changes is always challenging. Of course, the rank and file will have to make changes, too. And they aren't any more enthused about it than their bosses.
The harder bosses push workers to change, the more they'll fail. Innovation doesn't happen because the boss demands it. It happens because the employees do. That's the secret to innovation. And employees demand it when the organization encourages and enables it through bosses who are living examples of an innovation culture. That requires renewal -- boss actions that create a whole new environment that involves all employees in the challenges of innovating. The innovative workplace journey is a rough one. With all that personal change going on, it's not surprising. Of course, that's what renewal is all about. And with steady and sure commitment from the top dog, gutsy leaders, lot's of meetings, and plenty of sweat, it's doable.
Trying it on for fit:
Before launching a full-scale initiative to create a culture of innovation, assess your current state of leadership to see if you're up for the challenge. Pull together your unit leaders, including those at the top, for a discussion of the four priorities. Ask each leader to articulate what he or she would have to personally change to help the organization make the shift. Leaders who are ready will have no difficulty identifying personal changes they'll have to make. If you feel your leaders are ready after having the discussion, take the same conversation to the workforce and see how ready they are.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!