The need for constant reinvention is a given in today’s business environment. And while a breakthrough product or concept can catapult an organization ahead of its competitors, in these fast-paced times, that advantage is often short-lived.
While major product or service breakthroughs make headlines, it’s steady incremental innovations made by employees every day that give an organization sustained growth it needs.
Sustained innovation comes from developing a collective sense of purpose; from unleashing creativity of people throughout your organization and from teaching them how to recognize unconventional opportunities.
As innovative ideas surface, a clear sense of mission empowers front-line employees to act on new ideas that further your company’s purpose.
It Starts at Top
Leaders create psychological environment that fosters sustained innovation at all levels. The challenge is that as an organization grows, management structures and bureaucracies, designed to channel growth, tend to create barriers to small-scale enhancements.
While there are exceptions, in larger organizations employees tend to feel removed from function of innovation and are less likely to take independent action or offer revolutionary ideas.
The commitment to establishing right psychological conditions for innovation needs to start at top. This means that, as a leader, you need to consider your own assumptions about innovation and their role in creating and changing your organization’s culture.
You need to appreciate value of incremental as well as major innovations, understand psychology of innovation and take lead in promoting an innovative culture. Otherwise, it’s just not going to happen. While your organization’s innovative capability depends on multiple factors, there are several steps you can take to create psychological conditions that favor inventive thinking, regardless of your industry or size of your organization.
Establish A Clear Sense of Direction
Changing cultures involves changing minds, and that takes time. But as with any initiative, a clear sense of target helps to speed journey.
Your organization’s mission helps to organize and direct creativity of its people. What is purpose of consistent innovation in your enterprise? Is it to add customer value to existing products and services…to speed delivery…to increase on-time arrivals?
Having a clearly articulated message allows everyone to focus on innovation where it can deliver greatest value. Innovation, as Peter Drucker has defined it, means creating a new dimension of performance. A sense of mission clarifies direction of performance and helps determine which new ideas to focus on.
Open communication between management and employees sets stage for an atmosphere of trust. But if you want to establish a new, more trusting culture, you can’t expect employees to take first step.
Company leadership initiates process of open communication by sharing information with employees on a regular basis. This includes good news and bad.
Southwest Airlines policy of sharing information enabled company to weather sudden increase in fuel costs during 1990-91 Gulf War. The company kept everyone informed as fuel prices soared. Southwest’s CEO Herb Kelleher sent a memo to pilots asking for their help. Through inventive thinking, pilots found ways to rapidly drop fuel consumption without compromising safety or service.
Leaders of organizations that sustain innovation offer multiple opportunities for communication.
While not every company can offer an open-door policy for its senior executives, or even a chance for regular face-to-face contact, every organization can institute programs that enable front-line workers to feel heard. From CEO lunches with cross-sections of employees, to monthly division meetings between employees and general manager, to open intranet forums for idea sharing and feedback, leaders can communicate their openness to hearing innovative ideas from those who are closest to customer.
While larger organizations are often considered less entrepreneurial and inventive than their smaller counterparts, it’s not size of your company that inhibits innovation -- it’s systems. Bureaucracy slows down action and is a serious impediment to innovation.