Category Archives: Organization Design

Leading Culture Change Means Changing Yourself Before Others

Leaders today are inundated with reasons to transform their organizations in search of better outcomes. New market entrants erode profit, competitors seem to be always moving ahead, all while customers seek higher quality and cheaper sources of service.

The pace and appetite for change is exhausting. Yet comparatively, it feels like your organization is sinking deeper into the mud. “We want to change but the culture here is too difficult to change”. It’s a frequent remark we have all heard and said but what does it mean?

Culture is the original business meme. Its meaning and usage are as abstract and intangible as the word itself. “If we just fix the culture we will be successful”. A statement full of positive intent yet lacking a clear directive or step to take.

A new culture is not a browser plugin. Leaders cannot simply select an extension, download and install it from the Web. Nor should, leaders expect the update to be applied only to others and not to themselves.

The prevailing thinking is the need to change people’s mindset. The belief being if we tell people to think differently, they will act differently. All hands meetings are called, PowerPoint decks are prepped and an executive tour is scheduled to rally the troops for the mission ahead. A one, maybe two day training session is delivered and the metamorphosis begins. But it does not.

Culture is our behaviors. It is the actions we perform. The way we talk, and treat one another. The way we behave reflects the values and expectations we have of ourselves, and of one another.

The single most important action of any leader is to role model the behaviors they wish to see others exhibit in the organization.

Actions are what matter. Not talk

Culture change does not lead with words, it leads with action. By changing the way we behave, our actions begin to change the way we observe, experience and eventually see the world. By seeing and experiencing the world differently, it changes the way we think about the world. People do not change their mental model of the world by speaking about it, they need to experience the change to believe and feel it.

John Shook: NUMMI

John Shook’s Change Model, http://www.lean.org

John Shook was the first American manager to be hired by Toyota. He moved to Japan without knowing a word of Japanese, just a desire to immerse himself in the organization for a prolonged period of time to learn the Toyota Production System by doing it.

What he observed was not a group of managers telling people what to think, or how to perform their work. Instead he experienced the deliberate practice of experimentation, reflection and improvement by all employees in the entire organization. Toyota had developed a set of behaviours that advocated continuous learning and adaptation to new circumstances.

What Toyota understood is that culture and circumstance is always unique and changing, and to manage change one has to be ready to learn, adapt, and apply new changes as they are happening.

A Journey for Leadership and Behavior.

Shook’s model highlighted that transformation starts from our behavior. Therefore, to start changing culture we need to change how people do their work.

In our experience a very effective first step for a major transformation is to start with a set of hand-picked initiatives that do things differently. We did this together with the engine manufacturing company Wärtsilä. Wärtsilä is over a century old manufacturing company that serves roughly half the ships in the world and has five billion dollar revenues – not a typical Silicon Valley startup.

To kickstart the transformation, leadership provided sponsorship and support to four cross-function teams to explore new ideas and ways of working. The purpose of these teams was to bump into and make visible the cultural glass walls that so often had stalled and hindered other initiatives.

Rather than have the four teams take courses or workshop ideas, the underlying idea was to have four teams experience a new way of working for real. This was ensured by selecting the top strategic innovation initiatives for the teams focus on.

The second step was to create an environment to cultivate the new ways of working. In other words, we made the workspace inspiring, different, and importantly, we let the team personalize it to make it their own. We provided guidance, tools and innovation frameworks for the people to leverage.

By embracing Shook’s philosophy, it was extremely important that the teams had a mandate to work differently and to really experiment with new ways of working, new behaviour. The mandate created a psychological safety net for them. Failure is expected when working creatively and trying out new ideas, and therefore, it was critical to enable safe failure and learning opportunities.

To further facilitate the cultural transformation, the teams broadcasted their intermediate results in demo sessions to the whole company. This turned out to be both popular and effective in further spreading the transformation by showing concrete results rather than talk of trying things differently.

blog-culture

In the demo sessions the audience gave scores to the teams, and the winning team always won quality craft beer. The happy winners of demo #1 from left: Shelley, Henri, Jan, and Martti of Wärtsilä.

Throughout the eight week program the teams fully experienced working in new, interesting and unforeseen ways. Rather than just reading a book or taking a course on lean, agile and design thinking the teams had to apply the new methods and mindset while creating meaningful outcomes for the business. For the individuals participating in the program it was an extremely effective way to safely learn new ways of working, and perhaps more importantly, to learn the limitations of the former company culture.

Jump-starting the transformation today

What did we learn from running this, and similar programs?

First, jump-starting the cultural transformation with a couple of spearhead projects, the right people and leadership support is very effective. The projects will demonstrate that the company’s own people can achieve the desired results and business outcomes with new ways of working.

Second, the people who have experienced new ways of doing are transformed. Applying the new behavior into real projects transforms their thinking about innovation and the whole company, which makes them the key people in spreading the new culture.

Finally, choosing the people to the spearhead projects is critical as those people will become the ambassadors for a bigger cultural change in the organization. They will tell the stories others will listen. They will introduce the new ways of working to others, as they are the people who know best how the new thinking applies to your company. They are the first penguins to dive into the cold water, swim and survive.

However, none of this matters if you, the leader of change, don’t change as well. As the leader of this change you are penguin number zero: the very first person who has to change your behavior. You need to be transparent about your vision, words, and actions. You need to work according to the new culture you wish to see.

This post was co-authored by Risto Sarvas and I.

I’m partnering with Futurice to host executive roundtable sessions in London and Berlin, as well as an event in Helsinki, ‘Lean Rocks’, all during February. Futurice and I will be offering bespoke training and workshops with clients in Helsinki during February, if you’re interested in learning more about this please contact me or Timo Hyvaoja

Lessons from deploying Lean Enterprise At Scale

How can you accelerate your journey in becoming a Lean Enterprise?

In this talk I share my lessons learnt from client engagements. I showcase how I’ve helped enterprises rekindle their capability to explore, experiment and embrace continuous improvement.

What are the key aspects to consider when you start? What are the tools and techniques to use? How do you organize to make a meaningful business impact?

I highlight the key issues holding organizations back from unleashing innovation, and demonstrating the countermeasures to achieve high performance at scale.

Email info at execcamp.com for the slides and 3 free chapters of my book, Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate At Scale

Think BIG, Learn fast, Start now!

lean-enterprise-book-think-big-start-now (1)

Your competitors have the freedom to see the world different because they’re programmed to THINK BIG,  Learn Fast, Start Now!

They don’t care about your legacy systems and mindset, how you operate your business, or the numbers you need to hit.

Your business is already dead. You just don’t know it yet.

How do you unlearn to relearn the skills you need to keep your business relevant?

In this keynote I share how we helped the largest organizations on the planet reinvent how they approach new product development and innovation in ExecCamp.

We take executives out of the boardroom and back on the streets to learn at light speed, and learn by doing.

You will learn how to:

  • Start new businesses inside a large enterprise
  • Train executives to recapture their entrepreneurial spirit
  • Blow up legacy mindsets and see opportunity through new lenses
  • Establish killer teams to conquer new territory
  • Create a culture of continuous experimentation
  • Test strategy through execution in minutes not months or years.
  • Launch winning products by starting small and acting now to make decisions based on evidence not conjecture

Find out how to turn your 50 year business into an adaptive, resilient entity ready for the fight for survival that lays ahead.

Lean PMO: Managing The Innovation Portfolio

One of the first exercises I run with executive teams is mapping their business portfolio to visualize current work in progress and how it aligns to the overall business strategy. Without exception, every time I run this exercise the gap between current state and desired state is far wider than every executive believed, hoped or even imagined.
lean portfolio mapping

Portfolio mapping requires taking an end-to-end view of the lifecycle of initiatives in your organization. Lean Enterprises’ consider four main domains:

  • Explore early stage initiatives that are bets for the future with high degrees of uncertainty
  • Exploit initiatives that have achieved product-market fit and the organization wants to grow and scale
  • Sustain initiatives that have become repeatable and scalable business models, products or services that drive the majority of revenue for the organization
  • Retire initiatives that are long lived, no longer beneficial (even limiting) to the organization future success or strategy and should be sunset from the portfolio

Lean Enterprise

Initiatives that do not achieve desired outcomes in any domain should be killed, and their investment transferred to other initiatives.

High performance organizations focus on building capability to continuously move initiatives through the model from Explore to Retire. They understand that using the same strategy, practices and processes across the entire portfolio will result in negative outcomes and results.

Poorly managed organizations tend of use the same standardized approach for all domains. They fail to recognize the need to adapt their analysis, evaluation and control mechanisms to design a system that will provide the correct amount of governance and measurement to enable business leaders make high quality decisions based on learning outcomes and data derived from executing the work in each domain.

Typically these companies portfolios are orientated solely toward high revenue generating initiatives. Valuable cash cows that become prized assets, protected and milked dry. Lean Enterprises’ however know that one day the milk will run dry.

Explore

New initiatives are inherently risky. When aiming to explore a new business model or product it is imperative investment is limited by setting boundaries around time, scope, financial investment and risk. We do this not because we are cheap. We do this to create ‘safe to fail’ experiments and build in quick feedback loops to understand if we are achieving the desired outcomes.

Lean Enterprise portfolio

In the Explore domain our goal is to test the business or product hypothesis at speed using a cross-functional team to experiment with the customers the solution is targeted at. By designing fast and frequent feedback loops into the team’s exploration we can limit investment, maximize learning and avoid creating ‘bet the business’ scenarios that are too big to fail.

Also, by limiting investment into smaller bets allows us to make more bets, enabling us to test many ideas to discover what works and what doesn’t. This is the principle of optionality applied to business model innovation and product development.

Lean Enterprise Book

Most of the ideas that we believe are great aren’t actually that great at all. By creating optionality in how we design our testing process we can create many opportunities to learn, not just one.

Yammer used a concept of 10×2 to design feedback loops and limit investment in early stage ideas. Their approach constrained teams to no more than 10 and no fewer than 2 people when exploring ideas. Also their iterations could be no longer than 10 no shorter than 2 weeks before teams had to demonstrate their achievements designing feedback loops directly into the development system.

Principles and capabilities of Explore

  • Cross-functional multidisciplinary teams
  • Make lots of small bets
  • Boundaries of time, scope, financial investment and risk
  • Design experiments are safe to fail (the only true failure is the failure to learn)
  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Demonstrable evidence of value to proceed

Exploit

For those few initiatives that achieve escape velocity and exit the Explore domain, teams can continue with a sufficient level of confidence that they are building the right thing, now they must embrace building it the right way.

Lean Enterprises understand the project paradigm is broken only further propagating organizational silos, conflicting priorities and measures of success. They understand the importance enabling cross-functional teams to experiment directly with their customers and users. Effort and measures of success are tied to business outcomes not output.  

As the team collects data from experimenting with real customers and users it improves its understanding of how the business model, product or service is performing. The team can then develop more targeted and sophisticated hypotheses based on the knowledge created from genuine user feedback.

Lean Enterprise pmo

Amazon designed the concept of Two Pizza teams – independent, long lived customer facing teams that were small enough to be fed by two pizzas. This enables context to be held within the group as the business model, product or service grows, while also allowing the team to become autonomous and learn together at speed. Leadership can then continuously evaluate how the initiative is performing based on frequent feedback loops, and can help to make further investment decisions on how to scale it up, down or to kill it based on the outcomes achieved.

Principles and capabilities of Exploit

  • Create end-to-end customer facing teams, not project teams
  • Continuous evaluation funding model
  • Target condition is to achieve break-even point
  • Data-driven, fact-based decisions based on accumulated knowledge
  • Maintain a sense of urgency
  • Set a vision, trust the team to get there, clear blockers and support as they proceed
  • Make knowledge sharing and organisational learning easy

Sustain

The majority of large organizations have built their entire business on a single business model and/or supporting products that achieved product-market fit and continued to grow beyond early expectations. They have extended their market, region, and/or sector to achieve exceptional financial success and achieve wide customer adoption and reach.  

Lean Enterprise program

The challenge they meet is how to avoid ‘feature fallacy’ – the fallacy that simply adding new features will add more value. This manifests itself as overloaded products with features, tools and customizations that customers often never use or are even aware of.

Think of a product you have used for a number of years. Are you aware of all the new useful additions to it? Adding new features does not equal adding more value to customers and users. The feature fallacy often represents wasted effort and investment that could be spent elsewhere.

Etsy design for continuous experimentation. Teams at Etsy work closely with product, marketing, and engineering to scout, build, instrument and improve Etsy’s product portfolio to make sure that they are improving business outcomes for all their stakeholders – customers and users included.

The goal is to use data-driven decisions based on usage and profitability to enhance what customers desire – not just copy what competitors release or what HIPPOs (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion) want to have.

By continually adding more and more features to existing products, organizations end up with huge monolith applications that are difficult, slow and costly to change or build upon.

The trick is to break out new ideas,  implement them as an Explore initiative and drive them through the end-to-end lifecycle flow again. This provides all the benefits and rigor of each stage while building the capability to continually create new business opportunities for future on-going success.

Principles and capabilities of Sustain

  • Beware of the feature fallacy
  • Focus on what is valuable – where can we win?
  • Don’t get lazy. Success hides suboptimal issues
  • Keep discipline with fact and evidence-based decisions
  • What is being used, improved or removed?
  • How could we disrupt or get disrupted?

Retire

All good things must come to an end. The difficulty for most organizations is that many systems in their portfolio are not well understood. Often the people that built the original system long ago on a ‘project’ have left the company. No one knows how to change, adapt or turn off the system or what impact it may have. Fear runs through the organization because the entire company’s business model is dependent on a COBAL program running on a 486. It may sound like a joke, but this is the reality for most organizations.

High performance organizations continuously seek to reduce the complexity of their systems to free up people and investment to Explore new opportunities. By simplifying their systems they are able to innovate faster, cheaper and more frequently.

Ask yourself the question “When was the last time we sunset a system, product or feature in our team?” If you can’t remember then it is a smell. Over time the weight to legacy systems and technical debt will grind your innovation capability to a halt. Keep it within control. Remember that effort not spent on keeping legacy systems alive frees up opportunity to focus on new initiatives.

Principles and capabilities of Retire

  • Has it served its purpose? Can we sunset it?
  • It is providing value? Kill it if it is not.
  • Are there better opportunities to invest in?
  • Continually look to reduce product and system complexity
  • Simplifying helps to support further innovation
  • Free up funds and capability

Conclusion

Business models are transient and prone to disruption. If your organization is reliant on a single business model, product or service to guarantee its on-going survival then safe to say it is in a precarious state. You’re only one technology innovation, customer loyalty switch or economic decision from irrelevance.

Lean Enterprise Disrupt

To be successful, a company should have a portfolio of products with different growth rates and different market shares. The portfolio composition is a function of the balance between cash flows. High growth products require cash inputs to grow. Low growth products should generate excess cash. Both kinds are needed simultaneously.

Lean Enterprises know that building the capability to continuously seek out new business models, products and services is the key to ensuring their future business relevance, growth and evolution.

If your executive team is unclear on how your portfolio is performing and what initiatives you are exploring, exploiting, sustaining and retiring, get a cross-functional group together and map out your portfolio to visualize your work in progress. Ask if it is achieving the desired outcomes and aligned to your business strategy and objectives.
Share the results of the exercises with your teams and business leaders. Then starting getting deliberate about investment of time, effort and people in becoming the business you want to be.

References

Lean PMO: Explore vs Exploit

The challenge for organizations today is growing the capability to continually adapt, adjust and innovate. To be successful in an ever accelerating environment, organizations need to make continuous innovation a deliberate practice that is integrated into the fabric of the organization. For Lean Enterprises, this begins and ends at their portfolio.

In the last half century the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 Index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years, from 67 years to just 15 years today. Professor Richard Foster from Yale University estimates that by 2020, more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies that we have not heard of yet. Since 2002, Google, Amazon, and Netflix have joined the S&P 500, while Kodak, RadioShack, Palm and Compaq have all been forced off, essentially by changing technology. General Electric is the only company that’s remained on the S&P Index since it started in 1926. Why? Simple. They have managed to constantly evolve.

In the future two types of organizations will remain. Those that continue ‘as is’ once they have found a business model or product fit by optimizing for that specific market. Their strategy will be efficiency and optimization to harvest as much profit as possible for a 5-10 year horizon. The trade-off will be their ability to adapt to change. When the industry business model changes, their business will slowly collapse.

Moore

In contrast, Lean Enterprises are companies designed to operate in an environment of continual change and on-going evolution. They develop a capability to adapt and evolve to meet new market opportunities and threats. They will survive for longer because their structure, strategies and processes support the continual search for new business models, products and services. Once identified they rapidly maximise and scale opportunities while embracing the creative destruction of their own portfolio before another competitor does.

Explore and Exploit: two competing organizational dynamics

Almost by definition, an enterprise’s primary business models are based on known and well-understood product or services offerings. Existing business models have been proven, and the domain in which they exist is well-understood. The primary role of business functions is to execute these business models, with the goal of incrementally improving efficiency over time to out-compete. Plans, processes and measures can be put into place to optimize and monitor the performance and health of the products and services offered. Forecasts are regularly created for capacity, revenue, growth and sales. Targets can be based on understood data accumulated and analyzed over time with a reasonable level of confidence.

When operating in the new economy, simply trying to improve existing initiatives and optimize efficiency is not enough to provide long term sustainability. Organizations need to be continually in search of new opportunities to stay relevant. Explore is fundamentally a different operating environment compared to Exploit. Organizations need to to leverage new technologies, customer insights and emerging trends to unearth new business models, products and services their customers and users desire.

Typically, existing organizational structures, strategies and processes for executing initiatives simply do not work in an exploratory context.For example, measuring return on investment during explore phases makes little sense and provides little insight as you are typically investing to reduce the uncertainty of building the wrong thing. Few new business models or products generate large revenue in the beginning hence will also fail to measure up to more mature initiatives that are in an exploit phase or later.  

ROI

There is a necessary tension between explore and exploit. In particular, as Clayton M. Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma brilliantly captures, successful enterprises win or lose on execution and thus tend to squash exploration in favour of harvesting a known working business model, product or service.

Exploring new opportunities and exploiting existing ones are fundamentally different strategies requiring difference structure, competencies, processes, and mindset. It is hard to overemphasize the key point: management practices that are effective in the exploit domain will lead to failure if applied to exploring new opportunities – and vice versa. The differences between to two domains are list below:

Explore vs Exploit

 

Conclusion

A key goal of successful portfolio management in the enterprise is understanding how to balance exploring new business with exploiting proven existing business models – and how to transition businesses successfully between these domains. Leaders must understand the difference between these domains and be able to design, implement and operationalize the required mindset, strategies and people that govern them. If it’s fallen to the CEO to manage the organization has not built the capability and will struggle to continually evolve.

References

Lean Portfolio Management is covered in our book, Lean Enterprise:How High Performance Organization Innovation At Scale.

Get in touch to run my workshop on Lean PMO at your company. 

What is ‘Lean Enterprise’ and Why it Matters

The acceleration of change impacts technology, consumer expectations, and economic models. Nowhere has this been so profound as in the decease in the lifespan of companies​ on the S&P 500​, from 67 years average in 1920 to 15 years today.

In order to survive​,​ organizations need to ​innovate at scale. Technology is now core to business​,​ but business is not only technology. Transformation in organizational structure​and governance​, financial ​management, product development and culture must accompany technical excellence to optimize innovation and ensure ongoing business relevance.

Will your organization be able to keep up with the pace of change?  Will you be a disruptor or disrupted? Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale proposes a roadmap for competitive survival. In our new book, we share how leaders can create thriving ​organizational ​cultures​ required to build an adaptive, resilient Lean Enterprise ​that can survive the future.

lean enterprise

How to unleash innovation in the enterprise

I constantly hear how enterprises are poor at innovation, bad at product development and unresponsive to business change. So it begs the question, why do so many organizations get it wrong? And what are the key factors to consider when trying to innovate in large organizations?

Typically the factors constraining innovation are conflicting business goals, competing priorities, localized performance measures and success criteria. While these have traditionally been the tools of management – to control workforce behavior and output – in highly competitive and quickly evolving business environments they also have had the adverse effects of killing creativity, responsiveness and ingenuity.

So what are the components needed to unleash innovation in enterprise?

Strong Executive mandate

Ultimately, if any initiative is to be successful the CEO and Executive team need to buy into and drive the mandate. They must encourage or even force others with a stake in the game to participate and support the new initiative. The participants involved should be given the mission to explore and provide as many ideas as possible to form the key pillars of future growth for the enterprise.

Innovation collaboration sessionsExecutive sponsorship offers a powerful and immediate way for leadership to clearly articulate policy priorities and advance them. By linking innovation to a growth strategy it ensures it is a targeted, strategic and funded priority for the organization, and provides alignment between business strategy and execution through the action of delivery.

While I applaud the dissenters and nonconformists who attempt to start initiatives on their own, I find in practice that executive leadership support and sponsorship is required for systemic and lasting success.

Flexibility in innovation strategy

As with any business decision, organizations should begin by honestly assessing their capabilities. Organizations must access their culture, evaluate leadership support and people’s willingness to cooperate with various innovation strategies. For example, will employees behave territorially and discount ideas because they were generated by another department, or externally?

By choosing preferred focus areas for innovation, organizations can define an overall innovation strategy that is suitable for achieving the organization’s goals that are best aligned to its key capabilities. Organizations seeking to cultivate a culture of innovation should consider the merits and drawbacks of each of the options outlined below when making a decision.

Organizational Innovation Strategies

Organizational Innovation Strategies

When deciding on an innovation strategy I encourage leadership teams to base the decision on the answers to these key questions:

  • What is the intended outcome they want to achieve from pursuing the selected strategy?
  • Which strategy is best aligned to their objectives, capabilities, people and values?
  • Where do they want to be on the innovation curve — disruptor, early adopter, follower and laggard?
  • Finally, they should identify specific obsoletes and constraints that prevent them from being entrepreneurial in their pursuit of the strategy and find ways to remove or bypass them.

Consider Complementarity Strategies

An organization that chooses to pursue more than one of the six strategies simultaneously should consider strategies that complement each other, such as R&D and Strategic Alliances.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) launched a “Connect and Develop” program to systematically engage with partners outside the boundaries of the company to source new-product ideas. In 2012, its Head of Technology announced that P&G had tripled its percentage of ideas that made it successfully to market as new products.

Use constraining, not strangling control structures

Tight controls strangle innovation — as does lengthy planning, budgeting and review activities such as business case novels or annual budgeting cycles. Organizations should expect deviations from plan when exploring new domains. Opportunities emerge from unexpected places hence we need structures and control processes that are dynamic and respond to change based on new learning. Instead of strangling teams with KPIs, release milestones and fixed scope requirements, set shorter iteration cycle constraints on teams regarding time, budget and measurable target conditions to achieve based on feedback with customers/users/stakeholders. Then review the outcomes achieved and make decisions for further investment or closure based on evidence from performing the work, not writing the plan.

Open up the organizational network for collaboration

Businesses must also make organizational changes if they are to exploit innovation networks to the full. In particular, this means ensuring efficient collaboration and information sharing throughout the organization. Mechanisms for this include collaborative ideation workshops, organization-wide showcases by initiatives across the portfolio and cross-functional working days to meet and build relationship with other people in the organization.

Leadership must seek opportunities to increase the cross-fertilization of ideas between as many business units as possible. When starting new initiatives, this is typically achieved by creating small cross functional teams composed of representatives from all areas of the organization including development, marketing, finance and legal to explore the problem domain at speed.

Organizational ShowcasesEncourage customers/users to participate and co-create in innovation initiatives by regularly involving them throughout the process. Seek regular feedback on what you are doing with the people you are designing for. Close the feedback loop with them and use the learning to move forward and improve.

Tap into internal sources of ideas so that every part of the organization is regarded as involved in the innovation process. This often requires a shift in corporate culture – removing the ‘not invented here’ mentality to ensure that intrapreneurs and other leaders are prepared to open up to external sources of innovation. Be prepared to tell people within the business to consider the possibility that another part of the organization might be best-placed to exploit some of their ideas – together or maybe even without them.

Finally, innovation networks depend on the recognition that innovation doesn’t only come from the research laboratory, but also from other sources – both internal and external. To remain innovative in a world of distributed knowledge, many organizations are recognizing that they must open their innovation process to combine internal with external R&D. Many businesses are starting to open up to alternative structure models to bring thought leaders of independent tribes together. In doing so they are set to achieve greater performance than would be possible alone, such as complementing organizations with technology breakthrough capability with organizations specializing in design driven competencies (and visa-versa). Examples include IDEO, ThoughtWorks and others collaborating together on new pieces of work.

Find and empower talent doing the work

Culture comes from the top. It is up to leadership to define and enact the behaviors that make people feel empowered to innovate and experiment. Pushing down authority is an enabler and empowering teams to come up their own solutions to solve business problems can give rise to wider innovations.

If an organization only relies on recruitment, acquisition and strategic alliances to access creative talent, what does that say about its ability to generate and retain homegrown innovators? If you want your company to become a market leader, reflect on that question. The most effective way to achieve continuous innovation over the long term is to cultivate talented people and allow them to experiment, grow and learn on the job.

Underestimating the importance of growing the internal capability of your people cannot be understated. There is an onus on organizations to build a culture of learning that supports the development of their people and helps them get to the new vision of how the organization will operate.

The talent war is only getting tougher. There are limited people available in the world with experience in doing highly specialized work and the competition for their services is fierce. Hiring can only take you so far – you also need to grow people on the job.

Following this, you must empower and amplify trust in those performing the work to get on with it. Providing people with autonomy and accountability makes them intrinsically motivated to achieve the desired outcomes.

Make a long term commitment to investment

Change takes time. The culture shift needed in mindset, strategy and organizational structure is hugely challenging for most people. Fears of lost position, status or knowledge built up through existing practices and politics are often the biggest hurdles. The bigger the change, the harder the pushback.

Very few initiatives get it right the first time and people will stumble and fall along the way. However it is not the failure that we should celebrate, but the learning that ensues.

Conclusion

There is no single answer to solve every enterprises innovation challenge however I always remind leaders to consider the following points;

  • Ensure innovation has a strong executive mandate across your organization. If leadership are not willing to support it, success can only be incremental at best.
  • Understand your own organizations strengths and weakness, then be flexible in the innovation strategy you choose, then adapt it as you see what is working and what is not.
  • Don’t kill innovation with tradition operational KPIs, such as ROI, before they’ve ever had a chance to get traction. Use constraining, not strangling controls by setting short iteration cycles and reviewing the outcomes achieved before making further investment decisions.
  • Open up the organization network for collaboration by making it easy for people to meet, share what they working on and the information their learning. Encourage people to build up, not break others ideas.
  • Build a culture of intrapreneurship in your business. Find and empower people doing the work to make them as successful as they can be to further drive change in the business.
  • Make a long term commitment to invest as change takes time and needs support, funding and protection to build momentum over time.

Winning organizations are continually experimenting; testing theories to learn what works and what doesn’t. Not every innovation attempt will be successful, but those that do pass the test can have a massive impact on the organization’s future fortunes. Make your enterprise the place where that happens – without permission!