The world may not be getting smaller, but it is certainly getting more competitive. All of the client firms that we are currently working with are experiencing the need to compete more globally, and in this age of freely available information it is hard to see how you sustain any form of advantage for any period of time.
Customers are increasingly looking for new forms of value, or ways in which they can access value in more convenient, easier or cheaper ways. The Internet is fuelling this search, and to succeed in the future firms are going to have to think very differently about their business model and offering.
Innovation therefore becomes critically important for future survival and prosperity–but we do tend to think of innovation at the strategic level, i.e. new products and services, new markets and the like. However, there is huge untapped improvement and innovation potential within all of the people that you employ.
Therefore, building a culture of continuous improvement and innovation can provide an enormous source of value, as organisations clearly need to innovate at both the operational and strategic levels.
So, in the real world how is this done?
Sir Ken Robinson in his RSA video (Click here to watch) outlines the challenge – when we were small children, we could envisage hundreds of potential uses for a paper clip, but as we were ‘educated’ our ability to think laterally and creatively diminished sharply. This underlines the challenge of reclaiming that innate innovative ability.
The reality is remarkably simple, although difficult to do (like so many things in life…). As organisational leaders we need to:
- Highlight the need for innovation, why it is critical for us and your desire for people to engage in this way with their work
- Continuously ask for and positively reinforce the behaviours of challenging the norm, thinking differently and bringing ideas forward
- Experiment with different management behaviours and leadership styles, and monitor the positive (or negative) impacts they create
- Clearly demonstrate behaviours focused on continuous improvement and innovation
If we do not change our behaviours, how can we expect anything different from those around us?read more
Yes I know, you are smarter than that – but what is the real answer to this challenge of building cultures within our organisations that encourage and foster creative and innovative thinking? Oh, and in a way that is authentic, aligned and useful…
Some surprising research has shown that the answer is essentially ‘investing in people who are motivated by work that they enjoy and which meets their personal goals, with managers who aren’t overly negative and who can create a supportive work environment’.
Great. But what does it all mean we have to do?
Get the right people on the bus. This is all very well for the Googles of this world who are starting with a blank sheet of paper, but for organisations seeking to get the best from their people this is not so straight forward. However, focusing on peoples’ emotional motivations and using these in the management of them can dramatically increase levels of engagement, and the good news is that there are many tools and frameworks to help leaders do just that.
Involve people. This is both a huge opportunity and a massive challenge for most leaders, as it entails that age-old problem of ‘letting go‘. Psychologically this really hard – most managers instinctively want to control, but the real trick is being smart about when to control and when to let go. A recent consulting project we undertook saw a director agree to a substantial piece of work being guided by a relatively junior group of people with both outstanding results, and fantastic levels of engagement. The keys were a sharply defined objective, lots of support (as opposed to interference) and space for the group to operate with some independence. Wonderful.
Watch the mood hoovers. They exist everywhere, the people who just seem to suck the energy out of an office or team. They make the culture negative and stifle innovation and creative thinking. They need managing so they do not kill the positive environment of possibilities that you are trying to create.
Support them. People are at their creative and innovative best when they feel that their ideas will be values, or at least considered. So explore their ideas with them – give them time and resources to rise to the innovation challenge, and have high expectations. They might just meet or even exceed them!read more
This is the real test of whether your people feel a genuine sense of belonging and ownership, and genuinely share and hold dear the values that your organisation espouses.
I have seen many organisations that display wonderfully conceived and articulated lists of values, only for these values to be sadly absent in interactions with (and between!) their people, especially when the conversation is more difficult or challenging.
It is tempting to dismiss values as soft stuff for the HR people, but the reality is that the game of business is being increasingly won or lost through these so-called soft areas. As our demands of service levels rightly increase, so the need for people to be acting consistently with their brand takes on a greater competitive significance.
Agreeing and adopting a shared sense of values that connect with the organisation’s strategy, can be enacted naturally and deliver real value and meaning to the customer is a neat trick, but is hard to achieve consistently and sustainably. The net result of this challenge is that it generally ends up in the ‘too hard to do’ box.
If you want to see values in action – walk into an Apple Store this weekend and notice how the staff intact with you, even without posters of values telling them how to behave…read more
Can organisational culture be changed?
The simple reality of this is yes, but perhaps not in the ways that you might usually expect. Culture change initiatives are often handed (or maybe even outsourced!) to the HR department or maybe even to consultants. Whilst these agents can be useful designers or facilitators of the process of effecting culture change, they simply cannot make it happen.
Studies have shown that culture is primarily influenced by the behaviour, attitudes and decisions of the leaders within the organisation. Therefore consistent, sustainable and widespread leader behaviour change is the cornerstone of any attempts to change culture.
But behaviour change is hard, and this is why most culture change efforts fail. They either focus on the wrong elements, or it gets dropped into the ‘too hard to do’ box.
To successfully maintain a culture change process requires imagination, persistence and focus – if enough momentum and belief can be maintained the rewards are great. Because it is hard to copy, a culture that delivers benefits to customers can give source to a real sustainable competitive advantage which competitors can only aspire to match.
That seems like a goal worth chasing, doesn’t it?
…or rather… generation “why?” and generation “see”….
Much has been made recently about the differences between generation Y (late 20s and early 30s) and generation C late teens and early 20s. It appears to me, and much of the research that has been done, that there are indeed some substantive differences between these two generations, as well as to ‘older’ (sorry) generations. However, as with all things in life, within the challenge lies the opportunity.
Following on from my post on facilitative leadership, I recently did some employability talks to undergraduates in various disciplines. Deploying my usual facilitative style of lecturing, I probed the audience on what they felt the characteristics of effective leadership were that they have experienced. The results were fascinating.
It is quite clear that these younger generations are more responsive to and respectful of questioning, listening and responding as desirable leadership traits. Fascinating stuff. Or is it? Surely it was ever thus…
We do therefore seem to be moving towards an era where subtly different styles of leadership are required that are in themselves more subtle. It is clear that the mechanisms of influence employed by leaders will need to be more persuasive, negotiating and emotional as well as positive and leaving the followers with a wide degree of choice on how they act and what they do.
But then, isn’t this the leadership style that you would want to work for? So have things really changed, or are younger generations just less compliant and tolerant… and how are we going to rise to the challenge?read more