Building a culture of innovation

A recent article in HR magazine, ‘Build employee engagement through a culture of innovation’ got me thinking. Although the author makes some strong arguments for creating more innovative organisations, I think there are one or two key factors missing in his thesis:

I agree that purpose is key, as reducing fear is key to innovation, but innovation is not a purpose and the fear that permeates most organisations is that failure is not an option, only good news is permitted and woe betide anyone who puts their head above the parapet.  Going to board with a statement like, “well, that didn’t work out” tends to lead to career suicide.  Why?  Because we don’t create organisations that are capable of learning and I mean true learning of the sort that requires freedom to take risks, make mistakes, experiment and really learn.  This goes directly against the target obsessed, budget prioritised, utilisation-focussed nature of senior executives and managers.  All the innovative change programmes in the world won’t help create true improvement unless leaders believe and trust their people and demonstrate that belief clearly and constantly.

The three aspects or “emotions of business” which are quoted in the original article – love, desire and envy – are really just outcomes and I don’t really buy them, even ‘how’ the organisation performs is again an outcome.  Differentiated innovation is a result of ‘why’ an organisation does what it does, the “how” is just a means to an end.  ‘Why’ is what will inspire people. If they are inspired, they will work on the ‘how’ and if management is able to work with them, support them, trust them, then the ‘how’ gets to be improved, with the result that products or services are improved.

No-one will buy a poor product or service, but customers are smart enough to see through to the ‘why’ of an organisation because it is visible in every conversation with employees, in every interaction with the company and in the end product or service.  It forms the lifeblood of the organisation and if strong, clear, constant and in alignment with individuals’ values then anything is possible. So, do you want to improve your organisation?  Think about ‘why’ you exist, ‘why’ you do what you do, and what is really important to you.  Do you know ‘why’ your customers might want to buy into your service or product?  What matters to your customers?   How might you find out?

Creating clarity, alignment and purpose is a good place to start. If these are missing, it might explain why employees ask, “why should I get out of bed this morning?” rather than coming into work ready to learn, grow, and focus on doing what matters.

Jaime Beckett, Principal Organisational Change Practitioner, ICE –  jaime.beckett@icecreates.com

One Comment

  1. Posted Friday 23rd September 2011 at 3:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Couldn’t have put it better myself, all too often organisations forget what their purpose is and what matters to their customers.

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