Innovation - A Team Sport!
Let's be honest — how many of us have witnessed a select few heading to multi-day retreats and locking themselves into a think tank-like room for the sole purpose of devising silver bullet strategies that are chucked-full of ideas that will allegedly catapult their organizations to unbelievably new heights?
The reality is, when they return with high expectations and a formidable game plan, one (or more) of the following typically occurs:
- Strategy rollout isn't taken seriously by the employees because their front-line input wasn't elicited nor factored into strategy development. It's not a stretch for employees to conclude that developed-in-a-vacuum ideas won't work because the executives are too far removed from and out of touch with reality.
- The strategy is never fully shared with the rest of the organization in a way where teams and front-line staff can easily figure out exactly how their roles and assignments plug into strategy advancement. In fact in some organizations, the strategy is never shared with the staff because it's considered to be "a secret" that can't fall into the competitor's hands.
- Strategy elements are so vague and/or complex that they're not easily translatable into tangible objectives, enabling initiatives and clear deliverables that can be laid out, tracked against and measured.
- The strategy doesn't "get at the heart of" the volume of opportunities that the staff can readily identify as ways to positively and dramatically impact how business is being conducted and how specific, value-add and oftentimes low-hanging fruit improvements can be readily tackled.
What's Wrong With This Picture?
It all goes back to a misguided belief system, with the belief being that the highest levels of leadership always know what's best for the organization when, in fact, they don't. They can't. The leadership teams are legitimately operating at a 50K foot view, in a land far, far away from what's actually occurring in the trenches. The challenge is that a percentage of leaders believe that they should and must know all of the answers because they don't want to appear deficient in their intelligence and capabilities. I recently read an enlightening book written by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.,1 who explains two distinct mindsets — the Fixed Mindset, which is belief-driven, and the Growth Mindset, which is research-substantiated. Leaders with the Fixed Mindset, among other things, always want to give the appearance that they know everything because they are consumed with being judged:
- Will I succeed or fail?
- Will I look smart or dumb?
- Will I be accepted or rejected?
- Will I feel like a winner or a loser?
In effect, they measure their competence and self worth as a function of how others judge them. At the opposite end of the spectrum are growth-minded leaders. Instead of being judgment-obsessed, they focus on continuous self-improvement enabled by their never-ending curiosity and unyieldingappetite to grow, take risks, stretch, develop and quickly learn from and bounce back from failures. These leaders welcome, encourage and proactively elicit and leverage the feedback and input of others. In fact, they oftentimes can't get enough feedback in order to satiate their appetite for wanting their organizations, their teams and their people to become the best versions that they can be. It's the growth-minded leaders and their teams that ultimately thrive in the innovation arena. Dr. Dweck's and her colleagues' research has proven that growth-minded leaders and people, in general, achieve the highest levels of success, not only in the workplace, but in their personal lives as well.
How Growth-Minded Leaders Operate
When building their Idea-Driven Organization (IDO), growth-minded leaders get EVERYONE involved. They recognize that:
- "Front-line staff" and "the innovation engine" are synonymous. Research has show that roughly 80% of an organization's performance improvement potential lies in front-line ideas.
- Front-line workers are creative and knowledgeable plus uniquely positioned to quickly spot problems and opportunities. Additionally, they care about the customers they serve and doing what's best for their organization.
- A large number of small ideas can build upon themselves, creating new and previously unimagined strategic capabilities.
- A single, front-line idea can unexpectedly transform a routine innovation into a major breakthrough.
- Many front-line ideas are inexpensive to implement.
When Does IDO Front-Line Involvement Start?
The short answer is during the initial IDO planning stage. As is the case with any cultural change initiative, engaging employees upfront is not only wise, but necessary. People want to feellike they're a part of something much bigger and they want to know what that something is. They also want to directly contribute toward its success. Many of us not only live for that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, but we thrive when it's present. From a practical perspective, employees also need to learn alongside of their leaders for an IDO to be wildly successful. It's not enough for leaders to provide the CliffsNotes as time progresses. Keeping people at arm's length not only creates a feeling of exclusion, but it doesn't provide enough of the context so employees can perform at their best when called upon to do so. Growth-minded leaders actively seek out opportunities to engage their people in IDO formulation as early on in the planning phase as possible, creating a genuine and deep-rooted esprit de corps...
We're all in this together
Let's be curious and diverse
Let's tackle the simple to the unimaginable
Let's move "fast enough" toward "good enough"
Let's learn fast, fail fast, regroup fast and try again
Let's make a profound difference
Let's celebrate our successes
The Choice is Ours
We can choose to be:
- Growth-minded leaders who rally the troops, lock arms and take the innovation hill together to achieve transformational success, - OR -
- Fixed-minded leaders who continue to delude ourselves into believing that great ideas can only come from the most senior levels of the organization and ultimately fail in reaching our innovation potential.
1 Mindset — The New Psychology of Success: How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential, by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.