Innovation - Dissecting Organizational Resistance
What organization on the planet would be crazy enough to say "We absolutely do not, under any circumstances, want to innovate! Innovation is a threat to our culture, to our belief system, and to our fundamental operating principles and practices!" Yet organizations both consciously and unconsciously say "NO!" to innovation each and every day. How can this be?
Squashing Innovation at Every Turn
It doesn't take much to squash innovation. In fact, it takes very little. What can squashing look like? It's a top-down phenomenon where the tone is set at the highest ranks. Some of the most obvious and observable examples would be leaders who behave and react as described below.
Master Resistors - Leaders who flatly refuse to head down the Innovation Path — leaders who:
- Don't understand how to innovate. They believe innovation is controlled by a select few and that the only ideas worth considering are those that require an army, hoards of funding and years to implement.
- Say that they want to innovate, yet they don't show an interest nor play an active role in how to systematize innovation to where it becomes part of the cultural fabric — as natural as breathing air.
- Don't actively listen to their staff nor encourage idea generation and advancement from the front-line people who are in the trenches and who know best what their customers want and need.
- Refuse to revisit archaic policies that create so much red tape that to advance the most compelling or even the simplest of ideas requires an Act of Congress.
- Are more concerned with their own career advancement agendas that they have no time to invest in something as important as transforming their organizations in truly remarkable ways.
- Are caught up in the reactive tactical weeds, so much so, that the world of possibilities escapes their line of sight.
- Are power-driven, territorial and job security conscious, which clouds their ability to be open to "the greater good" agendas, others' ideas, diverse thinking, alternatives and constructive organizational criticisms.
- Complacent in their thinking — "We've been successful thus far, why change now? If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
- Are adverse to the critical thinking and the hard work required to implement an Idea-Driven Organization (IDO).
Semi Resistors- Leaders who start down the Innovation Path but take a wrong turn in the road — leaders who:
- Expect out-of-the-gate perfection and therefore, get caught up in analysis paralysis when building an IDO - or - the reverse. See the next bullet!
- Ready, Fire, Aim, Autopilot (RFAA)! These leaders jump into the deep end of the pool without much forethought and without having tested the waters first. To make matters worse, once they're in the pool, they believe that everything will automagically work itself out. In effect, they've checked off the "implemented an IDO" box and are ready to move onto the next shinny penny that catches their eye. They've skipped the necessary steps — performing upfront due diligence, defining a realistic scope and accompanying plans, analyzing and mitigating risks, securing funding, aligning resources and enabling IDO sustainability — to name a few. The RFAA approach will ultimately result in false starts, perpetuating flavor-of-the-month jokes and Dilbert cartoon analogies.
- Dismiss their IDO design team's advice and requests.
- Refuse to allocate the necessary funding to cover IDO education, training plus a small team of resources who will keep the finely-tuned IDO process running smoothly, from idea elicitation to tracking, advancement and implementation. These leaders try (unsuccessfully) to cobble stuff together, light candles and hope for the very best.
- Cannot resist building mega complexity into the IDO approach, strangling the life out of it.
- Can't get their heads wrapped around the innovation mindset — learn fast, fail fast, regroup fast and try again.
- Lack the courage, motivation and energy to push forward when the innovation waters get rough, which will occur from time-to-time. That's simply the nature of change.
- Fail to acknowledge plus correct IDO approach miss steps as the build-out progresses.
- Avoid holding themselves and their staff accountable to IDO performance goals.
Outmaneuvering Resistant Thinking, aka Innovating despite Cultural Norms
For progressive leaders who don't fit the resistance mold, there's hope! It's called leveraging one's Sphere of Influence. Adeptly described in an MIT Sloan Management Review:
"...Companies build spheres of influence that protect their cores, project their power outward to weaken rivals and prepare the way for future moves. To be effective, the sphere must contain a secure power base — a core market — that can be used as a platform....Thinking in terms of building a sphere of influence forces managers to draw together corporate- and business-level strategic analyses that are often treated separately. The corporate-level concern about “where to fight” and the business-level concern about “with whom and how to fight to win” are brought together into a coherent view in which where to fight is how and with whom you fight."
In its simplest form, effectively leveraging your Sphere of Influence allows you to "do what you have to do" on a micro scale. You can partner with your fellow progressive leaders, colleagues and customers and make tangible progress, as opposed to taking on the world — specifically the resistant leaders who will block you at every twist and turn in the road. While pursuing innovation on a micro versus enterprise level is certainly not optimizing your organization's potential, it may be your only viable option. Once you've acquired traction and can share success stories and demonstrate results, you can then expand your sphere — one progressive leader, colleague and customer at a time, if need be. The IDO grass roots approach will certainly take longer and, quite frankly, may never fulfill your ultimate IDO dreams of what "could be". It will, however, produce significant innovation wins — major accomplishments that you and your progressive partners and staff can be proud of and that will ultimately benefit your organization!