Innovation – getting the fundamentals in place first

Whether or not innovation routinely happens is an emergent outcome of our organisational system as a whole.  For example, in an organisation with “tight control, top down direction” it will be difficult for innovation to emerge.  Likewise, in an organisation with unclear purpose or vision, initiatives are unlikely to be focused, clear and successful.  For innovation to flourish, the whole organisational system must make this possible.  The good news for senior leaders frustrated by a lack of innovation is that it is possible to change this by focusing on just a few fundamentals.  A couple are mentioned below to illustrate.

We need a felt accountability to “maximise outcomes, not just meet targets”.   Many organisations have a shared belief (culture) that “our job is to deliver agreed targets”.   For innovation to be routine, a different culture is needed – one where everybody believes that they have an obligation to maximise what is achieved.  Sometimes this means going beyond what is initially planned – but it can also be true when the best possible outcome falls short of plans.  Either way, if we could innovate but don’t do so, then we are not doing our job.  Appropriate innovation is an obligation, not an option.

The focus of performance management must be on behaviours, not outputs.   It can be scary to innovate, if only because it raises the question of how performance will be judged.  Outputs and outcomes are just indicators of how well a person is doing their work – that is, their workplace behaviour.  Likewise, good innovation requires effective leadership and decision-making behaviours.  This means that we can identify behaviours that support innovation.  It also means that we can performance manage for innovation.

Current executive leaders were trained and gained experience in the 80s and 90s when innovation was not a universal focus.  Some of the underlying lessons and beliefs this created need to be challenged, tested and adapted so that real innovation becomes not only possible but an essential part of every job.

If you want to create an innovative workplace and would like assistance, feel free to get in contact at rbarber@RiskIQ.com.au.