The famous social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, argued that behavior was a function of the individual and the environment (B=f (I,E).
The elements of innovative products and services already exist in most organizations. The challenge is to create an environment that permits those pieces to quickly align into a coherent whole.
All organizations face the challenge of combating the inherent reluctance of people in different roles to align around critical opportunities to work together.
In our experience, these 5 “best practices” help drive innovation and change in your organization.
1. People Learn from Concrete Examples Especially from within Their Own Companies
Find and communicate examples of people who have successfully created innovative ways of doing things. Examples where people took the initiative on their own, and made a difference.
One of our top salespeople told us, “Nothing motivates a salesperson more than hearing about another salesperson’s sale.” The same is true for stimulating innovation throughout an organization.
2. Align and Integrate the Solution Process and the Implementation Process
Innovation is often stymied when the people who develop solutions work separately from those who implement them.
One of our clients developed a 32-step process for creating new products that after two years failed to succeed because they separated the two aspects of innovation. Those that created the process were separate from those responsible for its implementation. The implementers never understood the how and why of the process.
A combined team was able to reduce the 32 steps to 6 and reduce the time for new product introduction to six months. Similarly, Sam Walton told us he wanted his people to know that “If it’s not changing we’re in trouble.”
To be competitive, Walmart needed innovation and constant change to survive. Walton found that to constantly innovate and align his organization to the changing needs of customers, the time to develop and implement innovations needed to be dramatically shortened. He too made sure that the people responsible for implementation were in the same room with the people developing innovative solutions.
3. Make Sure that Innovations Are Aligned with Business Objectives
People must understand what FedEx chairman Fred Smith calls “The story of the business.” Why, because people want to see the “big picture.” We all want to see how things connect; where we fit into the flow of work; how we “make a difference.”
Most employees appreciate how changing business conditions can lead to sudden unexpected layoffs or restructurings. By seeing how work and innovation can lead to competitive advantage, employees will be more willing to change and participate in continuous improvement.
For example, the CEO of a major rental car company explained the story of the business to the mailroom employees. He explained how the company got paid by its customers, and the importance of shortening the time period for collecting receivables.
The employees pointed out that they received the invoices on Friday, which also was the day that had the highest absentee rates. Thus ensuring that the mailing of the invoices was inevitably delayed into the next workweek. They suggested if they received the invoices on a Wednesday, they could ensure they were sent by close of business on Thursday. The result was the company shaved two days off accounts receivable aging, saving the company over two million dollars a years. An unexpected result was that the Friday absentee rate was dramatically reduced.
4. To Make Innovation Stick, Make New Behaviors into New Habits by Promptly Rewarding and Recognizing Incremental Improvements
Don’t wait to reward the “end game.” Recognize incremental steps along the way. FedEx has used a “Bravo Zulu” award to recognize new innovative behaviors that eventually led to innovative solutions to customer problems. It’s also important not to punish lack of success. Indeed, the CEO of a wireless communication company held an annual banquet for those who tried new and innovative procedures that did not succeed.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Grant Permission to Fail
Perhaps this is the greatest challenge to leaders that are trying to stimulate innovation. Namely, granting employees who try to innovate permission to fail.
We were discussing the concept of “permission to fail” with senior FBI Agents in Charge at their training center at Quantico, one of the least likely audiences to embrace the idea.
The newly appointed head of the FBI happened to walk across the back of the classroom and heard us use the phrase. He came to the head of the room and told his SAICs,
“I was a federal judge in St. Louis for eight years. I don’t know anything about the FBI. I have to give you permission to fail!”
If you are managing people who know more about their jobs than you know about their jobs, and you want to foster innovation, take a lesson from the director of the FBI.
image credit: agiletrail.com
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George Labovitz is a Founder of Organizational Dynamics, Inc.(ODI). An international thought leader on strategic alignment, he counsels senior executives on organizational alignment and execution strategies, and quality & productivity management. He is a keynote speaker and presenter including ODI’s international customer base, comprised of 12 of Fortune’s 20 top companies. A professor of management and organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management, he has been published in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Quality Progress, and Quality Management in Healthcare. George is author of The Power of Alignment and Rapid Realignment.
Victor Rosansky is co-Founder of ODI and co-author of The Power of Alignment and Rapid Realignment. Victor was recently featured on CBS News for his work in NYC’s Jump Start program that helps transition potential entrepreneurs into startup ventures. He holds Masters degrees in Economics and Psychology and an MBA . He has taught Organizational Behavior, Managerial Economics, and Microeconomics at Boston University School of Management; Consulting Skills to MBA students at the Hult International Business School, and was an invited lecturer at the International University of Japan. He developed LHR International, Inc., a consulting company that focuses on rapid business alignment.