Innovation at Work: Overcoming the Barriers to Change
There is an increasing number of organisations who are prioritizing Innovation (at least in theory). According to a report by McKinsey around 84% of CEOs agree that Innovation is critical for the growth of their company. This is due to the good reason that innovative products are ruling the market these days. Since information is easily and readily available online, it is easier to identify the pain points of consumers and develop a product that solves these problems in the most efficient way.
However, nurturing innovation at the workplace is often more difficult than it seems.
Why is innovation the exception and not the norm?
Innovative behaviors do not always "fit in a box" at structured organizational settings. More often than not, innovative ideas disrupt the existing systems at organisations. Many a times organisations themselves crush the innovative spirit of their employees by placing restrictions on their job description, creating a strong hierarchy that influences decision making and by having rigid plans and processes leaving less room for innovation and change.
What is a Culture of Innovation?
The culture of innovation is developed in an organisation when the employees have cultivated the habit of generating innovative ideas. It is when the management works in sync with the employees who come up with robust ideas and have strong data to backup the success of the project. Innovation happens when the employees pay close attention to what customers are telling them (through reviews and feedback) and identify what the market is showing them (through available data).
There are some essential factors that make it easier to generate innovative ideas in an organisation.
The factors that boost innovation in organisations
Flexible processes - A Global Innovation Survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group found that the major obstacle (42%) for innovation was its development time. It shows that the faster you innovate the better off you are with capturing the market who needs this innovation. Fast innovations require the processes at organisation to be quicker as well. Therefore it is crucial to have flexible processes in place.
If the idea or plan needs to go through various levels and needs the approval of many people, then by the time it is ready for implementation, the "right time" has already passed and your competitor has probably launched the product. To avoid this, it is helpful to invest in a careful, but quick analysis.
Autonomy - Micromanagement is a buzzkill. The more managers try to micromanage and control employees, the more likely they are to lose faith in their capability. Lack of autonomy at the workplace also indicates that there is a prevalence of status quo. This sends a message that employees are not allowed to question the processes and simply follow them.
Giving autonomy and encouraging everyone to come up with solutions to pressing problems is helpful because good ideas can come from anyone in the organisation. When managers trust employees and allow them to use their rational judgement, it also sends a message that they have faith in the employees. Innovation comes with freedom to act upon innovative ideas and a chance to demonstrate and execute the plan.
Psychological Safety - Even if the members in your team are naturally curious and innovative, they need to be provided with psychological safety to explore and manifest these ideas to reality. Psychological safety is when they feel free to experiment and try a different way of doing things.
It is all about creating a safe environment where employees feel comfortable to share their ideas and talk about the errors they made and lessons learnt. This motivates everyone in the team to be honest and transparent about their views and opinions. This in turn helps them be creative.
Collaboration - A barrier that can hamper implementation of any plan is the dissociation among team members or departments. Collaboration is required not just for the smooth implementation of the plan but also for understanding the loopholes from different perspectives. The team should be diverse enough to think from different perspectives but small enough to execute the plan smoothly.
Collaboration is when team members feel like they can count on each other during difficult times and they are willing to work together keeping biases aside for the success of the project. This leads to many behaviors that fuel innovation like networking with the right people, supporting each other and giving appropriate feedback.
Risk Tolerance - This talks about the organisation's ability to take calculated risks. Innovative projects are effective if they are data driven or have strong evidence to support the fact that they will succeed. However, risk is involved at certain steps along the way. At this point the managers need to trust that their team will handle these uncertain situations wisely.
Even if they make a mistake or two, encourage your team members to look beyond that and how to fix the problem and get back on track. It helps to have a good understanding about all the risks involved and having a backup plan. However, remember that failures should not have a bad reputation in the company. That will discourage employees from trying.
Encouraging a culture of innovation in the workplace begins with leadership, but it also requires a commitment from all employees to continuously improve and evolve. Companies must provide resources, support, and opportunities for employees to express their ideas, try new things, and take calculated risks. By fostering a culture of innovation, companies can unleash the full potential of their workforce and build a foundation for future growth and success.
We also recommend you to watch this interview with Dr. Brian Glibkowski on How leaders can inspire a continuous learning organization. Brian is an author, researcher and futurist passionate about the role of questions and answers . In his book Answer Intelligence: Raise Your AQ. Dr Brian introduces a new science of answers. Brian Glibkowski is an Associate Professor of Management at North Central College in Illinois, USA.