Helping Frontline Workers Become Innovative
Innovative organizations do not miraculously come into existence. Rather, they are created by leaders who establish the conditions necessary to bring out the innovative ideas within everyone.
How can organizational leaders create these conditions? In particular, how can they create conditions that will encourage frontline workers to be innovative? This requires, I believe, that leaders fulfill two major conditions. They must convince frontline workers that the leadership supports the line; and, they must ensure that frontline workers understand the big picture.
In every effective organization, there is some kind of implicit contract between the leadership and the line. The line will produce what the leadership wants; in turn, the leadership produces what the line wants. The organization’s leadership wants to make this message as explicit as possible: “You produce for us, and we’ll produce for you”.
This implicit contract is needed by any organization that seeks to become innovative. Frontline workers will not help an organization’s leadership do a better job at achieving its mission unless they believe these leaders will help them.
Frontline workers: leadership on their side
But what should those frontline workers who have decided that being innovative is good for the organization attempt to accomplish? In what direction should they attempt to innovate? What are the constraints? How will an innovation fit within other efforts being made throughout the agency? What is the purpose of the agency and how will any specific innovation help to achieve that purpose? To be effective as innovators, frontline workers must understand what the organization is trying to accomplish, why it is trying to accomplish that, and how it might achieve that goal.
Frontline workers understand the big picture
Before frontline workers are going to become innovative, they have to believe that the organization’s leadership supports them, and they have to understand the big picture.
Be immediately responsive
When an executive first asks frontline workers or middle managers what should be done to improve the organization’s effectiveness, the responses will inevitably focus on working conditions. People will complain about the lack of a soft drink machine, the broken toilet, or the photocopier that barely reproduces the original. Obviously, workers will be more productive if they have the right tool.
The quicker that top management produces the new copier, the better its credibility will be.
In fact, before asking frontline workers what should be done to improve the organization, its leaders ought to know the answer they will hear. Before top management meets with the workers, leaders ought to find out what kind of improvements the workers will request. Before the meeting, they ought to check out exactly what they will have to do to produce the improvement and how long it will take. Then, when confronted with the request, they can commit to making the improvement and also state clearly whether the improvement will be completed in a day, a week, a month, or a year.
To identify the needs of frontline workers, the agency’s leadership ought to ask the union. In fact, in a unionized agency, if the organization’s leaders go straight to their frontline workers, the union will view this as a direct threat, an effort to undermine its role.
Innovative organizations make mistakes, lots of mistakes. And how the organization treats these mistakes and those who make them sends important signals throughout the organization. If the mistaken innovators are punished in any way, even if they are just perceived to be punished, frontline workers will relearn a basic lesson of bureaucratic life: It does not pay to experiment with new ideas.
Unfortunately, a lot of people make their living catching mistaken innovations. These mistake catchers get their jollies and their professional recognition from uncovering and exposing mistakes. The moral fervor with which they take on this assignment combined with the well-known and easily implemented strategy for publicizing any mistake creates the
If frontline workers learn that no mistake, even an honest mistake, goes unpunished, they will certainly be reluctant to be innovative. Consequently, leaders who wish to create an innovative organization have to figure out ways to prevent those who make mistakes from being punished.
- IT Innovation: is outsourcing possible? (worldofinnovations.net)
- Innovative Leadership Workbook for Emerging Leaders and Managers is a… (prweb.com)
- Free Yourself with a Fearless Front Line (cherylmcmillan.com)
- Should You Take That Innovation Job? (blogs.hbr.org)
- 2- Leadership and Innovation: Relating to Circumstances and Change (serdarbicer.wordpress.com)
- Should You Take That Innovation Job? – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
Are you thinking about ways to transform your workplace into an environment more conducive to innovation? This article takes a closer look at six components of creative climates that have shown to be significant at facilitating creativity according to new research.
What is a creative climate?
A climate can be seen as various aspects of the psychological atmosphere in a team and the surrounding organizational environment. The climate often conveys expectations about which behaviors and attitudes that are acceptable. In the creativity research field there has been many attempts to conceptualize the idea of a ‘creative’ climate – i.e. such a climate that facilitates outcomes that are creative.
This article highlights six components of a creative climate that have been shown to be among the most salient in predicting creative and innovative outcomes.
Complex, challenging and interesting tasks and goals spur intrinsic motivation, which is a critical component of creativity. Yet here also lies an important caveat. Tasks and goals should not be too overwhelming because then the challenge risk becoming an obstacle – effectively stifling motivation.
2. Intellectual debate
When working with complex and challenging tasks, problems often surface. The nature of these problems is that they are often novel to the people that encounters them and complex in that they can be solved in different ways. To ensure that a project can move forward, many viewpoints must be heard and people must feel secure enough so that they put forward their best ideas. In organizations where there is no debate people tend to stick to “tried and true” ways of doing things – applying old solutions to new problems.
3. Flexibility and risk taking
A basic reality of creative endeavors is that they are inherently uncertain. Often, there is no valid information that ensures that an idea or an innovation is guaranteed to succeed. Even a creative idea itself may not be practical enough to be realized into a new product, service or process improvement. Thus, risk is inherently built into innovation. Research shows that tolerating this risk, not minimizing it, is the best strategy. Thus, it is crucial that organizations accept and allow risk, encourage experimentation and failure.
4. Top management support
Another salient component of a creative climate is the perception of support from top management. This support entails both espoused support; when top management communicate norms that encourage innovation, risk taking and experimentation, and enacted support. This latter form of support is perhaps the most important, since it is the amount of resources such as money, time and facilities that top management is prepared to commit to innovation. If resources are not available, employees will see through the rhetoric of encouragement, effectively undermining these efforts.
5. Positive supervisor relations
Support for new ideas by the supervisor or team leader is critical for the further development and implementation of these ideas. Especially supportive leaders listen and give feedback to ideas, and tolerate a certain degree of experimentation. Furthermore, leaders should publicly recognize and reward creative efforts.
6. Positive interpersonal exchange
The last salient component of creative climates is joy. When team members experience a sense of “togetherness” that comes with a common goal, team members will want to cooperate efficiently for their mutual benefit. This increases both team performance as well as individual performance. With increased togetherness communication is facilitated, which will allow different perspectives and keep conflict away.
- Top Six Components of a Creative Climate (innovationmanagement.se)
- 6 Ways to Unleash Creativity in the Workplace (worldofinnovations.net)
- Leadership: Creating a climate for innovation (bringinnovationalive.wordpress.com)
- Invest the Time in Innovation (iacquire.com)
- A Research-Based Guide to Brainstorming Linkbait – or Anything Else (seomoz.org)
1. Innovation as a corporate function
At a growing number of large organizations, innovation is now an identified organizational group, with a specific mandate, roles and responsibilities, metrics, processes, resources, and governance. According to a 2012 Capgemini study, 43% of large global companies now have a formally accountable innovation executive. Innovation has become a corporate function, and the trend is gaining steam.
2. Most leaders see Innovation as distraction
Yet despite the trend, today’s innovation leader has a very difficult mission, for two reasons. First, most corporate warriors in middle management persist in thinking of innovation as a management fad – a distraction from quarterly goals and core objectives. As a result, the innovation leader faces a constant uphill battle for legitimacy – unless he/she demonstrates clear, powerful business results from innovation’s efforts. And there is a limited time window before faith and confidence are lost permanently.
3. Innovation breaks operational excellence
Secondly, innovation has a distinct rhythm from the daily business. Instead of driving to efficiency and operational excellence, successful innovation requires space and time to create, tolerance of failure and a culture of open experimentation. In a corporate setting, individuals with ‘innovative’ personalities have long since learned to hide or downplay them, for the sake of career advancement. So the natural rhythm of innovation inevitably feels strange and foreign within a large organization.
4. Innovation as strategic axis for competition
Yet senior leaders increasingly view innovation as a strategic imperative, allowing the firm to adapt and respond to competitive pressures, customer needs and technology change in a rapidly changing, information-rich 21st century world. Most of the time, a great deal is riding on the success or failure of the Innovation Leader. In some cases, the C-suite has staked the company’s future on it.
5. Innovation Project Outsourcing
In this environment, outsourcing is a critical enabler of success. Experienced innovation firms use proven methods and tools to produce those crucial early-stage results, while also injecting the DNA of innovation process into the organization. Typically this outsourcing takes one of two forms.
When the need for a specific innovation is clear – breakthrough new product designs, for example – the innovation leader may outsource the entirety of an innovation project. This is called Innovation Project Outsourcing – in which an innovation firm acts like a design agency, working independently and producing ready-made innovations as deliverables. These projects can range from R&D and engineering work, product and/or industrial design, to innovation process design.
6. Innovation Process Outsourcing
Ultimately, however, the innovation leader cannot be wholly dependent on an outsourcer to produce innovation. Innovation Process Outsourcing is a critical step in embedding innovation habits into an organisation’s DNA. An experienced innovation firm will be intimately familiar with the difficulties of involving broad sets of enterprise stakeholders in a collaborative process. Working underneath the innovation leader, outsourced programme managers can be embedded into the organization as change agents and campaign managers. Through careful scoping of innovation initiatives, combined with skilful management of the campaigns themselves, dramatic results can be achieved while also socializing the behaviors and rhythms of successful enterprise innovation.
7. Innovation Skill Transfert
The end goal of these outsourcing efforts is innovation skill transfer and discipline-building within the corporation. Over time, the outsourcer trains its client on the core Innovation Management skills and methods, which allows the innovation programme to achieve sustainable scale as an enterprise program. As a result, the organisation begins to treat ideas as valuable intellectual capital – and consistently collect, vet and leverage this capital for business benefit.
8. Permanent home for innovation outsourcing
In the longer term, there is a permanent home for innovation outsourcing in most companies. Innovation strategy is a core competence any organisation needs to build, refine and invest in – it’s the future of the company. But aspects of how innovation is built and executed may be outsourced, as external parties have skills and competencies which the company may not have or even need to be in-house.
- Cloud’s role in the move from outsourcing to smartsourcing (intechnology.co.uk)
- Why Innovation Programs Are A Total Waste Of Time (ceo.com)
- 5 Myths About Innovation And Strategy (ceo.com)
- 2013 Winners: Training Outsourcing Companies Watch List (barebrilliance.wordpress.com)
- Kill Your Innovation Champion (psychologytoday.com)
- Outsourcing Business Processes for Innovation (barebrilliance.wordpress.com)
When faced with something new, we usually look for similarities to the familiar. And the more commonalities we find, the more readily we accept the new.
But is creating similarities to the familiar always a good approach? Surprisingly, the answer may be no. Following analogies too closely can cause similarities to remain undetected or, even worse, be falsely assumed to exist.
Alternatively, a close-fitting analogy may make the new seem overly familiar. Concentrating too much on similarities can cause organizations to overlook what is unique about the new — particularly those aspects that might offer important advantages and opportunities.
Organizations can rely too heavily and too long on a favored analogy, which carries significant risks. One analogy might be a poor fit relative to others; by using it too long, the company might deprive itself of the insight a better analogy would provide. This may result in diminished competitive advantage, since rivals that use better analogies can adapt more rapidly to change and innovation.
Lessons for Leaders
To better understand the full meaning of anything new, employ a wide range of diverse analogies and maintain an open mind. This is much easier to achieve with a staff that can draw from a broad spectrum of work, personal, educational and cultural experiences. Depth of experience in one area may be more harmful than helpful, as it may prevent the richly diverse analogies that breadth of experience frequently engenders.
Avoid relying too heavily on certain analogies and overlooking the benefits of others. Developing a list of diverse analogies makes it less likely that any specific one will be associated with a particular individual or group, limiting its perceived applicability.
To build momentum during the assimilation phase, concentrate on analogies that emphasize the familiar. Focus on similarity of function, rather than appearance. Obvious surface features may obscure important similarities at more structural levels.
Be prepared to change analogies as the new technology becomes more familiar. Transition to analogies that highlight what is distinctive about the innovation. This will help ensure that high-potential attributes are not overlooked.
See the complete article related to this post
- Change Management: Using analogies to overcome resistance (business.financialpost.com)
- Are analogies the best way to describe innovations? (smartplanet.com)
- Analogies and Innovation (enterpriseresilienceblog.typepad.com)