Innovation is hard; innovation also goes against the grain of entrenched interests in a company. Innovation can be scary, disruptive, and crosses departmental lines with stunning abandon. Innovation in a stove pipe or overly hierarchical company is not going to happen because Innovation is one of the scariest things that a company can do. If you hired people to innovate, seriously get out of the way and let them go do good things. The problem is that the modern mega corps and many companies regardless of size, general innovation is a dream, not a reality.
I do advise companies on a great many things about how to be more successful. Over the last 20 some odd years as employee, manager, adviser, and general cheerleader I have come up with some rules that I use as a check list of the companies temperament. While the rage is on right now for innovation, we need to innovate our way out of the recession, we need to have that one big win and everything will be OK, you might want to look at a company’s roots and culture before you think you are going to go in there and innovate. If the company does not have the culture to support innovation, no amount of management support for innovation is going to happen, and it might be best to go somewhere else to innovate.
Rule Number 1 – What is the range of employee service times? If you have a lot of managers who have been at a company for 20+ years (and yes you will still find them), and a lot of people who have been hired on in the last three years, with few people in service between 3 and 20 years, this might be a problem.
Why is this a problem? What ends up happening is that new people are hired in to do stuff to help the company, but often run into the political realities of people who are happy the way things are. The broader the gap between old and new employees especially if there is a big gap in the middle shows that new people who were hired on eventually left because they were unable to do what they were hired to do. About year 2 people get disillusioned, and once disillusioned they tend to leave around year three or four. This also depends on the economy, how badly someone needs their job, and how hard it is to find a new job.
Rule Number 2 – When was the last round of layoffs, what is the turnover rate? Turnover speaks volumes about a company and how it is running. Few other indicators tell of the health of the company than high turnover. If half the staff left in six months, this is an issue. If there are always rounds of layoffs then people go into survival mode, boat rocking is not going to happen.
Why is this a problem? Fear of being fired or a high turnover rate speaks of frustration. This is also dependent on where the turnover rate is happening in the organization. Is it happening between years 3 and 8 then people might tend to be frustrated. Is it happening earlier in the process then this speaks of fear. Fear and Frustration are two of the biggest killers of innovation out there.
Rule Number 3 – How many layers of management are there between people who actually do the work that the company relies on, and the CEO? The more layers of management the greater chance that anything innovative will be killed or caught up in political games.
Why is this a problem? The more political the structure of a company, the higher the chance of good marketable ideas being killed in the process of delivering those ideas to market. The more layers of management, the greater chance that political issues will overtake anything like a good idea and delay or obfuscate the good marketable idea getting to market. Companies cannot help this, we are by nature political people, and we tend to gravitate into political structures regardless of the size of the company. It is far too easy with many layers of management to stifle or kill innovation and good ideas.
Rule Number 4 – What are the employees talking about in private away from managers ears?
Why is this a problem? It is a temperature index for the company and ties into rules 1 and 2. People will always complain, but what are they complaining about? While you have to be careful of politics in this because some complaints can be wound deeply into the political structure of a company, if employees are complaining about paperwork, support, or even getting the job done then there might be an issue. Did the company cut too deeply into bone, do people feel empowered to solve local issues is the company stable enough to bring great ideas to market. People’s comments on their jobs and issues with their jobs are a wonderful eye opening look at a company.
Rule Number 5 – Does the company engage in Lottery or Wishful Thinking rather than bring great ideas to market?
Why is this a problem? The odds of winning the lottery are small; wishful thinking often leads to bad decisions. If we are using “what should be” or “I just need one big win” to determine the direction of the company, then we are not dealing with the market “as-is”. The markets are harsh and unrelenting, if the company is not dealing with them, then no amount of innovation or even soul searching will help them. The more wishful thinking, the more lottery style decisions the more money a company is wasting on a house of cards.
These five rules can help someone when they decide to go work at a company. I have seen successful innovation come out of some very large companies but wither as those good ideas died in inter company politics. Some successful innovation products, good ideas brought to market, have had to come out of “company skunk works” where the people involved report directly to the CEO, rather than to any other group in the organization. I have seen a lot of good projects die, and a lot of companies simply ride out the market waiting for something to magically happen.
If the company is engaged and open then innovation is a matter of careful thought over what people need or want, and the products or services the company is providing. Innovation will have management support, and as few layers of management as possible to help make good things happen. The wider the gap between old thinking and new thinking, the harder it is to innovate. The more layers of management there are, the higher the probability that something will become political and killed or fought over until it is dead.
- 10 proven ways not to innovate (business.financialpost.com)
Business, Company, Employment, Idea, Innovation, Management, Market, Politics