Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Communicating your innovation goals

Innovation, as we all know, is risky and creates change, hopefully for the better, in most organizations. Given that most people are knowledge workers and can apply their skills to the most pressing needs of the business, it would seem obvious that when a firm embarks on a plan to become more innovative, and to put good ideas into action on a more consistent basis, that the firm would tell its employees why innovation is important and what the firm intends to do. Working in the face of corporate cultural inertia, fear of change and increasing risks of innovation, telling people what the goals are and how they'll be accomplished seems like a logical approach. Logic be damned.

Most firms I work with do a poor job communicating their regular strategic goals to their employees, and do a spectacularly poor job of communicating the purpose and intent of innovation. What you face on one hand is the need to get people behind something that looks difficult and risky, and pulls them away from their "regular" jobs, and the lack of interest or willingness to tell people why they are innovating and to what purpose.

As a firm, we harp on consistent communication, before, during and after any innovation campaign or event. As I've noted above, innovation is already difficult because it introduces so much change - different methods of thinking, different applications of risk profiles, different roles and responsibilities - so we have to "empower" people to act in ways that are different from what is normally expected. Now, is this behavior something that is tolerated for a short time, or a long term expectation? What should people who aren't involved in the innovation team think about this new behavior? Should they cooperate with what may seem different or disruptive, or should they ignore it and assume the individuals will eventually revert to "normal" behavior?

Asking for innovation and change without developing the expectations in your organization is like asking for volunteers for a firing squad. Everyone understands the difficulty inherent in an innovation program in a larger organization, and if the management team isn't willing to commit to a consistent communication effort to set expectations and publicly support an innovation program, then innovation won't succeed, since none of the individuals on the team will stick their necks out any further than they believe is safe within the existing culture. No risk, no change equals little to no innovation.

If your management team wants real innovation, then when you build your team ask for a resource to help with consistent communication about your effort, your goals and the change necessary. Ask the senior management to sponsor the communication throughout the organization and keep up a regular drumbeat of communication about your progress and your goals. This has the possibility to change the culture and set appropriate expectations. Anything else means working against existing corporate culture and without clear goals and priorities.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:59 AM

3 Comments:

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