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How to enable innovation within your organisation

Paul Stewart
Paul Stewart
Monday, September 6, 2021

At ON-Brand Partners we live by the adage that ‘in our fast-paced world, innovation is fundamental to any organisation remaining relevant’. Yet, in so many organisations, innovation is something that is confined to a few teams or areas. As Gary Hamel, the world-renowned business and management thinker has said... “I’m dumbfounded by the fact that so few companies have invested in innovation skills of their frontline employees”.

How to enable innovation within your organisation

While we concur, skills alone, are not enough. Creating the environment where forward-looking, possibility-focused, creative exploration is valued is essential for innovation to thrive. In fact, in the past decade the evidence has emerged that for any type of ‘change’ approach (e.g. transformation, continuous improvement, agile, and innovation), getting the culture ‘right’ is essential to creating and sustaining value.

Prioritise and nurture psychological safety

As Peter Williams, Deloitte’s Chief Edge Officer for the Centre for the Edge shared in our webinar: “What now? How organisations can thrive in disruptive times”, psychological safety is one of the essential culture attributes for success.

“People need to feel that they have a voice, to put forward an idea, can stand up an idea, and be supported to have a crack at making it work.”
Peter Williams.

Unfortunately, as more and more organisations start to hone-in on this factor they are finding they have a problem. There is an emerging pattern across organisations in the public and private sector where people are feeling that it’s not safe to speak up. This is a major issue that leaders must address, both for the wellbeing of their people, and for the performance of the organisation.  

Leaders need to explore how enabled their people feel about their ability to drive innovation and support change. Asking these five questions is a good place to start:

  1. Are they clear about the objective of what you’re trying to achieve?
  2. Are they capable and have the tools and resources they require?
  3. Do they have the time and energy or the capacity?
  4. Are they committed to making it happen?
  5. Have they got the ability to both contribute their ideas and perspectives and raise their concerns and issues as well?

When you don’t get these elements right, you’re really stuck in respect to people having confidence in leadership and wanting to moving forward.

Identify patterns of learned helplessness

Peter Williams also talked of ‘learned helplessness’ – where the odds are stacked against agility and innovation simply due to the organisational culture around how things are done. These self-generated constraints prevent the ability to take action, and can look like:

  • Having to prove that an established market exists before starting.
  • Validating that revenue will be generated and returns will be achieved in very short timeframes.
  • Being bound to existing, ‘approved’ technologies.

Many organisations spend far too much time analysing and planning, rather than doing. Leaders need to lead by example to help undo entrenched patterns of learned helplessness and drive new ways of doing things.  

Find out how open your team is to adopt change and embrace innovation

What we find with a lot of the change initiatives we partner on is that we’re often addressing big concepts that drive large scale transformation, but the organisation is never really starting with a blank canvas, or completely from scratch if you like. There are bound to be things that are being done well and things not so well. We’ve created this simple Innovation Readiness Tool that will give you a quick snapshot of the type of cultural environment you have in your organisation which can help inform how you may need to change, to open up opportunities for innovation to flourish in your organisation.

Take the lead and start innovating, today

The good news is there are things you can start doing right now and longer-term changes you can make to help enable innovation in your organisation. Here’s a selection of ideas that came from the webinar conversation between Paul Stewart and Peter Williams:

  • Tap into Purpose. The passion that comes from being connected with purpose is key because it encourages effort and helps overcome the fear of possible failure.  
  • Implement ‘practices’ not ‘processes’. Regular practices that give people the ability to explore ideas and have a crack. Then provide support and guidance around how they might do that.
  • Create time and space to reflect and explore.  Sharing our unique perspectives, insights and concerns makes people feel they are not only heard but valued.  
  • Envisage ideas in action. If the idea was really successful, how might it look? Encourage people to think about what a solution might look like. It’s not about whether that’s right or wrong or indifferent, but at least apply a bit of visioning.
  • Embed the understanding that when you’re at idea stage you don’t know much and you’re going to learn by doing.
    o  Focus on prototyping, testing and engaging with the end-users
       o  Put ‘Experiments before Excel’, and ‘Prototypes before PowerPoint presentations’
       o  You don’t need large sums of cash or a lot of time to run market research. Put on a lunch and grab some people who might be interested in your prototype and run it past them as a first step.
  • Define the landscape/the territories that you want to play in. If you open up the conversation around innovation you tend to find you get ideas from all corners, that you potentially just can’t do from a regulatory or license point of view – eg: we should run our own bank (if you’re not a financial service provider)
  • Communicate regularly and consistently that this is a new way of doing things – implement the psychological safety your workforce needs to embrace this innovation and steer away from the learned helplessness fall back.
  • Explore what’s happening in the environment around you. Sure, the overseas junkets say to Silicon Valley etc. in the pre Covid world were really appealing, but you don’t need to take that time or hit financially to get a feel for what’s happening in your environment. You’ll find a lot of change and innovation is happening locally, sometimes literally just around the corner. So, look for opportunities to get your leadership to touch, feel things, meet people in these organisations that are doing things well.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can empower, engage and excite your people to embrace innovation in your organisation, get in touch, we’d love to chat.

Innovation Readiness Tool

Get a snapshot of your cultural environment


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