The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic means many people are going through massive disruption right now. The impact is different for everybody (we’re not all in the same boat; we’re in the same storm, each with our own boat!), but there’s never been a more important time to be open to change.
And that means being open to innovation.
I use the word “innovation” carefully because it scares some people. But innovation doesn’t mean inventing the next iPhone, sending people to Mars, or finding a COVID-19 vaccine. Innovation is about proactively making change happen.
I often say innovation and disruption are two sides of the same coin. They are both about change: It’s disruption when it happens to you, it’s innovation when you do it yourself.
Make no mistake: Right now, when there’s so much change happening outside your business, it’s more important than ever to promote, support, and encourage change inside as well. Most of us don’t have the luxury to go into hibernation until this storm passes. We need to change, and we need to change fast.
But you might be blocking change – without meaning to.
When I work with teams to help them build a culture of innovation, I often play a game “10 Ways to Stop Innovation”. The title is tongue in cheek, but it’s a valuable exercise that highlights things you might be doing – unintentionally – that discourage innovation.
Have you ever heard – or – (gasp!) said – any of these 10 “innovation stoppers” in a workplace?
- “We tried that once but it didn’t work.”
- “That would never work here.”
- “It’s against company policy.”
- “It’s not necessary.”
- “Our customers won’t like it.”
- “What’s the return on investment?”
- “It’s too expensive.”
- “We’re too busy right now.”
- “That’s not our problem.”
- “It’s not part of your job.”
Which ones have YOU heard?
I recently did this exercise in an online workshop with a team of emerging leaders. On an online whiteboard, the participants highlighted the things they had heard some time in their professional life:
As you can see, the participants (and there weren’t many of them!) had encountered all ten innovation-stoppers.
Do you say these things to YOUR team?
You might think you would never say these things to your team members. But the trouble is it’s easy to justify all of these statements! You don’t say them to stifle innovation, but for some other – perfectly logical and sensible – reason.
For example, the most common one in that online workshop (judging by the number of “votes” it got) is:
“What’s the return on investment (ROI)?”
There’s nothing wrong with asking that, right? In fact, if somebody comes to you with a new idea, wouldn’t it be negligent not to ask that question?
Maybe, but it can also block change.
Too often, the person with the idea is expected to crunch some numbers, conduct a cost-benefit analysis, write a report, present it to a committee, and then get management approval – all before they can do anything with their idea. That’s a sure-fire way to bring innovation to a screeching halt.
Don’t block change too soon.
In 2017, the Harvard Business Review published an article, “Managers Reject Ideas Customers Want”. It said customers often had innovative ideas for improving a company’s products and services, but managers tended to reject the ideas because they knew how much work would be involved in implementing the ideas. In other words, customers ask “Why?” and managers ask “How?”.
It could have equally been “Managers Reject Ideas Employees Want”, because the same principle applies. When a team member presents a new idea, do you think of its benefits (the “Why”) or does your mind turn immediately to the work involved (the “How”)?
Don’t reject the idea too soon!
How do you find the right balance?
Let’s return to that potential innovation-stopper:
“What’s the return on investment (ROI)?”
This is a reasonable question, but it shouldn’t create such a burden. There are ways to calculate an initial ROI (for example, with a prototype or a pilot project), and these don’t have to block the change. In fact, they constructively help the person to make the change happen more effectively.
The same applies to all the other innovation-stoppers, and to other things that block change in your workplace.
The point is: Creating a culture that encourages change and innovation takes work. It doesn’t come naturally, so work at it. The future of your organisation might depend on it!
Building a Culture of Change Agents – Find Out More
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