One of the most common questions I hear from executives and leaders is how they can get their teams to be more innovative. In most cases, the root cause is a perception that they are too busy to be creative. I will tackle that issue in a future post, but for now, let's look at creating an innovative culture. We acknowledge, of course, this is a long -term process, but first steps are important.
Acknowledge the situation - "Hi, my name is Barry Cross and I have a problem." Maybe not that kind of problem, but the approach is the same. This is where we talk to the team: We are doing a great job with today's customers, but what about tomorrow's? Tailor the message to suit your business, your market, and most importantly, your vision of where you need to go. Bottom line – ask for their help in driving Next in your business.
Shake up the routine - Being innovative doesn't require a massive R&D budget, but it will require a culture shift. Start by changing your own behavior. Re-purpose your Friday management meeting with a new agenda, and better still, a new location and time slot. De-emphasize e-mail and other busy work, so people can complete important tasks more quickly, thus freeing up time to think about Next. Talk the cool ideas that emerge around the water cooler and on the company's internal website.
Set a stretch target - Every once in a while, leaders need to be able to ask for something exceptional. Set a seemingly out of reach goal for 2013, something people really have to work at. This could be organizational, strategic or even philanthropic. Enable the team, empower them and then get out of the way. When they nail it, celebrate!
We spend so much time on conditioning people's behavior right from childhood that we want things a certain way – rubrics, guidelines, expectations, agendas, goals – that people forget how to be creative. We start here by shifting the culture and breaking some of the paradigms that govern our day-to-day behavior, and the team will start to look beyond the veil of efficiency. This is a long-term process, but any step is a step forward.
Barry Cross is a professor of Operations Management and Technology at Queen's School of Business in Kingston, and best-selling author of Lean Innovation: Understanding What's Next in Today's Economy.