Breakthrough innovation is uncomfortable―get through it. Post 2
“Be careful what you ask for cause you just might get it.” Refrain from “When I Grow Up” by The Pussycat Dolls
Many organizations are chasing the “innovation” strategy.
We want all of the benefits, don’t we?
We want the shiny design, the “loyalty” of our clients, the envy of our competitors, and the bountiful revenue.
This is “hot” change. Maybe uncomfortably hot.
What price is the organization willing to pay?
What price are you, the leader, willing to pay? How about you, the employee?
If it were easy, someone else would already be doing it.
Real breakthrough (there’s a shiny word) innovation is hard. Anyone who has even attempted it and failed knows how perilous this journey is.
It is perilous for at least three reasons. This post looks at:
- Getting all the right people aligned
- Keeping them engaged
- Succeeding through discomfort
Aligning with the four corners of the “earth”
There are at least four sources for innovation, inspiration, and collaboration:
- The brightest minds across your organization
- Your customer base
- Your supply chain
- A core delivery team
For some organizations, there may be many more sources―for example, your Board and investors might want to weigh in; volunteers (in hospitals, for example) might have a useful perspective.
The point here is that these are very diverse constituencies with different experiences with your “product” (or service or opportunity) and very different agendas. There are “interests” and polarities to be managed. Their opinions will diverge greatly and converge powerfully.
Engaging them has been referred to as “herding cats” or “riding rodeo.” It requires a certain set of skills. Some organizations call it “stakeholder management” I actually prefer the term “stakeholder engagement.”
Keeping the team together on the journey to innovation
The status quo may not be brilliant but it is often comfortable. It is known and predictable.
Some might have said that the Murphy beds of the 1950s were more than adequate (see Post 1). Why go through the effort of innovating it?
There are a lot of reasons to get stuck, to resist—for the initiative to stall out or flame out and lots of factors:
- People’s enthusiasm and commitment to the journey cool and wane
- Uncertainty and ambiguity grow and wear the team down
- Fear and insecurity become a plague
The leaders must remain resolute and must be energetic in continuing to engage their teams and constituencies. It takes powerful momentum to keep the innovation freight train moving―it takes all of the change execution skills and resources you can muster.
One of the Conner Partners leadership mindsets about transformational change strikes me here:
“Sponsors and agents aren’t there to make people comfortable during change—their job is to help them succeed despite the inevitable discomfort” (“Realization Mindset for Sponsors”).
“The inevitable discomfort”
In the previous post, I talked about strategic intent and the clarity leaders gain in that process. It is essential to share and perpetuate that clarity throughout the organization and the constituencies involved. It is only the first step toward managing discomfort.
Many change management approaches rely solely on broadcasting communication for this. You know what it looks like: townhall meetings, webinars, emails, intranet websites. These are good, but insufficient. People need to talk through their doubts and reservations. And, rather inconveniently, we all need to talk through it more than once.
Previously, I have referred to the commitment curve. We tend to think that we help people get on the commitment path and they stay on it. Nothing could be further from the truth. At every point in time, it is human nature to assess new information coming in. We can stall or drop out at any point, and we often do―usually when we become uncomfortable.
When leaders at each level of the organization talk with their people regularly they can head off discomfort by providing additional information and clarification or sometimes by reminding them about the benefits and consequences for the organizations and themselves.
Because innovation is fraught with ambiguity, the need for ongoing conversations is even more imperative than in other change. Information is updated regularly and decisions are made on the fly. It is easy to get left behind and feel out of the loop. Great leaders mitigate this and keep people aligned by sharing updates and discussing implications.
Innovation is one of the single most important strategies of our generation. It is more than a competitive advantage―the future of our organizations, communities, and economies depends on it.
Innovation is transformational change. Let’s invest in understanding how to do it well.
Are you in the midst of this struggle? Let’s talk firstname.lastname@example.org
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