Innovation, Leadership and the “Flavor of the Month” Problem

When leadership announces a new innovation initiative, the troops are often slow to rally behind it. That’s because it’s just the latest in a long list of executive proclamations – none of which seem to stand the test of time, because they are soon replaced by some other new initiative. This so called “flavor of the month” mindset isn’t just consultant-speak, however. According to Jeffrey Phillips, it’s all too real in companies today.

When senior management announces a new initiative, the push-back is usually immediate. Does the executive team understand how much work this requires, how much investment in resources and funding, and the amount of time and attention that must be diverted from other things?  How do we, the direct reports, know that the executive team won’t change their minds, or shift priorities again next month, when a new flavor of the month is presented?

Innovation is an activity that is especially susceptible to flavor of the month thinking, because it is new, unusual, risky and uncertain, and people don’t have the basic skills or experience to do it well. That means the learning curve is far greater, and the inertia not to take on this effort is far larger than for other initiatives. No one wants to start working with the assumption that the funding and resource commitments are there to do innovation, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.

Between executive teams and their direct reports and subsequent management levels there are gaps in understanding, in strategic alignment, and in depth and breadth of commitment. The direct reports want innovation just as much as the executive team, but are far more cautious because they also have direct responsibility for the day to day activities of the business.

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