Peter Drucker’s famous quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Culey, 2012) fits corporate innovation programs quite well. Even starting from a purely strategic point of view of making choices, the culture issues arise immediately when starting to define the innovation purpose, build the program structure, selecting the teams and organizing innovation in the company.
From work experiences with companies of different sectors, we identified the following organizational purpose and alignment constraints:
…their culture and leadership style did not allow the involvement of all the right people, either c-level executives or shop floor employees with a long track record and expertise in critical areas.
Sometimes it is very difficult to adapt an innovation program to the static and egocentric vision of top executives.
Culture is part of the DNA of every organization and its founders and leaders create and shape constantly. Often it is easy to find the values of an organization very well expressed even if not always put into practice. However, it is not so common to find a written and formal manifestation of the organization’s culture. Therefore, innovation culture is something that cannot be created and imposed in the organization.
Only by overcoming the engagement constraints can the CEO and the leadership team be able to craft significant cultural expressions that really facilitate innovation. Motivated and committed employees will be more active and looking to improve process or create new ideas. It’s also important that failures are rewarded as well as successes. The ones that fail experimenting novel approaches have merits too. It’s sometimes the way society looks to failures that constrains peoples’ participation.
“Engaged employees stay for what they give (they like their work); disengaged employees stay for what they get (favourable job conditions, growth opportunities, and job security).” – Blessing White’s State of Employee Engagement 2008 Global Report.
Besides engagement of the individuals, it is also important that teams really work as teams. This means that the group objectives are more important than individual ones. Activities as such are usually named team building, where employees and employers are at the same level while trying to overpass an obstacle, meaning they will work better and will be more prone to cooperate. Engaged and committed teams will be more active and looking to foster processes or create new ideas.
Leaders must share their vision and aspirations by clearly defining the challenging goals which will motivate and inspire everyone.
If innovation is accepted then leaders must share their vision and aspirations by clearly defining the challenging goals which will motivate and inspire everyone, no matter their role and responsibilities in the organization. This would ensure that there is a culture established which encourages this type of thinking and the organization utilizes its resources fully. If innovation is accepted or rejected, it will depend on the openness of the leaders in the organization and in their ability to communicate the vision and aspirations.
In a collaborative company everyone is part of the innovation and closer to 99% engaged on all levels.
Traditional leaders are authoritative and using hierarchy to delegate ideas to put out fires, whereas collaborative leaders tend to collect the ideas and find solutions to the root of problems. A study by Dale Carnegie Training placed the number of “fully engaged” employees at 29%, and “disengaged” employees at 26% (Lipman, 2013) – meaning nearly three-quarters of employees are not fully engaged. That would suggest that that in a collaborative company everyone is part of the innovation and closer to 99% engaged on all levels.
One of the episodes that we will never forget was an innovation workshop with a conglomerate organization where the CEO invited all the members of the executive commission as well as top managers from different areas. During the process of mapping and submitting ideas and insights, the CEO was surprised by a different view from one of the senior executives about the effectiveness of the organization communication program. Instead of integrating and openly discussing a different opinion, the CEO started a personal fight with the senior executive and with all the other people that questioned the communication program. It obviously generated a mine field for collaboration and creativity which immediately killed the innovation program.
Regardless of the leadership styles used in facilitating innovation, there are real challenges that need to be met for true value to be brought to the innovation purpose which closes the alignment gap.
Here are some of the most important takeaways from this reflection – all of which have significant applications for the decision makers of innovation driven organizations.
Rui Patricio is the Co-founder and CEO of CONTINUE TO GROW and Managing Director of Digitalflow. He is passionate about helping organizations implement innovation cutting edge programs that enable the deployment of differentiation and value added strategies. With more than 20 years experience in management and technology, Rui is a project coordinator, an active speaker, author, lecture and workshop leader on different topics of innovation and procurement.
Christina Pettersson is a creative business professional promoting knowledge transfer among internal and external sources. Encouraging collaboration among companies, organizations and individuals. Specializing in creating awareness among professionals over several countries, sectors and industries. Creating the path of personal success through helping others.
Pedro Roseiro is Managing Partner of I-Zone Knowledge Systems, SA (a Knowledge and Information management SME) and Executive Board Member at TICE.pt (the Portuguese ICT Cluster). He is writing his MsC Thesis on “Knowledge Management in Action” at Instituto Superior Técnico’s (Universidade de Lisboa) Computer Engineering program.
Blessing White (2008) Announcing the State of Employee Engagement 2008 Global Report. 2008.
Culey, S. (2012) Leadership and Culture: Part 1 – The Case for Culture. The European Business Review, May – June 2012.
Lipman, V. (2013) Why Are So Many Employees Disengaged? Forbes, 18 January 2013.