This New Year – Be Resolute

Made any New Year resolutions yet? Yes you’re right; this is another of those articles which appear at the turn of the year and encourage you to do more, be more, achieve more in the year to come. But unlike many of those article writers I don’t really care if you take up my challenge in January or July; what I do care about is that if you do take up my challenge you have the determination and staying power to carry it through.

Effectively resolutions, New Year or otherwise, fall into two categories. The first, and by far the overwhelming majority of them, are mere reactions to the moment; an impulse decision which is made with no thought either for the ongoing consequences or for the difficulty of the challenge. Because they have no foundation it’s little wonder that many of these fail; and in their failure they beget the seeds for future failures, for change apathy which arises from a growing conviction that ‘it doesn’t matter what you try, nothing will work.’

The second type of resolution only comes into being once it has been researched, considered and the consequences fully explored. Whether New Year is used as a stepping off point or whether any other arbitrary date or event is chosen doesn’t really matter; what does matter is that the chance of success has been greatly enhanced by the preparatory work.

Three paragraphs in and by now you’re probably wondering what my challenge is. Quite simply, I’m challenging you to create a game changing, strong future for your organisation by building a culture of innovation into the fabric of its being. Is that all, I can hear you asking as you relax back into your seat. We’re good at culture change – we’ve done it lots of times before.

Well you may have done; but ask yourself this, if your previous attempts at culture change were so successful, why was it that you needed to carry out another one and another one and another one. Is there a possibility that there was something missing in the understanding or the approach or the determination? Let’s take a quick look at these in order starting with understanding.

Given the way in which business information travels across the globe, any successful system or idea can give rise to numerous publications; and the more apparently successful the system, the more publications there are. Whilst many of these are useful, some are merely trying to jump on the bandwagon and to promote a particular service which with the best will in the world is only loosely connected to the original idea. These can create a level of background clutter which is confusing at the best of times. Pick the wrong bit and you could find yourself trying to solve employee engagement problems by handing out free sweets.

Even without the potential confusion caused by bandwagon jumpers it has to be remembered that no two organisations are alike. Even those working in the same business sector will have different cultures and differing levels of innovation maturity and therefore what works well for one business could be a potential disaster for another. As a result, simply copying the approach adopted by another organisation is not going to provide the optimum solution for your business. The only answer is to strip the original idea back to basics in order to fully understand its ethos and then to build your own level of understanding based on your own business culture.

But even with that level of understanding, if you approach change in the wrong way you can severely diminish the chance of success. Failing to plan your route towards change; adopting an incremental implementation schedule which is too short, too sharp or too shallow; or not taking account of the people aspect of change can all result in yet another culture change attempt whose only outcome is change fatigue, reduced employee engagement and shock horror… no real movement of the innovation needle!

Overarching all the other potential failure points is the one sure fire way to guarantee failure; a lack of resolve on the part of the top team. In our book Building a Culture of Innovation we warn that if it’s not on the top team’s agenda, it’s not going to be in the culture. This is no idle warning; I’ve seen far too many culture change attempts broken by the lack of resolve on the part of the top team.

The trouble is, it is easy to sit in a board meeting and agree to change but unless every individual member of the top team is aligned and builds that change into their own beliefs, behaviours, attitudes and expectations then they are effectively acting as a roadblock on the pathway to innovation progress. So when the accountant agrees to innovation change but refuses to sign off experimental projects, when the sales manager agrees to innovation change but targets on volume rather than outcome, when HR agrees to innovation change but target rewards based on individual achievements rather than collaboration and approach then all they are doing is creating barriers to change in pursuit of innovation.

Building a culture of innovation is not rocket science; but it does require people to invest in change and to approach that change in the right way. It means building understanding, engaging people and being prepared to commit now for future outcomes. It requires understanding and a strategic approach but above all it requires resolve and determination.

If you’re thinking of building a culture of innovation just remember that it isn’t some toy that you can pick up and put down on a whim; nor is it something that you can easily revisit later on if you get it wrong the first time – overcoming the sense of futility which arises from change fatigue is no easy task. So if you’re going to build a culture of innovation you have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul, to make a lasting change in which success will build on success to the benefit of the organisation, its people, its customers and the wider world.

Have you made any New Year resolutions yet? If you’ve decided to make 2016 the stepping off point for your innovation journey then make sure that the approach and the planning and most importantly your resolve is firmly in place. After all, it’s the future of your organisation that we’re talking about and it deserves the best from its leaders.

By Cris Beswick

About the author

Originally trained as a product & industrial designer, Cris spent over a decade as a successful entrepreneur & CEO building an award-winning design group. He is now recognised globally as an expert on strategic innovation and creating innovative organisations.

As well as being an author and speaker, Cris is the Founder & CEO of niche innovation consultancy The Future Shapers. He specialises in working with CEOs and senior teams on the strategy, leadership and culture innovation requires and has coached, advised and delivered keynotes to some of the worlds most successful companies on how to become exceptional by building game-changing innovation capability and embedding it into organisational culture.

Cris has also delivered executive education programmes on innovation for leading UK business schools such as Henley Business School, Southampton Business School and Cranfield University’s Centre for Competitive Creative Design as well as international business schools such as Synergy Business School in Dubai and Icesi University in Columbia.

Cris is also the author of the ‘The Road to Innovation’ and his latest book ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ has recently been published by Kogan Page. As well as authoring numerous white papers Cris has also contributed to articles for The Times, Financial Times and The Sunday Telegraph to name but a few.