Innovation is an elusive term often associated with reactions to undesired process outputs. It is something of a catch-all that somehow magically forges a path forward, a clear direction to a more productive place. Or does it?
Innovation is a term often overused as a feel good expression of accomplishment and rarely delivers as expected. Why? Perhaps because realized innovation is the result of purposeful actions centered about focused inspiration and cause.
Many organizations consume valuable resources promoting innovation rather than establishing and fostering a culture that encourages it. This subtle difference in approach may be the reason why high-performing teams lead organizations to greatness while low-performing teams cannot seem to find better ways to accomplish their work.
A tale of two leaders: Tuma and Brumo.
Both leaders receive the same directive from their leadership: “We need more ideas. We need to disrupt the market. We need to be the industry leader! We need innovation now!”
Each leader takes a different approach toward accomplishing their leadership’s directive.
Tuma informs his team during the Monday morning meeting that the communication department is acting on a leadership directive to develop an innovation-focused campaign to stimulate growth within the organization.
“Sales are down, competition is up, therefore it is time to tighten up the laces and come up with innovations,” Tuma continues. “I want our team to come up with the most and the best innovations. I have no doubt that you can make it happen, so let’s put on our thinking caps and make this a reality. The “innovation” initiative will run for four weeks. Let’s get to it!”
Brumo informs his team during the Monday morning meeting that he has an idea he wishes to share with them and requests for the team to help him make it better. The idea is about reinventing their approach to meeting the customer’s requirements in a way that increases shareholder value by working safer and delivering the product sooner, better and at less cost.
Brumo explains: “Every day, it is my expectation that you learn something new, do something better and help someone succeed.” Brumo breaks his team into groups of three and challenges them to not think about inhibitors or roadblocks but rather, to think about the possibilities of making it happen.
Each group naturally designates a leader; each group lead accepts responsibility for sharing continuous progress with the other group leads. Brumo’s organization agrees that four weeks is sufficient time to meet his challenge.
Every day, Brumo makes it a point to ask individual team members the same three questions: “What did you learn new today? What is now better? Who have you helped succeed”? By the end of each week, Brumo connects with every team member.
By the end of the month, he sees a transformation. He sees a team focused on each other’s success. And, oh by the way, their collective success has the look and feel of that elusive terminology “innovation.”
Organizational direction and subsequent performance is often a function of perceived risk and corresponding opportunity. Leading by directive causes performance by structure. Leading by influence causes performance through inclusion and by innovation within the organization.
Tuma may eventually be successful at this one initiative, perhaps. Brumo on the other hand has forged a solid foundation for sustained performance. His approach toward a culture of continuous innovation is designed for greater success.
When focusing on innovation, focus not on it being the goal but rather on it being a means to achieve the goal. Innovation is fueled by inclusion and powered by leadership. It is what occurs when you integrate the implementation of ingenuity with the organizational foresight to make it happen.