Everyday Innovation Leadership
Questions often arise about the kind of leadership found in an Everyday Innovation (EI) Organization. Questions include: What are some of the characteristics and capabilities of an EI Leader? What makes an EI Leader effective? What have EI Leaders learned as a result of building and leading an organization where everyone, at every level, across the organization is involved and supported in the process of generating new ideas and innovations? This article is focused on some of the answers to these questions.
First and foremost, EI Leaders have developed a strong sense and belief that we need innovation in our organizations, our societies, and in our world. They believe that our long-term success, growth, advancement, and prosperity depend on it. However, not innovation defined as simply the ability to develop a few new products every year, but innovation defined as a mindset, a culture, and a way of viewing our world and our work. As a result of this belief, EI Leaders have developed an “innovator’s mindset,”—a mindset focused on creating. A mindset that impacts the way they do everything from strategic planning, budgeting, priority-setting, decision-making, and resource allocation to the way they provide coaching, feedback, and on-going support to their team. In short, a mindset that impacts the way they lead.
Prior to developing an innovator’s mindset, many EI Leaders relied mostly on problem-solving strategies and approaches to lead their organization. This “problem-solving mindset” led them to address almost every situation, topic, and issue as a problem to be solved—including critically important issues as diversity, safety, compliance, engagement, sustainability, and business development. Viewing these issues from a problem-solving perspective would typically involve some variation of the following:
- Create a task team to “tackle” the problem.
- Conduct a detailed analysis of the issue.
- Identify and prioritize all of the pain points and problems within the issue.
- Conduct a root cause analysis and identify the root causes of each pain point and problem.
- Recommend solutions to address the root cause(s).
- Allocate a budget and resources to fund the solution.
- Develop a company “program” around the solution.
- Implement the program
In many cases, this process would result in establishing a new position or department to oversee the new program (e.g., the Vice President of Diversity, the Compliance Department), the development of a set of new rules and guidelines, a set of minimum standards or quotas, and often a set of mandatory training programs in which everyone had to participate. Once the new program had been implemented, a communication could then be released to employees, shareholders, customers, regulatory agencies and the media reporting that the issue was being effectively addressed.
Over time, however, EI Leaders began to realize that their problem-solving strategies and approaches were ineffective at accomplishing, let alone sustaining, the desired outcomes. The resulting programs usually resulted in superficial, short-term “remedies” that made people “feel better” for a period of time. The programs were also often isolated and disconnected from the rest of the organization having little lasting impact. EI Leaders also began to realize that a problem-solving mindset limited the potential development of new ideas, actions, and outcomes and did little to help the organization advance, develop, or move forward.
Author and speaker, Robert Fritz (1989), says it this way,
“There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away—the problems. Creating is taking action to have something come into being—the creation.
The problem-solvers propose elaborate schemes to define the problem, generate alternative solutions, and put the best solution into practice. If this process is successful, you might eliminate the problem. Then what you have is the absence of the problem you are solving. But what you do not have is the presence of a result you want to create.
The greatest [leaders and] statesmen in history have not been problem-solvers. They have been builders. They have been creators. Even in times of great conflict, such as war and depression, they have taken action to bring into being the society they envisioned.”
EI Leaders have come to understand that issues such as diversity should not be viewed as problems to be solved, but rather as an outcomes to create—and this is not simply a game of semantics. The ideas, decisions, and actions generated as a result of problem-solving are significantly different than the ideas, decisions, and actions generated to bring something new into existence. Instead of dealing with a topic such as diversity as a problem to be solved, EI Leaders have developed the ability to reframe these issues in terms of desired outcomes. Together with all the relevant stakeholders, a “picture” is painted of what the organization will look like and then ideas are generated and implemented to bring this picture to life. For example, in the case of diversity, questions that might be asked include: What kind of diverse organization do we want to create? What would diversity look like in our organization? What behaviors, actions, and activities would we see? How would we operate and make decisions in a truly diverse organization? What would people be saying and doing? What would our daily work life look like? What positive impact and benefits would we see diversity having on our organization, our customers, our shareholders, and the community? What are these stakeholders saying and doing as a result of having a diverse organization? What would it feel like to work in a diverse organization?
The answers to these questions would come from discussions, input, and collaboration with as many stakeholders as possible until a clearly defined outcome statement was developed. Subsequently, all decisions, priorities, actions, budgets, projects, and resources would then be dedicated to bring this desired outcome to life.
There is a model, called the “ARC Model,” that represents this creating process and mindset. It is the process innovators use to generate new ideas and innovations including the process innovators use to reframe (the R in ARC) problems and issues in terms of a desired outcome. The ARC Model can be leveraged by leaders as they work to build that capability for themselves and among their team members. (You can read more about ARC here.)
EI Leaders have also learned that developing an innovator’s mindset and the process of generating new ideas are skills that can be learned. And like all new skills, they must be developed over time through practice, experience, and the application of an effective learning strategy. EI Leaders also learned that idea-generation occurs as a result of purposeful and deliberate work effort and generated by skilled team members who have been given the opportunity to test their ideas and bring them forward only after they have shared them with others for input, feedback, improvement, and refinement through a variety of channels and resources. Leaders know that their role is to make sure that such channels and resources are made easily available.
EI Leaders have also learned how to develop the proper organizational support needed to reinforce innovation activities for their team members. For example, putting in place the right “infrastructure” (e.g., tools, processes, systems, platforms) and well-aligned “talent management” processes (e.g., performance management, rewards and recognition, compensation, learning, hiring) needed to reinforce and sustain innovation. In addition, they have learned to continuously reward, recognize, and reinforce innovation activities for their team and instill a sense of collective purpose around the desired outcomes. They have learned to effectively provide on-going coaching, feedback, and mentorship around the innovation process and how to create an organizational culture that reinforces innovation. This includes creating an environment where it is safe to bring bad news forward, making mistakes is OK, and failure is viewed as an essential part of the innovation process and one of the greatest sources of learning; An environment that embraces change and is open to and values the continuous generation of new ideas.
Finally, EI Leaders have also become very focused on their own continuous learning and self-development. They understand the importance of being able to role-model the behaviors they expect to see from their team members. Although each organization must identify the specific Everyday Innovation leadership skills and behaviors that best match its unique purpose, history, and strengths, below is a list that provides a few skills and behaviors that can serve as a starting point for consideration.
Everyday Innovation Leadership Behaviors
- Demonstrates the process innovators use to generate new ideas and innovation (i.e., the ARC Model).
- Identifies, develops, and aligns the organizational “Infrastructure” (tools, platforms) to support innovation.
- Designs and aligns Talent Management processes to support innovation.
- Creates and fosters the proper environment and culture to reinforce and sustain innovation.
- Promotes diversity and seeks a diversity of opinions and perspectives (Diversity in its broadest definition).
- Effectively serves as role models for innovation behaviors.
- Views mistakes, failure, and bad news, etc., as essential to Innovation (not as threats to be punished).
- Encourages and supports collaboration.
- Rewards and recognizes innovation.
- Establishes a long-term mindset.
- Finds ways to eradicate fear in the organization.
- Effectively establishes formal innovation goals.
- Creates projects and assignments that lead to new ideas and innovations.
- Demonstrates transparency in decision-making.
- Delegates work and responsibility.
- Provides continuous coaching and feedback to team members around innovation projects and assignments.
- Expects and tolerates ambiguity and improvisation among their teams and their work assignments.
- Actively and continuously solicits input from reports.
- Actively and continuously shares team members across the organization or across other functions.
There is a methodology called, BASIS, that provides a process and roadmap to help leaders build and drive Everyday Innovation into their organizations. Read more about BASIS here.
In summary, EI leaders have learned that their primary mission and predominate mindset should be on bringing into existence the outcomes that they (and customers, and employees, and shareholders, etc.) want to see. EI leaders have learned that our world now demands a new way of thinking about innovation, viewing innovation much more broadly and more inclusively; Innovation that includes everyone, at every level, in every location—Everyday Innovation. And with this new “brand” of innovation comes the need for leadership that can effectively support it. Our world demands Everyday Innovation Leadership.