I began re-reading the Public Innovator’s Playbook on the plane and realised so much of the process involved to nurture bold ideas in government mirrors the process of nurturing an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) in an organisation. (This is hardly surprising. Companies, including Deloitte use ESNs like Yammer as the backbone of their innovation program because they can diffuse information and ideas much more efficiently than formal channels of communication.)
One point the author Bill Eggers emphasises is leadership as the first step to baking innovation into the fabric of the company.
Having some experience in both innovation programs and implementing ESNs, the most common setback I’ve seen leaders face when they decide to roll these out is convincing themselves it will just work. There’s a misconception that once you’ve purchased the platform/licence, you’re done. In reality, you’ve only just made it to the starting block.
“Innovation – any new idea – by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organisation. This requires courageous patience.” – Warren Bennis.
The book reiterated the importance of a systemic approach to introducing innovation – starting from the top.
‘The role of leadership is not merely to “think” or “strategise” but also to implement. Leaders help transmit an idea generated by an individual or small group to the entire organisation. They also build a coalition for change.’
Innovation programs and ESNs alike are part of a new vision of separating chain of command from chain of information – leaders must embody this.
Broad brush strokes of executive “endorsement”, such as company-wide emails, are no longer enough. In short, innovation and ESNs are not just about ticking a box.
Strong and public leaders in an organisation need to set an example and truly engage with the platform; submit ideas, ask for comments, experiment.
‘Creating an innovative organization requires addressing issues that influence behaviour. For instance, when employees are asked to share their views openly, are managers ready to get honest feedback that shows what is wrong? Or will they get embroiled in a blame game, trying to corner the employee into thinking that she is wrong?’
By having leaders involved and embodying the process from the outset it builds credibility and sends a clear signal for other managers to emulate. Change in behaviour ripples out to the edges of the organisation.
‘For a ship to turn left, its rudder has to turn right. For the rudder to turn right, the trim tab has to go left. A captain knowing the way the whole system works together prevents the ship from going off-course. A systemic view allows an understanding of the interrelationship between key variables and how changing a variable affects the entire system.’
Figuring out a C-level engagement plan can be a lever, influencing the direction of a huge ship.
Often employees will not need a lever to see the change in direction – they already have ideas about how the company could change and have intuitively figured out how to use an ESN. The value of a leader demonstrating engagement to these employees cannot be underestimated, it invites advocates to come out of the woodwork. Once empowered, these innovation champions will do the heavy-lifting to convert other employees to the organisation’s new route.
Creating an innovative organisation requires addressing issues that influence behaviour, starting from the top.
There are plenty more steps in the process, but don’t skip this one.