I sometimes encounter organizations which want to want to become more innovative but whose corporate culture is inimical to agility and innovation. Such organizations typically display these characteristics:
– They have set procedures which are difficult to change.
– All decisions are made by committees which meet regularly and require discussion, review and consensus so progress is slow.
– People are afraid to try new things because they might fail and/or upset other stakeholders.
– There is a general air of complacency and a lack of urgency.
– The leadership team is frustrated by the lack of innovation.
1. If you see a problem or opportunity for the business in your line of sight (your direct field of responsibility) then you are empowered and encouraged to take direct action to solve the problem for the benefit of customers and the good of the organization. You do not need to ask permission from anyone. You should inform your boss and anyone else affected after you have taken the action. This is provided that your action does not have significant impact on other departments.
2. If your proposed action has a moderate impact on colleagues or other departments then you should send out an ‘Unless I hear differently’ email. This briefly sets out the problem, your proposed solution and the sentence, ‘Unless I hear differently by [Insert Date] I will take this action.’ Then take the action.
3. If your proposed action has a significant impact on colleagues or other departments or requires them to change then you should call a LOSI meeting with the sole purpose of solving the problem. All delegates are charged with making constructive contributions to your idea and the group is tasked with finding a solution and agreeing actions at the meeting.
4. We share experiences and learn from mistakes. No-one will be penalized for trying something that fails but people will be penalized for sitting on problems or obstructing progress.
Of course there are risks with this approach. It suits some organizations better than others. Some problems are so complex and intertwined that they do need ongoing committees. Some individuals might abuse their new found freedom to do damaging things. However, we find that in general most employees take their empowerment very seriously and if anything remain a little too cautious.
The whole idea is to change the culture to one of fast entrepreneurial action rather than slow committee paralysis. It is important that all staff understand the goals, objectives and values of the company. People are encouraged to discuss problems but also to take actions whenever they think it is sensible to do so. More individual actions mean more mistakes. There are unintended consequences from actions which were poorly planned or not thought through. However, if the organization can share lessons from mistakes and adapt quickly then it is constantly learning and moving forward. Despite all the stumbles it is much better placed to cope than it was before.