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For innovative organizations, tomorrow is the new today

light.jpgWith all the organizations I’ve studied, I’ve long realized that innovation comes naturally to those organizations who are focused on the opportunities of tomorrow rather than the challenges of today.

By building a culture that is relentlessly turned to that reality, they easily succeed in doing things differently. And in doing so, they’re the true innovators — they’ve been able to throw off the shackles of yesterday’s problems in order to concentrate on what they could be doing to adjust to tomorrow.

There are several key elements to this successful innovation culture:

  • a growth orientation: they’ve managed to instill a culture that has everyone thinking about what can be done, rather than what needs to be fixed. It’s a culture in which people are thinking less about the problems that have occurred, and more about the cool strategies that could be pursued. They don’t run “change-management workshops” : they have strategic sessions on “growing the business.” It’s not an easy task, but innovative organizations have managed to get their people away from “right now” to “our next step.”
  • the ability to cost-manage and grow at the same time: give me a company that is focused strictly on cost management, and I’ll give you an innovation lackard. Innovative organizations know that cutting cost and operational excellence is but one part of the equation. They also ensure that at the same time they hack away at cost, they are actively working on growing their market, learning how to do things differently, discovering new ideas, and seeking opportunity.
  • a translatable vision: every single innovative organization has, at the root, at least one, simple, concrete idea (or more) that defines their innovation scope. One industrial company I worked with defined it this way: “at this point, we know we don’t have the depth to generate innovation ideas entirely internally — so we will see innovation partners to help us drive growth in our sector.” Once that was defined, the rest followed, because it became acceptable to admit that innovation could come from somewhere other than internally.
  • time to market is critical: the organization relentlessly lives and breathes the mantra, “it’s all about our ability to get the product/service to market on time.” With that key goal, they manage to harness their energy towards a growth and ideas agenda.
  • internal collaboration: the organization has gone beyond seminars about teamwork, to a culture in which ideas are instantly shared, debated, transferred, analyzed and recomposed. There is no more debate about the need to break down silos; they are gone. What remains is a desire to learn from each other, and build on common insight.
  • a transition at the top, of managers to leaders: innovative organizations have transitioned the roles of management. They’ve moved away from such mind-numbing activities such as day-to-day oversight, implementing procedures, generating reports, and all the other routine. Instead, they’re redefining the organization by pushing decision-making to the lowest capable level; they defining goals and outcomes that staff can pursue; they, are putting in place collaborative and market oriented feedback loops. In other words, they’re thinking about all the things the organization should be doing to survive and thrive in a fast-paced market.
  • at every level, a tactical to strategic transition: at the same time that the role of management has evolved, so too has the role of staff. As part of the shift to innovation, the organization has transitioned the roles of many staff so that they provide a more strategic role (“what do we need to do to meet this new challenge?”) rather than routine tactical activities (“I need to get this reconciliation signed off!”) They’ve done this by automating a lot of the routine, day to day processes that can choke off innovation. They’re freeing staff up from the performance of the mundane, to the enhancement of opportunity.
  • a partnership orientation: innovative organizations recognize that they can’t do it all. They look to actively work with their complexity partners in order to be able to do innovative things at the pace that the speed of change demands of them. Partnership is a key word: “we might not be able to generate all the ideas, but we sure as heck are going to know how to find them and capitalize upon them.”
  • global skills access is a key success factor: big or small, you can only drive innovation if you can access the complex talent needed to take you forward. Innovative companies have mastered the article of just-in-time skills access; they can access and focus a unique set of skills for a unique purpose at a moments notice.

To a degree, it’s all about what leadership decides to do. And when it comes to innovation, there are three types of leaders. Only one can provide for

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