Past and current buzzwords / buzzphrases include
- Think outside the box
- BKM (Best Known Method, similar to Best Practices)
- Communities of practice
- Organic Growth
- Social media
The words “innovation” and “collaboration” are buzzwords right now. And this is dangerous. Why?
When a word or term becomes a buzzword, organizations want to jump on them and make them a part of their operations. If they don’t, they will be seen as out of touch. But they rarely dive far enough into what the buzzword is or how to make it work within their organization. Typically, they appoint one or a few people to figure out best practices and come back to a management team and report on them and implementation suggestions. (I just was this AGAIN last week.) A few of the suggestions are attempted, yet usually fail.
If the barriers to the actual application of the buzzword were a large pane of glass, most organizations throw pebbles, hoping to break it. When their efforts fail, management 1) effectively gives up but 2) they will keep using the buzzword because not including it in their strategic goals and literature would seem out of touch. Then they say, “Well, at least we tried. What’s the new buzzword?”
These pebbles include fully implemented programs and trainings meant to embrace the word/term. Yet in effect they have very little final result (if any). Why? To embrace the buzzword enough to allow it to create substantial results would mean that the organization would need to significantly change the way it works. This has far reaching effects beyond the implementation of the buzzword that dip into other areas that are often deemed as sacred to the organization.
If you think about it, “management” is a term used to describe the act of managing and controlling an organization to accomplish (what they hope will be) the optimum output. Inherent in the controlling mechanism are failsafe measures to push out anything that will disrupt what is seen as a threat to “business as usual.” These are often seen in the form of strict policies, guidelines, and rules. When this buzzword starts to disrupt the normal course of business (even though it is agreed that it is a positive thing), the management mechanism automatically kicks in, usually in the form of culture, and pushes out any real reform because it is a threat to the perceived control one/many people/organizations have.
Another reason they fail is because management will use the term, but the employees can’t (or are not given the tools to) understand how to use the buzzword to make a difference on the tactical level. Philosophically, “innovation” and “collaboration” are great. But the challenge is to integrate them into everyday work and discussion.
Laws that Govern Collaboration
Within most organizations an employee is responsible to their boss. Who does their yearly reviews? Their boss. Who gives them a raise (if available)? Their boss. Who tells them what they need to do? Yes, their boss. So, who is it that they need to impress? Their boss. For this, the typical employee will take orders from their boss, try to look as if their efforts are stellar and others have slacked when a project or task fails, and take credit where credit is not due. This lopsided feeling of responsibility to the boss inhibits the employee from truly collaborating with others across the organization. (When I talk about true collaboration, it is much deeper than holding cross-departmental meetings, participating on a project with other groups or creating products/services with a project team).
For true collaboration to work, there must be a responsibility felt at a peer level and across the organization. Modern management, however, usually removes that piece and focuses the power up, not out. The degree to which employee responsibility (and even accountability) is felt “out” rather than “up” is the degree that collaboration will succeed. There is no escaping this law.
Now, I have seen some organizations say that they have a lot of outward responsibility. Reality, however, shows that most employees want others to have responsibility outward because it is a good idea (one they may even be trying to implement on a personal or team level), but they want others to take the first step. In reality they are scared to put their neck out there.
In response to the culture, they hord valuable information, they give the hierarchy power because they feel more comfortable with one person assessing them rather than having to try to impress many people, or, too often, they want to hold on to some bureaucracy just in case something goes wrong. But if outward responsibility were a reality, collaboration would not only be a result, it would be a cultural requirement.
The more trust employees feel, the more they are willing to collaborate and the more they will be satisfied with their work. All employees want to be happy at work!
Laws that Govern Innovation
Innovation assumes great ideas are generated. We know that great, actionable ideas are one in one hundred (figuratively speaking). Not that the 99 are not great ideas, but for one reason or another they may not be actionable because of timing, place, or other constraints. We also know that for innovation to thrive there must be experimentation. Mathematically what does this mean?
(100 ideas) X (experimental time and resources) = 1 actionable idea that makes a big difference.
This is a law of innovation. In it, are sub-laws. For example, this assumes that 99 have “failed” (or their time is not yet). In turn this means that the organization must not only embrace failure, they must encourage it. Another sub-law assumes that employees have the time, resources and authority, at their own discretion to experiment. Another is that the employees must want to innovate. Not that there needs to be a monetary reward each time, but often barriers to experimenting (usually cultural) must be removed. “If you are not comfortable with risk, you will never be comfortable with innovation.“
Another sub-law is that ideas need to flow always in all circumstances, not just for a fleeting initiative. To do this, employees need to be taught how to be innovative. Innovation needs to become part of their work DNA. It needs to be as free flowing and as natural as it is for them to send off an email. When employees are taught how to be innovative, there are two main focuses, 1) How to be innovative (this one is more of a reminder, as most people will be able to pick up on this pretty quickly); 2) How to be innovative as a part of their every day (even every minute) of work. THIS is the most difficult part.
(See HBR’s Nine Rules for Stifling Innovation.)
Implementing Innovation and Collaboration
To be able to actually see the results that all CEOs hope for from either innovation or collaboration initiatives, there must be a change (actually, several). And the change needs to be large in breadth and depth – spanning across the organization as well as up to the top executive (“Executive commitment helped 3M quadruple the innovation output from 2005-2012.“) and down the to individual contributor. The organization must actually change the way it fundamentally works and manages its people and resources.
Think of the most innovative companies: Google (1 manager for every 60 people (average company is 1:10), 20% time, 70/20/10 principle, strategy created by the employees) , W.L. Gore (no formal titles, teams no larger than 20 people, 9K employees and over 1000 products, 50 years old and have never had a loss), Morning Star (no hierarchy, while industry grows at 1% a year, they have grown at double-digits for 20 years), Semco SA (No HQ, CEO switches every six months, no HR department, employees set their own salaries & work times, salaries are available for all employees to see).
What do they do? They manage their companies based on different principles that allow them to be innovative and collaborative; principles which derive their power and discipline not from strict rules created by the few, but instead through agreed upon practices set, accepted and governed by the collective.
I could continue on this path, but I need to stop somewhere. So here is a summation:
For organizations to be truly innovative or collaborative, they need to fundamentally change the way they manage their companies because the standard way to manage a company actually discourages innovation and collaboration. (That is, unless of course there is a crisis and then suddenly an organization is forced to work differently and become very innovative and collaborative – if only for a short season. But who wants to be in that situation?)
My challenge to you is to, on a small scale with your team, create the environment and practices that will allow you to be collaborative and innovative. Start small and your efforts can have a big impact.