King or Revolutionary - what's your company's approach to innovation?
Cultures are subtle, insomuch that they are not written down, but extremely powerful, as they affect pretty much everything a company does. Changing them, especially in big, established firms where most of us work, is a real challenge as it’s hard to know the entry point for change.
In terms of creating an innovation culture I’d like to put forward two approaches I have experienced.
In the “Decreed” method culture is changed rapidly from the very top by the CEO, with his/her personal involvement (walk the walk) backed up with big external commitments (X% of our revenues will now come from Y% of new products) and a shift in internal KPIs. It’s normally in response to a crisis/threat or a big change in the market dynamics that cannot be ignored such as a technology or regulatory change. The advantage of this approach is that it’s rapid; the ships have been burnt so there’s no turning back! The disadvantage is it can tip the ship over and distract from core activities if not managed well.
In the “Revolution” method culture gets changed internally over time by individuals or teams who are motivated and inspired to do better things. These revolutionary types are what we call “Corporate Entrepreneurs” and they can crop up all over organisations in all kinds of roles and functions. They are the ones who challenge the status quo, come up with new things to offer customers or new ways of working, and somehow, convince others to back them with resources to make it happen. They create mini explosions all over the organisation and push it forwards so it constantly re-invents itself. The advantage here is it’s self-directed and organic and almost follows natural selection (the cream rises). The down-side is it’s haphazard and hard to manage and often gets snarled up at the delivery end where the requirement for resources is more intense.
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