Embracing Challenge to Build a Stronger Innovation Culture

Just as your body is designed to fight a common cold, most of our cultures protect the organisational DNA from any antibodies. Add something new and it can get rejected.

As Chris Bolton has written organisations can have immune systems and idea antibodies. As Chris says — It’s not personal. It’s just an automatic survival mechanism.

The stronger your culture — the more resistant it can be to change.

The challenge then is not to embark upon another change programme , but to disrupt your culture.

I’m writing this on the way to talk to a group of Non Executive Board Members alongside Helen Bevan — on the subject of embracing challenge to build a stronger innovation culture.

We need a system upgrade for sure.

What does a 2.0 version of organisational change look like?

At Bromford we’ve learned to distinguish between wicked problems which might require widespread organisational change — and the smaller changes and innovations we can introduce from the edges.

Scalable innovation in our world is often about joining the dots & making optimal investments. Marginal gains rather than big bang programmes. This involves less reporting and more doing. Discreet tests and pilots that explore a new world without fully committing to it.

However — larger scale innovation dies or thrives from the top. Accordingly the role of Boards in understanding the process of transformation, and the innovation culture it requires to thrive, cannot be underplayed.

Boards themselves, not just executives, need to reflect on whether innovation receives sufficient attention during meetings, and also consider what role they should play in supporting transformative efforts. Supporting the attitudes and mindset from which effective innovation is born is a responsibility of all leaders.

Establishing a governance that supports disruption

If the culture is risk averse you have a problem as innovation always entails risk. A culture of innovation must accept and even encourage considered risk-taking — including failure.

Risk-aversion of corporate governance structures has the potential to quash innovation.

The organisation of the future will be one that differentiates their customer experience from the competition. Those who rip the rulebook apart, rather than slavishly follow the herd, will be rewarded.

Giving people permission to create new rules is the quickest way to eliminate fear , the biggest enemy of innovation.

There’s an inherent tension here — and for good reason. Permissions need to be managed or chaos reigns. The trick is finding the balance — and creating an innovation process that also practices good risk management.

The first step to change is recognising there is often a cognitive bias against new introductions.

Most Change Fails because the case for change has not been made strongly enough and communicated well enough. If it’s only leaders and managers who understand why the change is important it’s doomed.

Our track record of introducing change programmes is abysmal. And yet we now need to rewire our organisations for disruption.

What does a 2.0 version of organisational change look like?

It’s less a time limited programme and more a way of life.

It’s a culture where everyone is actively questioning the status quo and is rewarded for it.

It’s a culture that constantly asks: “How can we do this better?” or “What would we do if we started again?”.

It’s a culture that can sustain as much rapid change as possible without falling apart.


Originally published at paulitaylor.com on February 4, 2017.