The organization I lead is 121 years old. My sons tell me that the company is about my age. The organization has experienced many successes in its history but, like any company with a lengthy history, it tends to gravitate toward status quo. Innovation thus becomes the exception rather than the norm.
Though I would never say we have “arrived” in our cultural innovation, I must say that I have never been more encouraged. The present is healthy and the future is very promising.
The past six years have been a journey toward greater innovation. I am still learning many lessons, but I have five key lessons I have learned thus far.
- Speak to the need to innovate often. I keep the need for innovation as a constant issue before our organization. Our particular company has been particularly impacted by the move from print to digital. We could not and cannot afford not to innovate.
- Give concrete examples of innovation barriers. The organization does not merely need to hear about the need for innovation, it needs to hear specific stories of barriers to innovation. For example, the silo structure of our organization has been an impediment to cross-divisional cooperation and innovation. Though we still see great value in the strategic business unit model, we now form teams across divisions on major projects. Thus the organization sees clearly the old barriers and the new opportunities for greater innovation.
- Articulate a preferred future. Those few words are often used to describe the casting of a vision. In our innovative future, I speak often about our becoming the leader in providing digital content in our industry. The more I speak about that preferred future, the closer I see it to becoming a reality.
- Embrace existing innovation. There have always been several pockets of innovation in our organization. Each time I heard of such activity, I tried to share the story with others. My storytelling lifted up the value of innovation by verbally rewarding it.
- Open the doors to innovation throughout the organization. One of many things I learned in my six years at the helm is that there are thousands of very smart employees in this organization. We, therefore, recently launched an online portal that provides all employees a mechanism to share innovative ideas. We have established some initial rules and boundaries, but I am amazed already at what is taking place. Some of the ideas are incredible. Time will tell if this vehicle is our best approach, but I am greatly encouraged thus far.
The organization I lead and serve has a great history since 1891. We definitely have our challenges but, in total transparency, I must say I am incredibly excited about our future. Innovation is fast becoming our norm.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), how does your organization fare as an innovator? What are some of the challenges you see? What has been done to move the organization toward greater innovation?