How to Invigorate Innovation in a Stagnant Organization

How to Invigorate Innovation in a Stagnant Organization



As we hone in on the fourth quarter of 2013 and set goals and business objectives for 2014, now is the time when business owners, managers, and leaders need to consider how to invigorate a possible stagnant organization to reach its full potential in the New Year. I am passionate about innovation and interested in the companies that consistently explore innovation in their organizations.

From my experience, there are five key elements that contribute to transforming a stagnant organization into a dynamic, thriving, and evolving workplace — each of which can be done before the start of 2014. Here are my top tips for innovating your business:

1. Create a learning environment. If there is one quality that deeply impacts innovation, it is the learning environment (or lack thereof) an organization adopts. Innovation simply cannot exist without an environment that is receptive to idea sharing, professional development, and discussion that allows idea generation to naturally take place. This learning goes hand-in-hand with openness to collaboration. Organizations that become stagnant have most often fallen victim to a resistance to change, a siloed structure, and a lack of emphasis on continuous learning. Although difficult to adhere to, I like to think of Unconditional Learning as a key element of creating a learning environment. Thus, every encounter, every conversation, and every event can become a learning with an open mind. Learnings can even come from those that seem resistant to a change with an eye to learning.

2. Consider your attitude. Any attempt by management to make a change must come through a culture that presents an open, honest, collaborative work environment that encourages sharing and the exploration of new ideas and concepts. The most detrimental thing an organization can do is to say, “Well this is the way we have always done it, so we are sticking to it,” and resist an attitude adjustment. Cultures can be incredibly hard to shift but in an environment where people see progress, are not afraid, and acutely understand that failing can be (and often is) positive, a culture can change from dormant to energetic and innovative. It’s also important to bear in mind that any kind of innovation is truly derived from a lack of fear. Organizations must not fear change or resist collaborating across groups and organizational divides. They must understand the need for a trusting, open environment. An article in Psychology Today details some of the hidden reasons why organizations can display resistance to change and how leaders can overcome them while showing an empathetic understanding to their employees’ feelings.

3. Create a culture of trust. For any kind of innovation to exist, employees must feel as if they are part of a trusting culture where they are safe to share their ideas and valued for their perspective. Having an acute awareness of the way that you speak with others and treat others within your organization also allows a culture of innovation to flourish. Within any culture, an understanding of the different personalities — nine of which Forbes has outlined — within it is required. Each of these personalities comes with different needs that must be met in order for employees to feel like they are an important part of a trusting culture. Once trust is established, the ability to experiment, communicate with colleagues, move across boundaries, execute fluid processes, and create dynamic organizations can occur.

In my personal experience as the President of Post University, this has been established through a culture of change, where we understand and feel a unified purpose for enhancing students’ lives. Permeable boundaries are understood and the community agrees that things can often be done differently from how they were done before. When such a culture is created, it is a naturally fun, motivating, and enjoyable atmosphere where innovation is not only possible; it’s expected.

4. Celebrate small wins. In order for any organization to experience innovation, there must be a fundamental importance placed on employee recognition. More than rewards, salary, perks and bonuses, employees crave recognition that shows verbal support and appreciation for their work. Even if it is through learning about what does not work, that is a win to be celebrated because of the greater knowledge and insight acquired. As the Harvard Business Review points out, there is tremendous power in fostering and supporting small wins and an organic sense of progress.

5. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Experimentation and failure are contributors to innovation. In fact, failure can be just as much of a learning experience as success. Any organization that is looking to innovate, especially as it focuses on the year ahead, will need to give their staff the freedom to try new things and inherently bloom through a “yes” rather than a “no” culture. The most successful people are those who are unafraid of failure and excited to learn from, grow, and develop, as a result of their experiences.

These are just several of the qualities that can work in tandem to foster and support an innovative culture. At Post University, we also rely on after action reviews that help people reflect on what’s come before as they embark on what’s to come next. I have personally appreciated our innovation process and the growth we have achieved but I am always considering the way in which we can further develop and better our organization. It is important to remember that there is no set formula for innovation. Organizations should always review the guidance they find with an eye toward identifying what best suits their individual business objectives and mission.

What core values do you want to ingrain in your organization to have a more innovative culture in 2014?

Don Mroz serves as Provost and Dean of the School of The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University.

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