Cultural Roadblocks to Innovation and Internal Collaboration

Posted by jartese on Sep 5, 2013 4:44:54 PM

On Sep. 24 Stephen Shapiro will help us discuss ways to Innovate your Internal Collaboration.  This got me thinking that many companies reject cultures that would allow one to optimize their internal resources in the first place. We have entered a period of extreme change both in the workplace and within the workforce yet most companies still function using traditional or conventional "best practices."  Brian Halligan of HubSpot argues, "99% of corporate cultures are stuck in the past."  If this is the case then 99% of companies are not optimizing their innovation and collaboration strategies.  Stephen Shapiro's book "Best Practices are Stupid" compliments this mentality perfectly.  So why hire people who aren't like you, stop rewarding those who adequately do their job or look to outside resources to collaborate with?  To Stephen, these are examples of rejecting cultural "best practices" that do not fuel innovation.  Below are examples of traditional workplace culture that will inhibit you from getting the most innovation out of your internal collaboration.

Stephen Shapiro on ABC News: Vimeo

Stiff top-down structure

Sometimes it works. After all it is no secret that Steve Jobs was a control freak who was stubborn in his ambitions and did things his way.  He did have a high level of trust in those around him getting stuff done but it is important to note he was not so kindly asked to leave Apple.  The problem in most companies with a top-down approach is there becomes a disconnect between what is possible and what senior management wants.  If you ignore the capabilities of your employees, the money required and a broader consensus of what the next big step should be, failure on a large magnitude can occur.

Think of it this way: If a CEO directs a new product to be built and ties up the whole product team to develop a product you are “all-in” from an innovation and resource standpoint.  If this product fails you have lost time, money and resources while ignoring your other offerings. This can be prevented with an open horizontal culture.  Feedback from all teams as to the future development of a product may result in not only the right solution but something more innovative than one man’s dream.

Know-it-all micro-managers

We recently wrote about the relation of Zen and Open Innovation and Shunryu Suzuki’s quote “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few,” reminds me of the micro-manager. Control Freak, micro-manager, know-it-all, experienced warrior…however you want to put it, those in positions of power who run tight ships and need things done their way inhibit innovation. People with years of experience don’t like being told what to do, they don’t like learning new ways of doing things they are “experts” at and they certainly don’t  like when a 23 year old out of college suggest a different solution. Suzuki’s quote suggests that it does not take an expert to innovate. Innovation and being a rock star employee require a willingness to absorb all possible information you can and the intuition to develop new ideas.  The expert is only as good as his bag of tricks.

Treating employees as robots while rewarding average performance

The attitude of “What does that person know” is a great way to not only be condescending but ignore resources of valuable innovation. Employees no longer look to do jobs, they want to build careers.  It is important to treat your employees as you would want to treat your customers. Provide employees with the tools and the abilities to succeed within your organization empower them to excel instead of restricting them to a “job.”  Furthermore, publicly acknowledge those who go beyond the bounds of their "job" and not those who treat it like a 9-5. Make it known that Bob in accounting just came up with a great sales forecast.  This will make it known that going beyond your job description is not only noticed but promoted.

Focus on Profit and Efficiency while ignoring innovation

As start-ups grow the quickly lose and re-gain talent.  However there becomes a point many years down the road when growth has cooled off that companies focus more on stability and pleasing shareholders than that innovative fire that help them go public in the first place. Talent becomes thinner, and a business becomes layered with more nuances that need attention. “Process” and "management" is then needed to maintain stability in larger companies and over time companies become less suited to keep up with the market. Sure, in the short-run they run like BMW’s and make a ton of money, but over time it is questionable if the infrastructure remains in place to continue the innovation needed to excel. A "process" focused culture is an example of a best practice that works but doesnt not necessarily get the most out of your team. Stefan Lindegaard says in his whitepaper Innovation Culture: The Big elephant in the Room, "The biggest challenges will come from the middle managers placed across the organization, because they typically have a narrow focus on their own profit-and-loss responsibility. They do not often see the full picture, and thus will not give up resources when doing so does not benefit them in the short run, even though it may be the right thing for the company in the long run."

Culture resulting in a lack of interest from top talent

As companies focus on efficiency when they get big they lose sight of what got them there…incredible employees. It’s impossible to keep the talent pool as rich with rock-stars over time however a company must keep top talent integrated into every level of the organization. As top talent leaves, it is important to replace at least some of it with those who are fit to work in an innovative company versus those who are good at managing large departments. Managers who are good at running large departments are not the same as managers who still have the entrepreneurial spirit of the the days they worked at a start-up. Top talent is also naturally prone to embrace collaboration and open innovation.  While confident, a new age of worker is independent when needed but naturally open to working with their peers.

So what chases away “top-talent” from larger more established companies? Top talent will likely be independent, ambitious, brilliant and creative.  They achieve results instead of telling other what to do. This type of employee doesn’t respond well to a 9-5, khaki’s, a button down shirt and yearly 2% raises...especially if they've worked in a start-up before. They do not want to be micro-managed, work in a dead office with uninterested people or be restrained from excelling. Instead they want the ability to excel, lead and innovate while earning a good cut for their efforts. They like being transparent and strive to work on as many projects in as many areas as possible. Company culture is critical as an open, start-up minded company attracts thinkers and enables them to excel the way they want to excel. These people like going to work in shorts and a t-shirt and worry about getting stuff done. They do not worry about the person in the next cube not liking the way they are dressed or the fact they took 8 Fridays off during the summer. Both Netflix and HubSpot have been leaders in this thought process and it seems to be working out for them.

No Real culture in place to spur internal collaboration and innovation

Even if you have eliminated a top-down structure, filtered out narrow-minded micro-managers, empowered your employees and instilled a culture prime for top talent and innovation, a catalyst is still needed. There are several ways to fuel an innovative culture:

  •  Be a transparent company – lay everything out there to employees including new business initiatives
  • Let anyone provide feedback to new initiatives or discuss ways increase the value of old ones
  • Teams should be horizontal not vertical
  • Utilize a team-wide or company-wide task force to openly determine the direction of an innovative initiative or product development
  • Provide a solution to spur discussion - Wiki's, social collaboration platforms and platforms that challenge employees provide tools to promote ideation which can later result in actual innovative solutions and products
  • It is important to have managers who ask well thought out questions fueling solutions and encourage employees to focus on well thought out areas for collaboration.  As Shapiro suggests, it is important to maintain a focus on their ideas and thoughts so that the results are solutions not noise.

Before innovative internal collaboration can exist a culture must be in place that promotes the innovation in the first place. Please join us on September 24th for our webinar with Stephen Shapiro  titled "Innovate your Internal Collaboration" and hear him expand on how to actually innovate collaboration process.  Registration now open! 

Authored by Joe Artese, Business Analyst

Topics: Innovation Insights

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