I would like to continue on “unfreezing the middle” for innovation to really take hold and have a greater mometum in organizations. Largely it is about our ability to unlock those ‘frozen innovation moments.’ To radically redesign the approach to innovation that today is constantly occurring in ‘discreet parcels’ of innovation activity within organizations. It is this ‘selective’ approach I certainly believe needs changing.
To achieve this I believe the middle manager in organizations needs to make some significant changes within their perspectives of ‘how’ innovation must fit within the design of their organization. This will allow them to achieve a fundamentally different organizational state than many seemingly need but perhaps are stuck with existing designs at present. Perhaps they are not seeing a different perscribed pathway to take- the innovation pathway suggested here http://bit.ly/dnCj1m and built upon here http://bit.ly/ikgR4f can serve as thoughts
Innovation in organizations does need fresh perspectives.
Jeffrey Phillips argues in his recent blog that “middle managers need new perspectives, new skills and new directions”. “We need to unfreeze the middle so the rest of the organization can adapt and change. Only then can innovation become what is needed it to be”- taken from his blog: “From smooth and steady to rough and ready”. (http://bit.ly/OVsuX)
The question is how to unfreeze what we do today and relearn?
A good proven body of work has been built around psychologist Kurt Lewin’s suggested methodology that identifies the three stages of change that are still the basis of many approaches today- Unfreeze- Transition- Refreeze.
Much of the fear in innovation lies in ‘what is appropriate risk’ not just for the individual but for their organization. We are ‘’creatures’ that still want to go back to being safe, so we can feel we have a handle on events to experience that sense of control we always seeingly search for. We normally do not like discomfort except in ‘given’ intense periods when we are being challenged or threatened. The difficulty is you cannot maintain this ‘heighted’ threat, we seem to always (eventually) revert. What is needed is not to simply return to a former state but to replace that ‘state’ with a more appropriate platform of operating than before, built more on innovation for our future well-being and security.
The problem today, is that our world that we would love to be stable and be comfortable within, is being challenged more than ever. We need to find different positions of comfort to survive and thrive, innovation is in my opinion one of these. The problem is innovation in itself, can be uncertain and often risky. I would argue though that this can equally be a new position of stability, if you seek to master innovation and know its strengths and weaknesses intimately.
If we remain in our present states, then what I suggest as a ‘frozen state’ remains, we default back to what we know, based more on repeating patterns based on efficiency, effectiveness and doing what is necessary to manage on a daily basis. This, regrettably, is simply not good enough in today’s world. We need to change and in my last post I offered a number of approaches to structure this around change approaches (http://bit.ly/xfHWMM)
We need to make some real, significant effort to push ourselves into learning to ‘master’ innovation. We require both ‘push’ methods to get this moving- the organization sets innovation learning as a distinct goal for instance- and we need ‘pull’ methods to keep any momentum going until it instils itself as the new norm we identify with and get a different sense of yes, comfort, within ourselves over innovations critical position.
Lewin suggests 3 steps to work through as a model: Unfreeze- Transition- Refreeze.
Firstly we need to unfreeze the existing core.
There are plenty of techniques to help in this that have innovation as the focal point. To name a few
- Burning platforms- create a crisis or agree there is a real crisis
- Challenge the comfort zone and shake things up
- Provide proof that situations being faced are changing- cold hard evidence
- Restructuring deliberately to force change into the system
- Offering fresh goals and visions for innovation as formal corporate objectives
- Provide opportunities to learn, to be trained in innovation techniques and methods
- Shift the rewarding metrics to outcomes based on innovation activities
- Recognize that many of the existing contributions made do make up the past, not so much the future of what is needed to be achieved, based on growth and wealth creation.
Then we have to make a set of transition points.
These are the fuel to keep the innovation engine nourished and moving in the new innovation pointing direction.
- Inspire the organization to achieve some remarkable new things to change the existing conceptions.
- Provide internal and external stimulus in coaching, inspiration talk’s, providing an innovation knowledge site.
- Set about an organised training and education programme for innovation understanding that this moves in steps of learning.
- Re-educate by exposing more within the organization to fresh alternative thinking, both with your industry or in other sectors that you can ‘take and apply’ appropriately.
- Offer open spaces, ‘safe’ environments to learn and experiment, to trial and sometimes fail but learn from these moments the positives and re-apply them.
- Establish innovation champions to be the support team to ‘go to’ for advice.
- Push beyond incremental innovation by slowing turning up the heat so it gets more visible and noticed. See my blog on different dominant designs of organizations http://bit.ly/zdUhKp
- Learning to take first baby steps, followed by improving the pace within innovation activities by using different experimental, prototyping, piloting methods and approaches. Grow the confidence and talk of the learning from any failures along the way to improve.
Lastly we look to refreeze the ‘state’ into a new innovative one.
We actually do need to refreeze but in a more responsive, proactive, agile way – with clear innovation intent to achieve a end goal. For instance, the goal of being seen to have a set of clear competitive distinct positions, recognized and acknowledged both internally and externally parties and then, measured in clear ways that added value that is seen in results, not just talked about as a ‘future promise’ based on present planned activities.
- We need to burn any bridges to ensure there is no way back to the old ways, where innovation was talked about but not enacted upon
- Make sure you achieve the ‘show me the money moment’- your evidence stream of innovation activity and success.
- Keep the focus on being ‘relentless’ and focusing on the future and why innovation is an important part of this in increased activity and performance
- Keep returning to the ‘rationalization’ of this so each action is a validation of a path being travelled which encourages certain actions.
- Make sure rewards are aligned to the new ‘innovation’ way, place rewards into the mid-term as much as the short term, often called golden handcuffs but valid in institutionalizing change through innovation.
- Build all the efforts over time into the very social fabric of the organization and make the middle manager responsible for engineering and designing the innovation mantle needed to be worn by all.
Passing through the three learning stages
Unlocking the innovating potential within organizations always needs to pass through different learning stages. The middle manager lies at the core. Focus on this as your ‘unlocking’ point and establishing a way to build in the necessary competencies and capabilities in a well thought through innovation development programme and process surely can allow innovation to take hold?
Until we approach innovation in a clear, methodical learning way, innovation, that deep capacity for innovation, will never fully ‘take hold’ in organizations as the middle of the core remains frozen in the past of efficency and effectiveness only. We do need to change the innovation middle core.