Framing innovation around four management dimensions

Julian Birkinshaw, the London Business School Professor for Strategy and Entrepreneurship wrote in his book “Reinvention Management” about the failure of management. He is a strong advocate of reinventing and broadening out the awareness and need for a more disciplined and up to date practice of management

Working through a kind of contingency theory of management

Julian points out different situations demand different kinds of management. To be effective, a manager needs to adapt to the demands of the situation. Managerial behaviour is mapped on four dimensions: bureaucracy-to-emergence, hierarchy-to-collective wisdom, alignment-to-obliquity, and extrinsic-to-intrinsic motivation.

The principles of emergence, collective wisdom, obliquity and intrinsic are newer ways of thinking about management. I must say I like these as I do his framework as a really good way to think about the approach we need to explore that fits with the strategy and the way we want to develop a business and its environment.

Innovation needs to exploit all the ‘opposing’ principles across the four dimensions

Taking Julian Birkenshaw’s thinking about this framework, my intent here is to offer it up as a more than valuable way to think about where and how innovation links into the management and direction of an organization, and what might ‘block’ it. To recognize the assumptions and beliefs on the ways we can work can help resolve some of these barriers to innovation.

You need to explore across these often opposing dimensions so as to build the business case for innovation that fits closer to the organizations accepted routines or recognize those that need to be challenged for broadening out the potential of innovation. Recognizing how any innovation fits is partly appreciating these dimensions for the type of work and approaches needed to be managed, otherwise it can lead to growing frustrations.

The first set of principles is about managing across the activities, how they are coordinated.

The opposing ones are bureaucracy where more formalised rules, job roles, procedures and formal guidance tend to dominate. To a large degree the emphasis is on predictability, where initiatives can be stifled and you have less creativity and flexibility. It reduces autonomy. It might through this ‘bureaucratic constraint’ limit innovation to being more incremental as the outcome.

The opposite one is emergence, where there is a greater push for independence, higher autonomy. This will tend to led to potentially higher innovation that can become more radical, distinctive that allows for individual breakthroughs. The ‘feeling’ of independence tend to generate stronger team cultures but can become a little more chaotic and ad hoc to bring together in cohesive end results.

The second set of principles relates to how people are making decisions within the organisation

Many organizations ‘suffer’ from a heavy emphasis on hierarchy where authority and power dominate decisions. The higher you are, the more you are perceived as possessing greater expertise, or thought to have. There is a recognition that  the clear pathway to the top works around clear accountability, handling decision-making and the organization of work in clear, distinct ways, striving for greater predictability. The downside of this ‘clarity’ is that it does block initiative, stops a lot of upward communication and can easily affect morale, if managers are not really listening, just feeling they are the only ones capable to make the decisions.

The alternative is working towards a greater collective wisdom where people get drawn in to contribute to decision-making and feel it is a collective ‘problem solve’. This allows for the potential for having more knowledgeable people, valuing more their views and where you strive to meet this higher engagement and encourage a clear sense of identity. There needs to be that constant ‘listening’ across the organization to gain greater insight. The downside is this can take a longer time for decisions to be made and works against you in times of crisis or where time pressures are critical to meet. You can become more inwardly focused to achieve this ‘collective’ decision necessary and this requires a more demanding set of skills to manage well. Building on collective wisdom makes for greater potential for innovation.

The third set of principles relates to how people set and pursue goals.

The argument of having a clear alignment is that you are consciously working towards common goals set by the organization. The value of this sense of common purpose within teams across functions is that you can pursue a ‘tighter’ strategy that needs that significant coordinated action. Innovation tends to require this. The problem can often be that this can have is the over-emphasis on key performance indicators, to measure this alignment progress, can become counter-productive. Often as  innovation is based far more on many intangibles this search for a constant measuring can become a problem. This is where I have argued the value of the Executive Innovation Work Mat approach comes in, to actively seek alignment from having to work this out differently, where innovation is needed to  more central and clearly aligned.

The opposite is obliquity, the encouragement of deviation from a ‘given’ set direction, by encouraging more individual goals, that can be intuitively working towards broad overall objectives set within the organization.  Again by offering a well-articulated and well-communicated innovation strategy that can be delivered in an organizing framework through this same Innovation Work Mat approach you can loosen certain controls and indicators, then promote the ones that allow greater ownership within the Strategic Innovation framework, that guides more than directs. The balance has to be struck on coordinating efforts, clarifying issues through governance and engagement throughout the organization, one that is well communicated, actively reducing distance and bridging many disconnects surrounding innovation, that can happen with too much obliquity.

The fourth set of principles deals with how people are motivated within organizations

The higher emphasis on extrinsic motivation or form of reward is often the preferred route for organizations. It focuses on the ‘harder’ aspects, those quantifiable, mostly tangible outcomes that give clear measure of results. There is though the darker side of extrinsic motivation by threatening the holding of reward unless certain measures are not carried through. Organizations find extrinsic measures far easier to implement and monitor, yet increasingly we are feeling more dissatisfied and less engaged as they don’t tap into our inner motivations as much, as those that ‘just’ satisfy the general needs.

The tougher aspect is to offer up more intrinsic motivation. This tends to become more individual, it recognizes your specific part in doing a task, activity or project well. Intrinsic motivators are arguable far more satisfying but harder to manage. Often the debate can hinge on perceptions of the job being done between the parties. Innovation needs to search out these intrinsic connections through recognizing individuals need motivation but these can come from again, providing a well-designed innovation framework to work from. It is of more importance to establish clear innovation goals that are far more ‘touchable’ and pertinent to our own working domain.

We need to work far more on  constantly evaluate innovation returns on each person’s contribution within their immediate space, using measures and metrics that are attuned to their  personal innovation activities, certainly beyond the ‘simple’ and broad ROI’s set by organizations. Sadly innovation doesn’t get measured this  personal way, yet it can be and is needed to be for a more ‘connected’ identification of what can make up collective success.

Applying your thinking to these dimensions and principles for innovation to thrive

The important points to remember here in these different dimensions is that you need to recognize the differences and what it might mean; you need to work through choices about how the work of innovation can be done against how it might end up getting done. The principles offered here is not just simply a clear one or the other, a right or wrong, it depends on what you want to achieve and the level of engagement you are wanting from innovation.  Also how it can be best suited within the organization.

If your current situation tends to be more one sided than the other, then this might limit innovation engagement or choice, it might limit motivation and creativity. In using this four dimension framework you can begin to have a dialogue across the different dimensions. You can begin to discuss and become more active in making conscious change as they potentially might be inhibiting innovation’s contribution. Clearly any moving from one principle to the other side needs to always link the innovation outputs to strategy and the environment you wish to create and that is a broader collective challenge, of managing change for innovation so as to improve its contribution, by exploiting fully across all the dimensions in thoughtful ways.

The ability to align resources and direct the focus of the organization is the role of senior executives. Innovation success starts with vision, engagement and commitment from these senior executives and then working through all the combining elements that make up innovation, so it can integrated these into a clear innovation framework that clarifies where innovation needs to strategically fit.

I have said it previously here: “Today, we face a different type of performance – one that is not ‘just’ dependable but one that is often unpredictable, one that seems perhaps more suited to innovation that outsmarts others in unique ways. We need to be predictable in performance but we need to deliver unpredictable innovation that wows our customers and the markets to achieve this.” Achieving on this aspiration requires active, engaged management, working actively across all aspects of the innovation process to achieve this end of the wow!

We do need to constantly ‘work’ across these four dimensions of management practices and process offered by Julian Birkinshaw in his book, for greater innovation understanding. We need to be equally fluid, flexible, aligned and constantly agile.Watch Julian’s view of why Management is being more challenged far more today.

For me, especially where innovation is concerned, is that we need better organizing frameworks to manage within organizations to ‘extract’ the value within our people’s contribution by providing frameworks and the right environment to allow  innovation to work well. In defined ways, well thought-through, with engagement from the top and across all management, that is being constant and fully aware.

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3 thoughts on “Framing innovation around four management dimensions

  1. Pingback: Mind the Gaps in Innovation. | Paul4innovating's Blog

  2. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Keep Calm and Mind the Innovation Gap

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