By: Chuck Frey
Leadership is one of the keys is to an innovative culture, according to Stephen Shapiro, in his excellent book, 24/7 Innovation. Without effective leadership, it is almost impossible for an organization to make the transition to an innovative, entrepreneurial culture. To successfully lead this change, Shapiro says that leaders need to do a number of things well.
Leadership is one of the keys is to an innovative culture, according to Stephen Shapiro, in his excellent book, 24/7 Innovation. Without effective leadership, it is almost impossible for an organization to make the transition to an innovative, entrepreneurial culture. To successfully lead this change, Shapiro says that leaders need to do a number of things well:
They must be able to create a sense of urgency throughout the organization, artificially if necessary. “Leaders often drive change by exaggerating a ‘burning platform’ — a competitive threat from online suppliers, for instance, or a crisis such as sharply falling profits — that can be used to drive people out of their comfort zones.”
Leaders must be able to identify and align the best resources for the job. “They have to be able to pull resources together from across the organization and to gain support from executives and managers for the change effort and for innovative thinking. They have to gain support for the disruption that it inevitably causes to all their working lives. Any basic shift in culture can be painful.”
Leaders have to create and communicate the vision of what they are about. “This involves painting a picture of, or finding some other way to communicate, the better world that is to come from the changes that are being undertaken. Only with such a picture can individuals see how the changes are going to fit together to produce the desired outcomes.”
Leaders have to believe — to the depth of their being — that innovation is what will drive business improvement. “The leader has to be evangelical about change. This is particularly important when there is no obviously compelling need for it. When there is no compelling need for change, it is hard to make change happen.”
Leaders must have the ability to overcome adversity. “They must keep their ears close to the ground for signs of any resistance. And if they hear rumblings they must immediately reinforce the commitment to the vision and defuse any doubts that stakeholders might have about what is taking place. No move toward an innovative, entrepreneurial culture occurs without someone at some stage having serious doubts about the company’s ability to achieve its aims. A true leader needs to prevent the right-of-infinite-appeal culture from derailing efforts.”
Leaders must have the necessary clout to be able to reallocate the firm’s best people, resources and knowledge in any way that will support pervasive innovation throughout the company. “They need to challenge and break down functional and organizational barriers. Leaders must be sufficiently well respected throughout the company to be able to navigate stormy political waters and overcome interdepartmental bickering.”
In conclusion, Shapiro makes a very strong case for strong, innovative leadership. An organization’s CEO or president can’t hope to drive lasting change unless he or she is passionately committed to it.
One expression that struck me in this book excerpt is the “culture of infinite appeal.” I Googled this term, and what it appears to mean is this: Some organizations and leaders unwittingly set themselves up for culture change failure by allowing employees and managers to have the right of infinite appeal — to keep disagreeing and/or debating a strategic decision ad nauseum. Little real work gets accomplished, because these people never finally decide that “I may not agree with this, but to help my company reach its aims, I will at least support it.”