Are your own people your biggest barrier to higher innovation and agility? That’s what research from Great Place to Work found in a study of 792 companies totaling about 500,000 employees.
In their study, Innovation by All, Great Place to Work concluded organizations with high-trust cultures involve and engage many more employees than most organizations in the innovation process. These companies are much more agile and become masters rather than victims of change.
The study notes that discussions of innovation today focus on technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain tools, and automation. But “many leaders today are failing to fully tap their human potential, which paradoxically has increased even as machines have become more central to business.”
Inclusive Innovation Dramatically Boosts Agility
“Innovation by All (IA) maximizes a company’s human potential by tapping into the intelligence, skills, and passion of everyone in the organization. IA cultures “generate more high-quality ideas, realize greater speed in implementation, and achieve greater agility — resulting in 5.5 times the revenue growth of peers with a less inclusive approach to innovation.”
Here are a few study highlights:
- Innovation is now as much about agility as invention.
- Leaders need more speed with changing internal systems, launching new products, and responding to rapidly changing markets.
- Human judgement is vital to quickly capitalize on new technologies. Front-line employees are central to that acceleration.
- The fastest, most nimble organizations have a ratio of 11:2 — eleven employees pulling the organization forward for every two, dragging on growth and agility. Functional organizations’ ratios are 5:2, while the slowest and worst-performing organizations are 3:2.
- IA organizations rapidly adapt to disruptive change, quickly create new approaches, and generate high-quality ideas.
- These highly accelerated organizations have “21% higher levels of discretionary effort, 14% less risk of turnover, 32% improved productivity, and 33% more adaptability.”
- Employees at IA organizations consider their leaders highly genuine and caring. Trust and autonomy are also much higher than in peer organizations. These leaders set inspiring visions and live by shared core values.
- People in the best IA organizations report significantly higher levels of looking forward to coming to work, adapting quickly to changes needed for the organization’s success, and recommending their organization as a great place to work.
Inclusive Innovation Cuts Turnover
An employee at one of the highly innovative organizations in the study said, “If another company were to come in, offer me three times more than what I’m making today, I couldn’t leave because I know if I went there, I wouldn’t have this,” he says. “I’d be throwing away this foundation that I built here, and the whole company has this.”
Agility is becoming a major focus for many organizations today for good reason. Our pace of change is accelerating through a relentless demand for better, faster, and cheaper. Merriam-Webster defines agility as “marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace,” and “having a quick, resourceful and adaptable character.”
Innovation and Organization Learning Boosts Engagement
Stretching, growing, and learning is invigorating. When we’re stimulated and challenged, we’re energized and engaged. Work is transformed from a job to a joy. In an agile learning organization, problems are resolved quickly and used as opportunities for continuous improvement. Openness, transparency, and collaboration mean decisions are made quickly with high buy-in and ownership for implementation.
A Zenger Folkman study showed how a very strong learning organization impacts commitment levels:
Learning and adaptability lead to much higher discretionary effort. This creates highly engaged and agile organizations moving at or ahead of the speed of change.
Trust and Mistakes: Learning or Blame Storming?
The culture in many organizations is too poisonous for innovation and organizational learning to flourish. A mistake is generally a CLM — a career-limiting move. Making a mistake in front of many managers is like cutting yourself in front of Dracula.
So, people become defensive. They cover up problems, setbacks, and missed goals. When people in closed, mistake-averse organizations encounter problems, they get to work on fixing…the blame. Everyone becomes so busy denying mistakes that they can’t learn from them.
If we want more experimentation and learning in our teams or organizations, we need a culture that builds self-confidence and trust. Trust is extraordinarily fragile. Building or restoring it is a leadership process.
A big cause of team and organization learning impairments is lack of openness. As mistakes are made, pilot tests run, and tries clumsily attempted, learning happens. Unless those results are openly and widely shared, everyone is reduced to learning only from their own experiences. That’s an expensive waste of time and resources.
We need active internal networks and processes for sharing all that rich learning experience. But these are only useful if we have a high level of trust that treats mistakes as opportunities to advance the team or organization’s learning.
An Innovation Culture Reflects the Leader’s Learning Agility
Culture reflects the leadership team’s behavior. Leaders who aren’t learners don’t build innovative, agile organizations. I can’t influence others to change what they’re doing with the same behavior that contributed to their current behavior.
As Jack Zenger explains in a four-minute interview, learning agility has three core components: speed, flexibility, and self-improvement.
In The Heart Aroused: Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, David Whyte writes, “All things change when we do.” Writer Gautama Chopra elaborates, “By changing our beliefs, our perceptions, we cause our experience to change, and in this way we change the world around us. There is no true boundary or limit to the self; there is no separation from the world that encircles us. When we master the forces within, we influence the forces without.”