Anti-Innovation Villains in Organizations

“In 2012, we’re going to be more innovative,” the executive proclaimed, his excitement seemingly brought about by the chance to use this buzzword in conversation.


The irony of such blanket statements lies in the repeated flaunting of innovation as a business strategy to be grasped and wielded like a two-handed sword.


First, by its very definition, innovation implies a novel idea or method.  So, jumping onto the “innovation bandwagon” is, in fact, not innovative.  And second, innovation is less a strategy than a culture.  Unless leaders are committed to undertaking a cultural revolution in their workplaces, innovation simply becomes the trend du jour, destined to both fail and to further undermine the faith of the workers toward leadership.


Rather than unveil a corporate strategy to become “more innovative,” leaders would be better served to simply and quietly take decisive steps toward cultural change.  Look to the underlying organizational norms that inhibit innovative behaviors and attitudes.  Among these, the three most common “anti-innovation” villains include:


Distrust (a.k.a., lack of accountability) – If those on the bottom rung do not believe in the actions, motivations, or values of those at the top of the organization, they will not be courageous in seeking out new ways of doing things.  Fix the “say-do gap” in your leadership structure as a first step in any cultural revolution.


Employee stagnation (a.k.a. lack of development) – Although development dollars are targeted among the first round of budgetary battles in many companies, those who seek to be truly innovative (in a transformationally competitive way) do the exact opposite.  They invest (and heavily) in the development of their workforce.  They find ways to fund, reward, and encourage employee development at all costs (no pun intended).


Transactional vs Transformational Leadership practices – If your organizational is not empowering its employees, driving decision making to the lowest possible level, and moving beyond a quid pro quo exchange of pay for hours worked (just because they are salaried does not mean you avoid this implied exchange system), you are limiting the extent to which your culture will innovate.  Remove barriers to decision making.  Trust in the abilities of the employees you hired (or replace them with ones you DO trust).  Encourage unconventional thinking and problem solving.  And recognize and reward those who do take risks.


Clearly, these three villains are not the only hindrances to innovation.  But they stand out as some of the most common barriers to the cultural change necessary for companies to move forward.  So, stop viewing innovation as a strategy.  Stop the proclamations of intent.  And look to making changes that will build sustained financial competitiveness and a truly engaged workforce.


Culture drives strategy.  Don’t forget that!

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