Understanding an organisation’s motive for change, engaging the workforce in productive reflection and dialogue, assessing the effectiveness of current working practices, then connecting these findings to the organisation’s values, vision, goals and strategic imperatives, will strengthen understanding of the need for change and help to build a case that will persuade key stakeholders.
Let’s begin with some healthy scepticism about strategies. They can absorb a huge amount of organisational effort, involve intense internal politics and often result in outcomes that reflect the lowest common denominator. By the time they are eventually published, they are out of date and rarely survive contact with the real world.
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
In similar vein, we make the case in the Co-Created Leadership & Employee Voice module not just that strategic thinking is indispensable, but that inclusive strategic thinking is indispensable. Combining the strategic knowledge and insights of senior teams with the practical experience and tacit knowledge of people throughout the organisation not only leads to better strategies but to a much wider sense of ownership and relevance.
You will also discover in the Structures, Management and Processes module that hierarchies and functional divisions within an organisation can easily create perverse behaviours capable of undermining strategy. Each department or team focuses on its own specific targets, creating narrow mindsets and incompatible cultures across the organisation. Different parts of the organisation start to pull in different directions, and even when each succeeds in delivering its own KPIs successfully, the collaborative behaviours and common effort required to achieve the organisation’s goals disappear. This is what we call a mis-aligned organisation:
Whilst each layer of misalignment in the pyramid contributes to strategic failure and poor decision-making, its bottom layers are of particular interest from a workplace innovation perspective. Take the example of a manufacturing company based in Scotland. Its Strategic Vision is “Growth through innovation and operational excellence”, and this translates well into a Strategic Imperative which seeks to “Create a culture of innovation throughout the organisation”. So far so good, but what does this mean in practical terms? Presumably “a culture of innovation throughout the organisation” is one in which everyone can develop and share fresh thinking at work, and to be actively involved in creating new products, services and processes. But nobody told the departmental heads and line managers – they have tight targets and their personal performance is measured on the extent to which they meet them. There’s no allowance in the spreadsheets for giving people ‘time out’ to reflect on how things can be improved, so teams have no idea about their role in creating “a culture of innovation”. Worse still, the bottom layer hasn’t even been added to the company’s own Strategy Pyramid, so it hasn’t assessed whether core workplace practices either support or inhibit innovation. How things actually work – or don’t work – at the front line of the organisation is somewhat opaque to the senior team with its focus on KPIs and spreadsheets.
Research tells us that empowered workers and teams are more likely to engage in innovation behaviours; likewise we know that cross-functional collaboration is a powerful generative source of fresh thinking and creativity. Yet in this company, work organisation is based on tightly prescribed functions with very little scope for exercising individual or team discretion in the way things are done, and there are few opportunities for collaboration. The suggestion box gathers cobwebs in the corridor – so how is that culture of innovation to be achieved?
Figure 2 summarises the aligned organisation in which people have the knowledge, competencies and autonomy to achieve strategic imperatives and goals by using their initiative and creativity. In the manufacturing company described above, the Workplace Innovation Diagnostic® tested the extent to which working practices were aligned with its aim of stimulating enterprising behaviour and employee driven innovation. Diagnostic results revealed significant opportunities for improvement including structured opportunities for productive reflection and fresh thinking, a new emphasis on collaboration rather than individual performance measurement, and greater self-organisation at individual and team levels. The results stimulated a series of initiatives involving the workforce including a SWOT analysis and the creation of cross-functional change teams.