Avoiding Innovation Decay

Innovation decay is a common experience for those involved in organisational change, but can be anticipated by a number of pre-emptive methods such as succession planning to ensure that there are always leaders to sustain and develop the new structures and practices, induction of new employees in the rationale, behaviours and practices associated with the change, and productive reflection involving employees at all levels in further improvement and innovation.

Once the momentum of change disappears there is often an inexorable tendency to revert to old behaviours. Crises and unexpected problems often lead people to revert to the security of ‘traditional’ ways. New employees not involved in the transition may lack understanding of the rationale for the new ways of working.

Succession planning

Dependence on change leaders and entrepreneurs can produce sustainability problems when agreements end and when people move on.

Ignoring traditional change management advice, there may be situations where it is advantageous not to appoint a dedicated change agent or project manager, deliberately encouraging the fluid, ambiguous and perhaps more lasting conditions which support ‘distributed leadership’.

However where dependence on a key individual has emerged, the change coalition should identify ways of distributing ‘ownership’ of the change process more widely, at least in the medium term.

A workforce fit for the future

Employees who help build your businesses’ performance and capacity for innovation will be:

What does this mean in practice?

  • Change from a focus on job roles to task orientation and agility. In the past we’ve constrained the use and development of individual talent by tying people to relatively narrow functional roles – this has resulted in the significant underutilisation of workforce skills and potential as well as fragmented organisational cultures. The future workplace will need to be built on polyvalent skills and empowered workers exercising agility and initiative in getting the job done.
  • Embed learning and personal development into day-to-day work by ensuring that jobs contain sufficient challenges and opportunities for problem solving, through job rotation, by ensuring ‘exploration time’ and by coaching – as well as through formal training. Ensure that investments in technology enhance individual skill and autonomy rather than replacing them.
  • Focus on ‘recruiting for attitude and training for skills’. Collective responsibility will be a key attribute: “my work isn’t finished until we’re all finished’” Emotionally intelligent people with a passion for learning and discovery fuel innovation and unleash the versatility that companies need to survive and thrive in a fast-changing environment.

Induction of new employees

Those employees who have lived through a People-Centred Change process will have learnt a great deal, perhaps more than they realise, and will have changed their way of thinking and working in ways that are both perceptible and imperceptible. Moreover this experience is typically collective, shared with a wide range of colleagues.

New members of staff will not have the benefit of this collective experience. This can make them feel somewhat isolated. Over time it may also mean that newcomers gradually erode the culture and practices that have been created – not necessarily intentionally but because they failed to gain the intuitive understanding of what the change was all about.

Changing induction procedures to reflect the new culture and practices created during the change process is therefore an important dimension of sustainability. Employees at all levels may be able to help identify ‘what matters’ in terms of messages for new arrivals.

Productive reflection

Throughout this guide we have stressed the value of opportunities for reflection leading to improvement and innovation. Once major thresholds have been crossed, giving stakeholders the opportunity to reflect on ‘then and now’ enables them to recognise how far they’ve come, and helps to embed the changes as ‘the way we do things here’. Such spaces for reflection can quickly become an indispensable part of business development.


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