For dozens of years, I have worked on the edges of how organizations work, being The Man in two organizations as well as being a consultant on long-term implementation projects as well as simply standing on the outside observing and commenting. Being in each position has had its advantages and drawbacks, but one thing is clear: Lots of organizations and individuals can accomplish lots of organizational improvement in lots of ways, and there is no silver bullet or best way.
Being internal offers the advantages of being able to bring to bear the organizational resources like time and money and support and roadblock management. One can supervise a group of people to focus on an issue or opportunity and to design an intervention to solve some problem or make some improvement.
That is easy when you are in charge of customer service or computer software or some other area that is somewhat self-contained. There are a lot of things you cannot manage, like customer service if you are a software manager or software if you are a customer service manager. But overall, you have some direct control.
The consultant has no direct influence, but might have access to senior managers and is often looking for something to implement that has impact and value for the company or department. So, the approach there is to identify issues and then look for leverage. Often, it is possible to collaborate and determine some changes and improvements that have significant organizational impact or effectiveness and whose results can be measured and evaluated.
In my 30 years of experience on the edges, it is quite common to find an individual who is doing things differently from the rest and seeing the results and impacts from that difference. Occasionally, it occurs at the low end of the performance curve, but very often, it is the Top or Exemplary Performer who has discovered some innovative efficiency that enables them to perform at a very high level.
They are not doing what the average employee is doing, but they are also doing things that the average person COULD do if they were aware of it or understood it or were measured on it (with feedback – see my newsletter on Performance Feedback).
This, for me, is organizational creativity or innovation. It does NOT have to be some brand new idea for a product or service, but it can be some organizational improvement or change that has impacts on some important aspect of how things work. And, often, those new improved ideas can be the basis for some team building as those ideas are implemented across part of the organization. Change does not have to be forced on people, which commonly generates resistance, anyway. Change and improvement can be made into an attractive new goal or mission and people can be recruited to implement and share the intrinsic motivation that comes naturally from improvement in skills or performance. Improvements can be recognized peer-to-peer and thus help that group build a more cohesive spirit.
On the other hand, forcing improvements from outside the group – such as a recommendation from a glory-seeking consultant who does not share any of the credit with the hands-on people – will result in resistance or worse.
Ownership, as I have discussed before, is a critical factor in organizational improvement:
“Nobody Ever Washes a Rental Car”
See these blog articles for more information:
Doing the same thing the same way will mostly generate the same result. I say mostly because it is my experience that some people will NOT accept “how things work, now, badly” and will make improvements on their own. These are often the same people who will bend the rules and develop “out of bounds” types of solutions that make sense when viewed from a distance – they are working on the edges of accepted behavior in many cases. They often feel that work looks like this:
And at least they can shift some things around so that their effort has more positive impacts and makes more sense, even though they cannot change things. They will make work look more like this:
What is needed is pretty simple: time, support, and more support to actually make real changes in how things operate and how work gets done.
They need the support of the management, support of the departments that impact their results, and the support of their peers. This all leads to improved intrinsic motivation.
This stuff is NOT rocket science and we simply need to understand that ideas for innovation can come from anywhere at any time and may not flow from how things are done right now. Sometimes there are necessary and important paradigm shifts in how we think of things. And not every idea is a great one, but we do need to be careful about how we deal with it. There may be a spark of creativity that we want to build on.
My tools are useful for a wide variety of innovative or creative exploits with front line workers. They are easy to facilitate and set up a language of improvement. It is easy for hands-on people to share the things that do not work smoothly – you can generate dozens of good ideas for workplace improvement. And you can use these ideas to create a history of successful implementation that leads to easier improvement in the future.
Square Wheels and our team building games are designed to impact performance and results. Have fun with them.