Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Create the right context for innovation

Why is organizational climate so vitally important as we set the context for innovation?

This was one of the key messages that came through so strongly at the Creative Problem Solving Institute 2013 conference in Buffalo, USA.

The climate of the organisation is not the same as the culture and it is important that we measure it. Once we have some hard data on what the climate is, this enables us to explore ways that leaders can influence positive climate change and leverage it to boost performance and promote creative thinking.
If we do not introduce creative problem solving and innovation in to a context, there is little chance of success.

What is climate?
What is culture?

Think about what is in your experience a good place to work.
What made it a good workplace?
Examples are - flexibility, location, people, org purpose alignment, good work in the world, autonomy, play to win, different roles, very social, build on ideas, work life balance

How does this make you feel?
Examples - energized, engaged, creative, energetic, happy, useful, valued, part of a whole, world changing.

Then - think about the opposite of that - the bad workplace.   
Here are examples of what made it so: inconsistent expectations, no room for growth, politics, mismatch of skills, authoritarian leadership, instability, squashing ideas, oppressive, silos, environment, egos, bland

How does that make you feel?  Examples: frustrated, suffocated, insecure, drained, stressed, abused, unsatisfied, limited, unappreciated, unchallenged, stuck, idiotic, impatient, headachy, apathetic.

When you experience the great feelings, how do you behave:  committed, friendly, open, respectful, loyal, cheerful, willing to take risks, collaborative, part of a team, inclusive, initiative, sense of pride.

When you experience the bad feelings, how do you behave?  Examples - Procrastinate, not productive, backbiting, dishonest, secretive, minimal amount of work, sleepy, sporadic, disruptive, lack of caring, aggressive, sick leave, wanting to change, only there when i had to be, blame others, paranoid, protest everything, slouched.

So dare we say that there a correlation between workplace and performance? 
If you compare how people feel and how they perform, there is a strong correlation. It effects their level of engagement and retention.  The magnitude of this impact is sometimes underrated.

So to distinguish between culture and climate - culture is the values, beliefs, traditions and reflects the deeper foundations of the organisation.  What the organisation values is reinforced in the decisions that are made. 

Climate is the recurring patterns of feelings and attitudes and behavior that members of the organisation experience.

A changing climate eventually has an impact of culture. Climate is more visible, more on the surface and is easier to change. 
They are not entirely separate - over time as you impact the climate, you will impact the culture.  But it is easier to deal with the tree at the top and what is visible and where there is growth than by messing with the roots of the tree. When you walk in to an organisation, you can feel the difference.

Uncover your organisation’s climate data to determine what your current climate is by reviewing the following dimensions:

1. Challenge and involvement – determine what do they do on day to day basis and how this links and relates to what the purpose of the organisation is.  The more people see the connection, the more likely they are to be engaged.  

2. Measure Freedom - independence of behaviour exerted by the people such as respecting the individuals and no micro management.  

3. Determine the level of trust and openness - emotional safety in relationships.  Is there enough trust in the relationship to know my short comings.  The more productive the environment will be when people can spit out what they want to.

4. Look at the level of risk taking - how people deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.  Is there a level of tolerance for uncertainty?  We don’t always have to jump towards dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

5. Ask if there is a climate of debate - occurrence of encounters and disagreements between viewpoints.  Is there open and frank conversation and not a climate of taking things personally.

6. What level of idea support is there - ideas are respected and nurtured and not thrown out immediately.  Ideas not killed too soon so that they can move out the door and be adopted.  Novelty will otherwise not survive.

7. How is conflict managed – there is positive and negative conflict.  Distinguish between conflict and debate.  Conflict results in tension between people and leads to the deliberate sabotaging of ideas.  There are also many cases where organisations try to avoid the conflict and performance is zero unless the areas of friction are surfaced.

8. What is the level of playfulness and humour - ability to behave and interact in a spontaneous way.  Is humour is accepted no matter the level of the person?  Great climates weave this playfulness in to work.  People work to make play happen.  

9.How much play time is there - how much time do we have to develop and elaborate on new ideas? 

These observable and tangible behaviors can be measured.   We can easily see the stagnated organisations that cannot get stuff out the door to the marketplace.
Climate is the one variable that can be changed – and immediately innovation has a context and a soil in which to grow.  Climate has to be constantly watched – you have to recreate it every day.

Final notes:
1.    Climate is important and palpable and it is measurable.  When you target it specifically, you can move the needle on these dimensions.
2.    The climate for innovation is ignored at your own peril.
3.    This stuff is not soft - it is as hard as you get!

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