Making change stick: The important ‘unseen’ in a culture of innovation

Highly innovative and creative contexts can be challenging in the day-to-day, so success for the long haul depends on a strong foundation of policies and practices that provide the scaffolding for change, innovation and creativity occur.

We all sit somewhere along the innovation and change continuum. At one end, some thrive in a free-fall and dynamic environment. The majority appreciate structure and routine as it brings comfort and security. At the far end, are the people who find change extremely challenging as it brings uncertainty and fear.

At all points along this continuum, trusted, communicated and known policies and practices facilitate change. For the free-falling change mavericks this gives a realistic structure in which to implement change, it confidently supports the middle ground and provides a scaffold for those who fear change.

This is the practical end of making change stick. It is one thing to have a pile of ideas, another, to have the structure to make them a reality and sustainable. It’s all about thinking ahead. Policy statements are most effective when they are guided by vision, mission and values.

The who, what and how of policies

Who does what?  Clearly defined roles and responsibilities

Who’s responsible when you’re not there?  Delegated authority

What is the breadth of my role?  Pre-determined decision-making levels and boundaries

What do we value?  Clearly defining values and prioritising what is important

How are policies known and owned by our people?  Develop and then take regular opportunities to constantly communicating and embed

What’s working and what’s not?  Reviewing and evaluating on a regular basis

I heard leadership-legend Ken Blanchard speak in Australia a few years ago. He spoke about rank-ordered values enabling key decisions to be made and gave an example from Disney. He sees that organisations live out their values and this allows for accountability and measurement of progress. Disney has four values: safety, courtesy, the show and efficiency. As friendly as those Disney people are, safety comes before courtesy. If an employee is courteously attending to guest and hears a scream how should she react? If safety is before courtesy, then the scream takes priority.

When the time is taken to establish, communicate and review policies and practices there are benefits to the organization, the cause and the people.  The leader can lead at a higher level because people are empowered to act and make decisions within clear boundaries and the people have a sense of security. Healthy organisations, with a strong culture of up to date policies and practices also allow people to make and fix mistakes and gives freedom to be innovative within the structure.

There is confidence within the organisation that key matters will be dealt with because there is a process:

  • Conceivable risk is identified and has an action to mitigate or minimize its impact
  • Key leaders are not spending time putting out spot-fires, but can focus on vision
  • Creativity and innovation can flourish because the day-to-day matters can run smoothly
  • Structures are flexible and change as required

Policies, procedures and practices usually get a bad press as they are often seen as  limiting of innovation. In reality, they can lead to the releasing of an amazing future. It just depends how you view them and prioritise them.

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