I. Climate For Innovation; Support; and Manifestation of Support From Leaders.
The climate for innovation in the enterprise organization at my company is beginning to take on more importance due to a change in leadership and that new leadership’s strategy. Part of our new strategic direction is influenced by the nature of hyper-competition and the critical need to improve historically low service satisfaction. Hence, a new major strategic focus on customer service. Not only customer service in the traditional sense, but more than that, customer service in the sense of pulling value directly from customers. The intent of the new “Customer Won” vision is twofold. One, the new position reflects a clear and urgent priority to interact with customers to make sure that their service is operating in all ways to meet and/or exceed expectations. Two, the new position reflects the need to erase traditional boundaries of provider and customer by empowering customers to distinguish their own service needs by sharing in the way services are provided. Given the context of the vision then, the climate for innovation here is transforming through the efforts of the executive leadership. And, the innovation as Tom Peters wrote is E (C), “Empowerment (customers) = Information + access + decision making + choice + customization + perception of control/ownership.”
While Peters’ discussion of empowerment is much broader, our company is innovating based on some of his variables. The brand is embracing innovation as a capability and is making innovation transparent to all stakeholders. The company fosters innovation through the vision “Customer Won.” The support for innovation arises through the consistent message that competitive advantage must be continually iterated in order to keep customers. The ultimate concept in conveying support for innovation lies in leadership communication. Both internal and external communication is aligned with the message “Customer Won.” The vision and values are clearly, consistently, and continually expressed reinforcing the message. Leadership communication is the key driver behind the concept of innovation. The Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, “We are going to be more flexible and focused to provide customers with a simplistic way to interact with us, and we are going to do that not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because we have to.” Further he said, “All of you are probably saying that this stuff makes sense and it sounds so simple. And it is. The problem is that we just didn’t do it before. Now we are.” This level of transparent communication and involvement is heretofore unseen in customer service. Open and transparent line of communication is perhaps an innovation unto itself. Significantly more important is the relevance to how communication conveys leadership support of innovation. The continual reinforcement of the values and vision makes clear the imperative to think in new terms of performance. While the concept of innovation is growing at the macro enterprise level, it has yet to sink in at the micro level.
The climate for innovation in the functional group organization to which I belong is not supported or conveyed in the same way as the enterprise. The company vision and values are of course supported and encouraged at the functional level. However, the atmosphere, the climate, is more of a follower mentality. Decisions from the top down guide the operations of the group. There is little to no involvement of the group in strategic planning or value chain analysis activities. Employees are given assignments as contributors to the knowledge based work. Literally, there are no communications with respect to strategy, processes, or innovative proposals outside of the communications to all employees as a group. Little direction is supplemented at the functional level regarding the scope of one’s work in connection with the corporate values. Currently then, incrementalism survives at the micro level. Leadership at this level could vastly improve with support upon the concept of innovation. My group suffers from resistance to change, knowledge hoarding, and status quo day to day activities. But, performance is being encouraged through implementation from senior management in a recent four pack of initiatives.