An organization's culture represents widely shared beliefs. In innovative organizations, staff typically believe that ideas should be openly shared and challenged, people should take smart risks, and failures should be valuable learning opportunities. Good ideas and new insights should come from anywhere. Empowered organizations have leaders and structures that encourage the free flow of ideas and information within the organization and actively fight against insularity resulting in organizational silos. Innovative organizations empower staff to take considered risks, voice dissenting opinions, and seek resources to get the job done.
Our maturity model for empowerment culture includes three requisites for business-innovation readiness: encouraging debate and experimentation, fostering trust to achieve collaboration, and supporting the fluid exchange of information inside the organization. In turn, these requisites were the basis of the five high-performance descriptors used in our survey items in the diagnostic instrument.
Encouraging Debate and Experimentation
For any association to improve business-innovation readiness, robust internal debate is needed to prevent the organization from becoming complacent. Blending managed abrasion among staff with a full commitment to the resolution of differences is an essential element of innovation readiness. Activating robust discourse and debate throughout the organization will bring to the table fresh ideas and new approaches to debate and consider. Equally important is the ability to combine disparate and even opposing views to achieve alignment of staff and resources. You need an organizational culture open to question assumptions and ask tough and honest questions. Resolving contrary views often illuminates the most creative and thoughtful solutions. Thus, you need leadership that can first highlight ambiguity and complexity and then moves to integrative decisions. The key is to avoid letting some segments of governance or staff dominate the rules of engagement. The goal of the entire community should be openness and collaboration learning.
Fostering trust to achieve collaboration
Allowing staff to take risks requires trust from senior leaders and executives. If standard policies and procedures show a lack of confidence in staff teams, then expect the rational behavior of the staff is to reject new ideas and new opportunities that foster a climate of stasis and fear of innovation. Internal communications must flip the language from avoiding failure to celebrating learning.
Learning together is critically important for the teamwork essential to successful innovation. Yes, some leaders assume that business innovation comes from small, sequestered staff teams that generate big ideas. However, we believe that excellent collaboration across traditionally siloed functional units of staff, volunteer committees, and external partners is essential for success. Internal policies and processes should leverage the full range of expertise across your organization for innovation projects. Fostering co-design and co-creation of new venture ideas is best created through networks: groups of people working in concert with a common purpose.
Supporting the fluid exchange of information inside the organization
Ideas, both positive and negative, can spread virally across organizations as well as top-down and bottom-up. For an association community, people are more receptive to change when those changes are recommended and shared internally among coworkers and colleagues. Innovative organizations identify the blockers to fluid exchange across their community. That means making sure that the staff feels they have a voice and join internal conversations.
In the final analysis, empowerment is still a matter of trust as the foundational ingredient for any collaborative effort. Collaboration on business ventures does not occur by accident but needs to be nurtured in a safe, trusted, and open environment.