The Disregarded Enabler of Innovation

Billy Ingram, Director of Lean Product Development, Interface

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” My experience and understanding guides me to the same conclusion. An organization’s culture is one of the best indicators of the direction they are heading towards and, ultimately, their probability of success. Organizational culture is also a popular topic these days. It comes up often in conversation and there are volumes of articles on the subject. However, the discussion and editorials often center on and around symptoms of cultural excellence or decline rather than methods to address the root causes. As a result, the conclusions drawn are anecdotal and lack a method or framework for practical application. That does not mean that the conclusions are of less value. However, it does identify a gap that is clearly social in nature and needs to be filled.

The lack of positive and systemic cultural change in organizations is similar to the lack of effective problem solving. Both inadequacies highlight the absence of successful training. Lack of effective problem solving highlights the lack of training in Lean Six Sigma techniques. Lack of ability to address social issues inherent to change management highlights the lack of training in social responsibility. Providing concrete assistance to improve the individual’s ability to tackle social issues is the most important enabler for an organization’s potential for success. Therefore, if training for identifying, understanding, and addressing social issues can be effectively applied, then an organization’s ability to improve and innovate can be positively affected. Or to put it in another way, after receiving effective training, the active engagement level of a person is directly correlated to that individual’s ability to address social issues. Increased engagement levels of individuals, or groups of individuals, can be aligned and harnessed to advance an organization’s mission through mutually agreed upon values.

How do I know this is possible? Where is my evidence? I have experienced the opposite of success without being able to clearly articulate the cause of the failure. I have seen well-organized projects, around very good ideas fail, as often as they succeed. In the past, I have been an effective project manager for great ideas that failed due to my inability to identify and alleviate the social resistance surrounding them. I have also experienced being resentful and disengaged from my organization’s mission and values. This was not good for me or the organization.

Not being able to connect to the organization’s mission or live the values we supposedly shared constrained our mutually beneficial success. You may have had similar experiences. By recognizing these gaps in my understanding, I was able to identify my knowledge gaps and fill them. You can do the same.

“Providing concrete assistance to improve the individual’s ability to tackle social issues is the most important enabler for an organization’s potential for success”

The primary instruction for filling these knowledge gaps includes the subjects of social responsibility, sustainability, Lean Six Sigma, and how to affect positive behavioral change in an organization. The precise definitions of these subjects are debatable. But the ability for those with understanding of these subjects to improve their problem solving skills, the effectiveness of their solutions, and the amount of helpful influence they can create are not. Some common definitions for social responsibility and sustainability follow: social responsibility is an ethical framework that suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large; social responsibility is a duty every individual must perform to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems. Social responsibility is fully defined by the ISO 26000 guidelines. The end goal of social responsibility is sustainability. Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Lean Six Sigma can provide a structure for adopting new perspectives and applying conceptual frameworks while tackling complex problems.

Organizational culture is always improving or degrading. It never achieves or maintains equilibrium. As a result, everyone has work experiences that they use as best—and worst case examples. Often these best and worst experiences exist within the same organization. Understanding the interactions between these subjects is an emerging best practice that will immensely benefit those who choose to increase their understanding of them.

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