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Use a High-Involvement Approach to Innovation and Change

Innovation and change are hot topics these days. Leaders everywhere recognize that increased agility is required to keep pace with today’s work environment. But it shouldn’t be the work of a select few, say Britney Cole and Judd Hoekstra at Blanchard®.

Cole is co-creator of Blanchard’s Fearless Innovation™ program, and Hoekstra is co-creator of Blanchard’s Leading People Through Change® program. They both recommend expanding the reach of innovation and change efforts to include more people.

“The conventional wisdom is that innovation belongs to the C-suite, R&D, or a dedicated innovation team,” says Cole. “But sometimes the people most qualified to innovate are the ones doing jobs that are most affected by a problem. They know the organization’s needs and they know its opportunities.”

“The same goes for change,” says Hoekstra. “As a leader you have to do more than simply try to get people to buy into your ideas. You have to recognize that, down deep, others may have perspectives as valuable as yours that you aren’t aware of.

“The worst possible situation is to have people waiting to be told what to do and grumbling about it. Empower people to take action. It’s the antidote to their feeling resentful or disengaged. And, chances are, they will come up with something novel and valuable beyond what you might have thought up yourself.”

Innovation Must Be Encouraged and Supported

As Cole identifies, “We all have an innate desire to make things better, or, put another way, to innovate. The trouble is that most work environments don’t support innovation across the organization. Team leaders are more concerned with their people completing daily tasks, working on existing priorities, or achieving short-term goals. Innovation is a luxury, not a defined expectation.

“As a result, many people feel they don’t have the agency to innovate on their tasks, much less tackle bigger challenges,” says Cole. “They think, ‘I’m just doing my job.’ Customer service representatives are focused on meeting call volume measurements, project managers are focused on executing their initiatives, and technicians are focused on maintaining and fixing their equipment and systems.

“In our Fearless Innovation program we teach how to unleash the innovator within each individual to create a more dynamic workplace. That means looking for opportunities, problems, redundancies, or inefficiencies and attempting to make situations better—rather than just accepting the status quo.

“In Fearless Innovation we teach a four-step model—Scan, Ideate, Experiment, and Launch—that everyone in the organization can use to awaken their innovative capacity.

  1. Scan: Look up and out. Explore opportunities to innovate in your own work, your company, your teams, or for your customers.
  2. Ideate: Wonder and wander. Think quantity and quality. Select ideas that will create the most value for the level of effort you are willing to put forward.
  3. Experiment: Get your idea into the world. Create the simplest version possible that will generate useful feedback.
  4. Launch: Convert your experiment into a functioning innovation. Partner with others to deploy it more broadly.

“We also teach leaders a three-part mindset that fosters an environment of innovation in all forms.

  • Grace — The courage to accept imperfection.
  • Curiosity — The courage to wonder and wander.
  • Proactivity — The courage to act and disrupt.

“Leaders must practice this mindset on a daily basis,” says Cole. “People take cues from what their leaders do and imitate their actions. Saying that you want your people to be more innovative means nothing if you aren’t practicing innovation and the mindsets yourself.”

Improving the Frequency and Quality of Your Conversations

“As a leader, you have to look at the quality of your conversations,” says Hoekstra. “The Blanchard model is based on some prerequisites. You have a trusting relationship, you take the time to draw out concerns and development level, and you provide a matching leadership style.

When you surface and address people’s concerns, you’re building an authentic, trusting relationship through the process.

“In our Leading People Through Change program we teach leaders how to identify and address employees’ predictable questions—how to resolve their concerns around change in the workplace—to increase their buy-in and commitment. Leaders learn how to predict, surface, and address the concerns people have when faced with change: information concerns, personal concerns, implementation concerns, impact concerns, and refinement concerns.”

  • Information concerns. This is the first response people have when confronted with something new. People want to know what the change is, why it is important, and what success looks like. People with information concerns do not want to be sold on the proposed change; they want to be told about it. They need to understand what is being proposed before they can decide whether the change is good or bad.
  • Personal concerns. The next area of concern is personal—how the change will personally impact the individual, how they will learn to work in new ways, whether they will have the time, and who can help them. People with personal concerns want to know how the change will play out for them and want to be reassured they can successfully make the change. This is the stage of concern that is most frequently ignored and the stage where people get stalled most often.
  • Implementation concerns. At this stage, concerns will focus on how the change will be accomplished. People want to know that challenges, obstacles, and barriers will be surfaced and addressed, and that they will have the time, support, and resources they need to successfully implement the change.
  • Impact concerns. The change has now gone live and people want to know if the change is working for them, their team, their organization, and their customers. Is it worth the effort? People are focused on results and getting others on board with the change. At this stage, people sell themselves and others on the value of the change.
  • Refinement concerns. At this point in the change process, people want to know that a tipping point has been reached and that most people are on board and succeeding with the change. They also want to be assured that continuous refinement of the change is valued and that they are trusted to lead the change going forward.

“When change leaders effectively address concerns, they surface challenges sooner, achieve better results faster, and build change leadership capability that can be used again in the future,” says Hoekstra.

Take a High-Involvement Approach

“Innovation is a discipline that can be learned,” says Cole. “Everyone in the organization should have the skills to generate ideas that create value in a meaningful way, have the space to experiment, be able to defend and promote their ideas / solutions, create coalitions and support to scale viable ideas, and have the mindset to believe obstacles can be overcome.

“As a leader it’s important to see innovation as a team sport—and you are the coach! As you encourage innovation, consider these strategies:

  • Make innovation a stated goal of your team.
  • Give people the time and resources they need to be innovative, instead of making it something on the side of their desk.
  • Recognize people for experimenting. This means praising them publicly for trying something new. A leader must recognize people for what they accomplish and try to accomplish—because innovation is a risky undertaking with no guaranteed reward.
  • Include diverse perspectives. Dozens of studies prove that diverse teams are more productive, profitable, and creative than teams made up of similar individuals. The key is to make sure everyone feels welcome and contributes.”

“People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan,” adds Hoekstra. “Change is exponentially easier when you start out with more advocates. If you have one person come up with an idea for a change, you might only have one advocate at the beginning. If you have 100 people contributing to the idea, you might have 100 advocates.

“It’s a really hard job to get one person to talk to the whole organization. It’s a much easier job when you have 100 people behind the idea and actively promoting it.

“People are more positive about advocating for change when they can see their input built into the final design. Use a high-involvement strategy when looking to improve innovation and change capabilities. It makes the quality of innovation better and it makes the change side a lot easier.”

More information in https://resources.blanchard.com/

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