Ten signs your organisation needs to innovate – Part 2


Deliver innovation to deliver anything

Yesterday we posted up the first five of our ten signs that your organisation might need to step back and take a look at itself, before realising that perhaps a little innovative thinking will go a long way.  With no further ado, here is the second half of our top ten signs you should be watching out for – and remember, if you have more than a handful of these then give NESTA a call!

6.  You have people who ‘do’ innovation

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

An old ditty perhaps, but one which makes my point.  If you have somebody or a team of somebodies who ‘do’ innovation then you risk innovation simply being left to them to do, after all they are the ones being paid for it.  If you’re not careful, innovative thinking will become associated with a small number of job descriptions and squeezed out of the lives of those with other priorities.

Innovation shouldn’t be an added-on extra or a bespoke project – it should be part and parcel of every member of staff and the work they do.  Even if not everyone is walking around coming up with ideas for how to do simple things differently or better, every officer needs to feel that if they were to come up with such an idea that they could and should do something about it.  It it’s palmed off on someone else the number of minds coming up with innovative solutions pales into insignificance, no matter how good those innovation people might be.

7.  Silos are seen as a good thing

Every service is different, and every team has specific needs in order for it to thrive.  Some of these involve professional training and years of experience, and many require staff to focus on their area to the exclusion of all others.  More than a few require real security protocols and processes to be put into place in order to protect vulnerable people, sensitive information or confidential data.  Basically, silos are seen to help things.

Except they don’t.  Silos create barriers and mistrust between staff and services, negative rivalry and Chinese walls which add nothing to positive and productive outcomes.  Traditional arguments about data protection and concern that other staff “don’t understand our area of work” rarely if ever hold water when looked at in detail, and more often than not it’s a solid knowledge of good practice that is the problem, not other staff.  If some of these silos are broken down then maybe – just maybe – good practice from one area might just permeate more widely and lessons learnt can be shared, as well as overall trust raised between staff.

8.  Following process is more important than achieving the best results

One of the most frustrating things to hear is that something has to be done because it has to be done.  Just because we can create forms doesn’t mean that they are the best way of collecting information; just because we use a meeting for one project does not mean that it will get to the end goal better.

Every process should start life without existing at all.  The outcome, the things which the process should be working towards, should be the only thing to consider at the start of the planning process – it’s only once this has been fully defined that an appropriate process should be considered and selected.  As we’ve said before, one definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results: if you use the same or similar processes during every project then don’t be surprised if all of the results end up looking the same, which may very well not be what works best.

9.  You have a lot of forms

Some time ago we listed forms as one of the best ways to stifle creativity, and our opinion of this hasn’t changed much in the intervening time.  Forms definitely have a place, they are effective ways of collecting simple factual information and guide a user through times when plenty of simple information is required.  However, they are very often not the best way to gather complex or contextual information, and certainly not when they stretch over more than half a dozen pages.

In this day of social media and rich content it’s not only true to say that a picture can paint a thousand words, but a video can paint a thousand pictures (or at least 24 a second), and audio content can provide a layer of information not possible via the written word.  If your first response whenever someone says that they want to record some information is to break out the tables and create a form – however well formatted – perhaps you are guilty once again of starting with process rather than outcome.

10.  Short term fire-fighting is the order of the day

Often the most obvious sign that your organisation is ripe for innovation is that nothing is getting much better overall.  How many of us feel that too large a percentage of our jobs are taken up with dealing with unexpected circumstances and fixing problems?  Too many, if our experience is anything to go by.  If this is true of you then there is a serious problem with planning and process which is stopping you from achieving your desired outcomes.

Unforeseen circumstances are exactly that, and we all need to be able to deal with them from time to time.  That being said, the more of that you do the less time you are spending on achieving your goals.  You need to stop and spend some time looking at what you do and why, stripping it down to its core and once more focusing on the end goal rather than the extras.  If the extras are still required then you will need to be innovative about how you complete them and still leave enough time to do your day job.

And a brucie bonus…

11.  Your organisation exists

Every organisation – at all stages of its life – needs to keep innovating lest it stagnate and die.  History is full of those who thought they had perfected things in their field, only to find that a more innovative competitor came along and either did things better or changed the rules.  From the US motor industry to Kodak, even the biggest will fall if they stand still.

If your organisation or service wants to continue to meet the needs of those it is there to serve then a degree of innovation is absolutely essential, from small differences to fundamentla cultural changes.  If you exist now and want to in the years to come, innovation needs to become a way of life, so sooner or later you’d better learn to love it.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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2 Comments on “Ten signs your organisation needs to innovate – Part 2”

  1. tomsprints Says:

    Spot on, again.

    Although it’s probably something for another time, and more detail, I think it’s fair to have a go at silos. However, my experience is that they are so pervasive that there must be something in human nature that requires them. I don’t mean the sort of monolithic, impregnable organisational subsets (or indeed super-sets), though. Silos exist across organisations too – even within social media. Try joining a “closed” group on Yammer if you don’t believe me.

    While silos in the traditional sense have lots to do with insularity, a faux sense of identity, etc, they do nourush some Maslow-type needs for a sense of identity or “belonging”. If that gives loyalty and motivation to do well in front of peers, that’s not all bad, of course.


  2. When innovation lands the innovators with a whole pile of extra work… if people who come up with new ways of doing things are instantly tasked with making it succeed whilst at the same time “doing their day job”, people will quickly learn that having innovative ideas means you get a lot of extra work and responsibility for relatively little reward, whilst colleagues who sit back and “do the day job” still get paid the same. Admittedly in the absence of performance-related pay, this will remain an issue, but for innovation to become the norm, there has to be a recognition that for innovation to work, you have to take the risk of stopping doing some old things, to free up resources for the new things to succeed. All too often, I fear, innovators are inadvertantly punished for having ideas!


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