How To Overcome Bureaucracy To Spark Innovation?

spark innovation

Continuing the discussion of a new book Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them, written by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, this post is about overcoming bureaucracy to unleash innovation. Dozens, if not hundreds, of books have been written about unlocking innovation at organizations. A Boston Consulting Group poll showed that 79% of leaders rate innovation as one of their top priorities. Nevertheless, McKinsey & Company's survey revealed that 94% of executives are disappointed by their organization's innovation.

While many leaders express such disappointment, these same individuals are stuck in the old paradigm favoring specialization and continuing to subscribe to a philosophy that employees are nothing more than a replaceable resource. In my very first blog post, I talked about Adam Smith and his strong belief in specialization. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith said: "The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labor have been the effects of the division of labor."

Frederick Taylor further expanded Smith's argument by calling for standardization of labor. Between specialization and standardization, employees have no opportunity to cultivate their problem-solving skills, improvise, or use their judgment. What this means for organizations is that unless a new management approach is introduced, organizations will continue to lack innovation.

Hamel and Zanini discuss how we can shift from the outdated paradigm and create an environment of innovative thinking.

Old Paradigm New Paradigm
  • Maximize control, compliance, discipline, and predictability
  • Maximize creativity, collaboration, competence, and commitment
  • Create a lot of rules and processes
  • Equip employees to make smart decisions
  • Specialized job responsibilities
  • Cross-train employees in a variety of roles
  • Narrowly defined technical roles
  • Build employees' business acumen
  • View employees as expendable resources
  • Support personal growth
  • Siloed departments
  • Encourage learning exchanges
  • Opaque information, secret meetings
  • Employ transparency across the organization
  • Stratification
  • Utilize fewer levels and top-down commands
  • Strict approval requirements
  • Grant employees a degree of financial autonomy
  • Few employees interact with customers directly
  • Most employees have access to customers, "zero distance" between employees and users
  • Failures are penalized
  • Freedom to experiment and innovate

When we are faced with unprecedented problems, the old paradigm will prevent us from overcoming obstacles and solving tough challenges that lie ahead. Hamel and Zanini recommend the following to strengthen our organizations:

  • Write the mission statement in a way that resonates with the entire organization and gives them a common cause to pursue
  • Educate employees on how to collaborate and apply collective judgment
  • Encourage team members to share something personal
  • Identify areas where greater autonomy would improve operations and deliver a better customer experience
  • Introduce a team-based compensation model encouraging shared responsibility for growth
  • Hire compassionate people

Finally, we need to open our minds to the future and examine what we believe. Hamel and Zanini argue that "Successful innovators pay attention to things that are peeking over the horizon - nascent trends that seem ripe with revolutionary potential." A good practice to implement in our lives is to talk to people with whom we normally do not interact. We should expand our news sources and follow people who work in fields different from ours. To spot new opportunities, we have to look deeper and develop new skills and competencies.

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