"If your organization doesn't have a unique point of view about the future, then it doesn't have a strategy." This comment from Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini's new book Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them grabbed my attention. As a strategist, I could not agree more. In fact, it is something that I particularly empathize with because developing a unique point of view can be incredibly challenging.
When we think about the future, we need to ask ourselves: "How are we, along with our organizations, continue to reinvent to stay relevant? How can we be creative, brave, consistent, and thoughtful?" Hamel and Zanini recommend implementing an open strategy process that includes customers and external partners along with employees in the companywide discussion about strategy. This approach provides many benefits:
- A variety of voices contribute to more ambitious and novel ideas.
- Individuals feel more committed to a strategy if they helped to create it.
- Bottom-up strategies are usually more granular and less abstract.
- In an open process, strategies are implemented faster.
The authors also provide specific methods for developing innovation initiatives. Hamel and Zanini suggest:
- Similar to Rita McGrath's story about Facebook, being cautious about discouraging dissent. Employees must feel safe to express their disagreement with a boss's idea.
- Training employees to be creative and to think differently.
- Inviting new hires, young people, and individuals who used to work at other industries to share their opinions.
- Utilizing online strategy platforms to encourage collaboration among colleagues.
- Expecting senior executives, other than the CEO, to lead strategy development.
As Clayton Christensen said in his book The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, experimenting is one of the five skills shared by the most innovative entrepreneurs, executives, and individuals. Hamel and Zanini agree. They encourage organizations to try new things in order to continue to grow. The Boston Consulting Group found that a "risk averse culture" is one of the most significant organizational barriers to innovation. Extending the boundaries of what is possible is a critical way for an organization to protect itself against irrelevance.
Jeff Bezos often says, "It's not an experiment if you know it's going to work." It is his way of reminding people that experiments sometimes fail, and that is okay. Tim Cook wants everyone at his company to be an entrepreneur. "Each and every employee is expected to think like an entrepreneur, and it's everyone's job to create, to invent, and to look for new and better ways to improve our customers' lives."
Hamel and Zanini return to their argument that bureaucracies inhibit innovation. Bureaucracies want to replicate what was done in the past, and they prefer the status quo. However, "[t]o build an adaptable, innovative, and inspiring organization, people need freedom to take risks, ignore policy, go outside of channels, pursue passions, and occasionally fail."
In the end, it comes down to leadership and leaders' competence. Leaders of innovative and entrepreneurial organizations excel at spotting opportunities, energizing their workforce, challenging past assumptions, reimagining business models, and supporting others. Rigid hierarchies, top-down authority, and narrowly-defined jobs go against creating organizations that inspire, engage, and grow.