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Why Innovating Is So Difficult For Existing Organizations & What Best HR Practices Can Be Adopted To Start An Organization’s Transformation

In these turbulent and difficult global economic conditions, organizations of all sizes are looking for any methodology to allow them to maintain their competitiveness against domestic and international players as well as increase market share while reducing overall costs. A number of corporate leaders have grasped onto the concept of innovation to help achieve those goals. Unfortunately, while corporate leaders may have modified their mindset and are ready to embrace innovation as a key strategic and operational imperative for both the survival and growth of their organization, it is the organization itself and its processes that impede its adoption.

There are a number of reasons that multinational corporations fail to indoctrinate innovation into their existing corporate cultures including:

Entrenched Corporate Culture: Multinational corporations – particularly those that have a long established track record of success – are highly resistant to cultural change. Many within the organization at all levels believe “why should you mess with success considering that it has worked for years or perhaps even centuries?” In addition, processes have been designed and resources have been provisioned that fit the current corporate culture.

If It Ain’t Broke Why Fix It? / Corporate Inertia: One of the biggest issues with adopting innovation within a corporate culture is the fact that there is a significant amount of corporate inertia due to a number of competing factors including:

  • Fast Paced Competition: With an increasing competition both in terms of numerical quantity and in terms of diversity, a corporation’s complete focus needs to be on meeting the challenges being brought on by the competition and not the internal issues and politics that are bound to arise with any cultural transformation.
  • Competing Resource Requests: The reality of the situation in today’s corporations is with so many competing priorities particularly concerning projects that have a direct impact on addressing current short term operational challenges, disrupting a corporate culture that at least gives a sense of stability is a hard sell.

That being said, the need for innovation within traditional corporation environments has never been greater. The question becomes though what are the basic principles that need to be implemented in order to have an innovative culture? Some of the basic principles for an innovative corporate culture include:

Don’t Penny Pinch: The reality is that innovation is not cheap. Not only does it need the right ecosystem conditions such as time and environment, it also needs the right people with the right motivation. Financial metrics – while relevant for repetitive tasks – aren’t nearly as important as some people believe concerning innovation. The reality it is a combination of very critical components that empower individual elements within the ecosystem to innovate. By removing the negative financial repercussions concerning penny pinching, it focuses individuals on their jobs instead of seeking better positions with better pay or other means of maximizing their income and minimizing their expenses.

Don’t BS: Not only are today’s employees smarter, they are also more talkative across generations and across work groups thanks to social media and the Internet. As such, today’s employees are increasingly immune to marketing and PR spin particularly if the marketing and PR spin is in direct contradiction to the actual behaviors of the organization in question.

Don’t Play Politics: There’s a reason politicians are considered one of the lowliest of professions is that most politicians are incapable of getting things done. The general perception of politicians is that they have no productive value and anything they do is merely for accumulating power for power’s sake instead of actually benefiting overall society. Just like military secrets are one of the worst kept secrets, the intrigue of corporate politics and gossip is very similar. As much as you can rely on non disclosure agreements and the discretion of individuals, the reality is that corporate secrets get out quickly. If those secrets turn into corporate politics or gossip then it will not only undermine morale but undermine the overall capability of any organization to either execute let alone innovate.

It’s About Collaboration Stupid, Not Top-Down: Many organizations continue the believe that to effect change particularly innovation in an organization, a strong singular persona is necessary. More often than not such “strongman” tactics when it comes to innovation or any type of change inevitably fails due to a number of factors including:

  • Passive Resistance From Key Individuals: Organizations are finding that the old command and control model in relation to managing individuals is increasingly no longer effective. The reality is that individuals can practice passive resistance that – while not impeding the short term goals of the organization – can prevent the organization from fully benefiting from their employees in the long term. Whether it is putting in the minimal effort to maintain the appearance of completing their roles and responsibilities or failing to volunteer for additional tasks beyond the scope of their stated roles and responsibilities, individuals can subtly resist strongman tactics.
  • Active Resistance From Key Individuals: Tied in with passive resistance is active resistance from key individuals. This can take a variety of forms from more actively pursuing extracurricular activities outside of work hours to outright finding a new position and quitting. Any of the more active forms of resistance will have longer lasting effects as not only are they “checking out” of their organizations but when and if they fully resign from their positions they are taking invaluable undocumented knowledge and expertise with them.

Respect Your Employee’s Time & Expertise: The biggest impediment to successful corporate innovation implementation is the fact that most organizations do not respect their employee’s time and expertise. While certain individuals may not fully up to speed concerning corporate innovation best practices, it doesn’t mean that they are incapable of learning new methods that can be successfully implemented into their day to day processes. Indeed, when organizations grasp onto new concepts such as innovation, they believe that the skills and knowledge of their employees are irrelevant. That is far from the truth.

The reality is that these employees have a significant amount of experience and knowledge that should be tapped as organizations implement innovative practices. Indeed, their experience with day to day operations and processes within the organization, if properly motivated and trained, can help organizations implement innovative practices faster and with less resistance and rework. Indeed, instead of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”, organizations need to find ways to respect their employee’s time and expertise while giving them the right tools and skills to see why innovation is critical and how it can be successfully implemented given their individual circumstances.

No one ever said that innovation is easy. Whether it is existing organizations or new startups, inertia is the enemy of innovation. As such, it is critical that especially in existing organizations, that they use all the tools at their disposal both new and existing to overcome this pre-existing inertia. Otherwise, grand innovation projects will not only come to a startling halt but will further deal a self-inflicted blow on ensuring their organization has the right knowledge and processes to survive in these changing economic times.

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