CASE STUDY: MEASURING CAPACITY FOR INNOVATION

A successful organization with a long and illustrious history is now struggling with both Agility and Innovation, and uses their culture analytics to pinpoint some specific process changes to help them make the tough decisions and improve innovation and responsiveness.

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PROBLEM

A nonprofit association with nearly 300 employees and a 100-year history had hit a point where they were not responding quickly enough to opportunities in their industry as they emerged. Changing the way they do things—and even stopping things that were no longer providing value—had become a chore, and they were concerned about becoming irrelevant to their members.

SOLUTION

As a result of running the Workplace Genome® Culture Assessment, an internal culture team was able to uncover key patterns in the organization’s approach to both change and innovation that illuminated important bottlenecks and contradictions, and out of that they developed specific changes in both process and technology that would help them change faster and unlock new value for their members.

Within their Workplace Genome data, it stood out that both the Culture Markers of Agility and Innovation were outliers on the ‘traditionalist’ side of the continuum, compared to the rest of their culture. Within Agility, two Building Blocks were the most traditional: eliminating activity that was not moving them towards their goal, and the overall ability to embrace change. In traditional management, change is something that must be managed carefully and slowly to prevent any critical disruptions, but the culture team realized that their organization had no need for such caution—there was a disconnect between the way their culture was operating and what would make them successful in today’s environment.

On the Innovation side, they noticed that there was no shortage of inspiration and creativity in their culture—both of those Building Blocks had futurist scores, indicating they were very present in the current culture. But the Building Blocks that were focused on the more active side of innovation—moving past the “we’ve always done it that way” excuse and running beta tests or developing prototypes—were much more traditional. In other words, their culture could “talk the talk” of innovation, but was not as strong at “walking the walk.” Furthermore, the only action-oriented part of the Innovation culture marker that was strongly present was about “permission to hack.” In other words, their culture could support innovation, but more easily within individual departments or workstreams.

And that clearly wasn’t cutting it. While they were proud of their 100-year history, they also recognized that their particularly industry was a hotbed of change right now, not to mention the fact that (like many other organizations) they were dealing with a major generational shift in how their new Millennial members were expecting to engage and participate in the association’s activities. Given that context, they recognized the need to change their current approach of innovating within silos and taking forever to stop things that weren’t working.

So we helped them develop some plays for their Culture Playbook to address the issue. Their first draft of plays contained more than 50 different interventions designed to move their culture in directions that would support greater success, and several of the plays targeted the issues of Agility and Innovation specifically. For example, to break out of the pattern of innovating within silos, they proposed the implementation of idea generation software that would allow people from any department to suggest areas for change and innovation. They also suggested a thorough revision of their project evaluation process to bring in more external viewpoints and objective data into the process, rather than it relying on internal program staff assessments, which tended to favor the “we’ve always done it that way” approach.

In fact, the play around data-driven decision making made it into the initial round of 10 plays that the internal culture team recommended to management. The organization is now in the midst of implementing the plays, and their leadership describes the outcome of this work as a “valuable framework for success.”

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