Monday, February 15, 2010

Words, Actions, Reactions!

Leaders can easily stifle innovation without meaning to. Pay attention to the words you say, the things you do and the way you react to suggestions, ensuring that you always encourage innovative thinking.

Leaders create culture through the things they say and the way they behave.

You may be a strong supporter of ideas and innovation, but to make people believe that, you must show it. People cannot read your mind; they can only observe you.

A law firm that I worked for merged with another firm. The first few weeks of the merger were difficult for the staff as they tried to adjust to the changes. Soon the resignations began, and I would find unhappy people complaining to each other in the bathroom. I called a lunchtime meeting of the staff solicitors to see if the problems could be sorted out. We made a list of the various problems, and for each problem suggested a solution. I took the list to the Managing Partner, who received the memo without comment. I waited to hear the partners’ response. Weeks went by; we heard nothing, and no changes were made. When I mentioned this to another partner, all he could tell me was that the Managing Partner was unhappy that I had used the Boardroom without first asking his permission. There never was any response.

From this experience, the staff learned that trying to bring about change was a futile exercise. The Managing Partner probably did not mean to stifle innovation, but that was the effect of his inaction and desire for control.

Innovation begins with belief. Your words, actions and reactions send messages to your staff as to your beliefs about innovation. Similarly, your words, actions and reactions can build belief amongst your staff that innovation is important and that their ideas are valued. Make yourself accessible, approachable and responsive.

To build a culture, of innovation, both leaders and employees need to believe that a constant flow of new ideas is essential to future success, that thinking creatively is part of their job, and that there are many possibilities for a better future.

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