When CEOs Want Organizational Innovation, They Do This …

innovateTo achieve outstanding results, it is important to understand what psychologists call the “pull to equilibrium.” The “pull” is that place inside us all that does not like change and prefers to stay where we are (because it is “known”)—even if we are unhappy or not getting the results we want. The “pull to equilibrium” is the enemy of organizational innovation, courage and speedy execution. And these are the three keys to winning in today’s global economy.

Unfortunately, like a dangerous undercurrent in the ocean, the “pull” tricks many leaders to do more of the same thing they’ve done before—rather than charting new ground or setting new goals. It deceives them into believing there is safety in staying the course because it’s known territory and can be controlled. It argues for comfort in repetition and the merit in not rushing forward. Ultimately, however, their end product always equals average results.

So, what can you do to avoid the “pull to equilibrium” in your organization as well as in yourself? The “pull” is dismantled when your company has an internal operating structure designed specifically to advocate innovation. It is the energy of new incentives, new ideas, new services, new products, new models, new partnerships, and new technologies that override the inertia of repetitiveness.

Individuals can tap into this kind of energy as well. Always have a new, exciting goal to work on. The constant, consistent growth that comes along with working toward a new goal will deflate the “pull” as quickly as popping a balloon.

Here are five strategies to create better organizational innovation:

high bar, innovation1. Set the bar high for yourself and the people who work for you 

If your company’s past defines your market share, reinvent yourself. When you receive a work product that is poor, send it back until it is better. If an idea session limps along, end it and schedule another one for the next day. As you send people back to their offices, tell them that tomorrow you are not leaving until something fresh is on the table. Start raising the bar today at every level of your organization that you can engage or inspire.

Do not get bogged down by generating results the way you have done them before. Make sure there are many new ideas sourced and analyzed for how you can do things better. Even if you only implement three out of every 10, those you execute can significantly improve your processes. Furthermore, this engages and energizes your people to come up with more ideas.

2. Focus your team’s strengths, instead of being “just OK” at many things

Help your people identify their wheelhouse (the “pull” likes to stay in its comfort zone) and take it to the limit. For example, if you know someone wants to be a general manager, becoming an expert in finance really matters. Companies run on numbers, and that person’s ability to understand the lifeblood of the business allows him or her to make the decisions others cannot.

But, here is a warning … don’t let others perceive that individual as simply a functional or technical specialist. If you allow your executives to be pigeonholed, you diminish their confidence to leverage it to become a leader. More leaders are what you want, right? This is a win-win for all involved.

3. Trust your team, but set boundaries

innovateHaving a high-performance team or organization means that you need to delegate and verify where you stretch the organization and individuals. Constructive tension ensures that your life energy will not be sucked out of you by the “pull.” The “pull” prefers depression because depressed people make their peace with insufficient results.

I always ask people what their “ideal” boss looks like. Most people will say that this boss is someone who delegates to them and lets them do the work as they want to do it. However, when I ask them, “When you think about all your bosses, who did you learn the most from?” Guess what? It’s not the boss who blindly sets them free.

People learn from committed leaders who care enough about them (and the work) to ask questions without slipping into micromanagement. They learn from bosses who assign work that made sense for them, instead of just dumping work on their desks—the dreaded “I-need-this-by-Tuesday” approach.

As a leader, if you use innovative management processes that let you inspect what you expect, it’s often done the way you want it. Remember that people will mimic the behaviors they see from people they respect, and if you achieve that level of trust with your employees, you may be surprised how much they work as you do.

The point of this step is to trust your people, but verify. It allows you to add scale and capacity to your own responsibilities while making your team feel like they are worth their weight in gold! And happy employees are far more likely to come up with the next great idea.

4. Reward those who go beyond expectations feel welcome, onboarding, reward

To use a simple math analogy, I have observed through leading senior executives that there are “N” executives out there (most people), and then there are the “(N+1)” executives.

(N+1)s are the people who always get it done no matter how busy they are. They are solutions-oriented, and get ahead of challenges by proactively anticipating what is coming down the pike.

A quick note to anyone still climbing the corporate ladder: In our management and leadership training, we always stress the importance of finding a mentor who is two, three or four levels above you. These executives are not looking for—and do not really need—another mentee. In fact, you sometimes cannot choose them—they choose you. So how do you get chosen? You get noticed by becoming an (N+1) executive! Because (N+1) people are never pulled back to average.

For you CEOs … identify who your (N+1)s are. Then grow, nurture, and reward them. They are your hope for the future. Afterwards, turn your attention to your Ns. They simply may be lacking the support they need to excel, too.

5. Never settle for the way things have been done 

Perpetually ask yourself and your organization: how can I/we do something better? Do not be the CEO/executive who never challenges why things get done in a particular way. Instead, be the leader who continually challenges the organization and its processes to make them better, faster, smarter and moving away from average to high performance. When you see a broken process, do not get angry and assign blame. Accept responsibility, rally your team to solve the problem, and stay committed to the innovation process until a resolution surfaces.

Bottom line, regardless of your position in the company or your standing in life, stop dodging bullets and start firing on all cylinders. Innovation will take you boldly into your future and leave the “pull to equilibrium” in the dust.


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