It starts with empowering staff.
Recently, a four-star general invited me to share my thoughts on how to make leadership a concept that scales across an organization, and make smarter decisions in an era of constant change. My answer was simple: Embolden and empower staff to take action more frequently by giving them more opportunities to speak up and assume leadership roles. It’s also important to ensure they have the tools to rapidly ingest internal and external insights, share complementing ideas, and adapt these ideas based on feedback. That said, getting workers to embrace the idea of intrapreneurial thinking—taking ownership of programs and operating like change agents—isn’t a process that happens overnight. Which begs the question: How can you promote similar shifts in thinking within your agency, especially if the idea of change doesn’t come easily to the organization?
There are a few key concepts it’s important to teach your people:
- Innovation isn't always about cutting-edge breakthroughs or game-changing technologies. Simple shifts in business strategy or operations can be as powerful as new technology and groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Research shows that innovation can simply be a matter of perspective—as well as a process of constant reinvention. Organizations of every size and background have the ability to leverage core principles to succeed. For example, one government agency we work with has found ways to fast-track internal learning and growth by holding regular breakfast meetings and educational salons where senior leaders and junior hires are encouraged to sit down, share insights, and collaborate in casual settings. Likewise, a defense agency we’ve partnered with is using virtual reality and online gaming installations to better connect with younger, more tech-savvy recruits.
- End users and key stakeholders are the No. 1 best source of successful and innovative new ideas. This includes frontline workers—the staffers or military personnel usually closest to these information sources. These are sometimes the most informed people inside any institution. It’s important to put platforms and programs in place that allow these individuals to share insights and trends, and let great ideas bubble up from the bottom, not just flow down from an executive team at the top. From consumer giants like Starbucks and Elmer’s Products to government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, more organizations are turning to the concept of open innovation—inviting feedback and ideas from multiple sources, including citizens—as a means of scaling and accelerating innovation. In effect, they’re realizing that the more radically you can multiply the number of resources and insights available to you, the more radically you can multiply the speed at which you can solve any given challenge.
- It’s important to champion concepts like rapid deployment and learning. Afterall, the more feedback you can get and the faster you can get it, the more rapidly you can use this information to improve your business programs and strategies, and the better off your organization will be. In essence, flexibility and agility are the essence of future-proofing. The ability to learn rapidly and then quickly translate that knowledge into practice is the ultimate source of competitive advantage. It’s worth noting that most organizations can go from idea to execution in less than 90 days, and many run regular events and contests, such as freestyle hackathon design sessions, that invite contributors to invent working prototypes in less than 48 hours.
- In most cases, your plan or program doesn’t need to be 100% perfect before you start to execute it. Such thinking can stop people from moving forward. Often, “good enough” is the start of something great. That’s because it forces us to hone our time and effort, and allows us to quickly gain the real-world feedback that we need to help shape ideas and make them better. The more you can get people to adopt a minimum viable product (MVP) mindset, where they routinely use the least time and resources possible to create working concepts and then learn from these concepts’ deployment, the better off you’ll be.
The more you ingrain these principles in your organization and work to create leaders at every level, the more effective your organization will be. As the most effective leaders are aware, change is far less difficult to deal with when you make it a point to promote positive disruption within your agency.
Scott Steinberg is the bestselling author of Lead with Your Heart, Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty, and Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap. The President and CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships™, his website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.
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