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What ignites the fire of innovation within an organization?

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What ignites the fire of innovation within an organization?

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Innovation is hard.  I don’t think anyone really disputes that.  It often makes the innovator rather unpopular amongst their peers, and there tends to be a well established army willing to fight tooth and nail to preserve what already is rather than plump for the uncertainty of what might be.

The common perception therefore is that it takes a crisis to give people a jolt and drive home the importance of doing things slightly differently (or radically differently, depending on the size of the crisis).  Rather than acting in isolation however, John Kotter believes that there are in fact seven more factors that underpin successful change in addition to the (external) event that creates a sense of urgency in the first place.

Lets look at each in turn.

  • Build a ‘guiding coalition’ – After the crisis has hit and an opportunity for change identified, Kotter then suggests that a guiding coalition be formed to help drive through the change required.  He advocates that this team be comprised of people from across the organization.
  • Form a vision for change – This group then compose a vision that they believe will enable the organization to tackle the situation they find themselves in.
  • Create your change army – The change team then go about recruiting people to work on these actions.  Remember, a big part of Kotter’s hypothesis is that change projects are undertaken in addition to ones regular activities.  Is this likely to impact upon the type of people recruited to the change team?
  • Remove barriers to change – Remember at the start of this post we spoke about some of the things that traditionally block change from happening.  Kotter suggests that the next task is to go about removing those so that change can occur swiftly and effectively.  Of course, if the barrier to change is an emotional or behavioural one, that would seem much harder to change than one that is structural in nature.
  • Celebrate the quick wins – Progress is a fairly well known means of boosting morale amongst a team, and it’s a subject that Teresa Amabile wrote a book about in 2011.  Kotter suggests that some early wins are required to provide the change program with the energy and vitality needed to survive the longer journey.
  • Sustain the momentum – Kotter suggests that it is natural to want to ease up after the early wins, but with change a challenging process, patience and perseverance will be key.
  • Institute change – The final suggestion, and quite probably the hardest to implement, is then to take these small and isolated successes, and turn them into institutionalized change.  It’s the changes to the culture, the systems, the processes and behaviours that underpin how an organization operates.

It’s all made to sound rather straightforward, when of course, it is often anything but.  Is it a useful roadmap for change though?  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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