Understanding the correlation between innovation and execution is not an easy task for most organizations. Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, authors of the popular management book 10 Rules for Strategic Innovators, seek to explore this link, including how a dedicated team can help bridge the gap, in their new book The Other Side of Innovation. Edited excerpts:
A Dedicated Team is, as the name suggests, dedicated to the innovation initiative full time. Here are a few simple principles for assembling the Dedicated Team:
The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge By Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble,Harvard Business Press, 220 pages, Rs695.
1. Identify the skills that you need.
2. Hire the best people you can find.
3.?Match the organizational model to the Dedicated Team’s job.
Overall, these principles are straightforward. Nonetheless, we have seen that companies frequently violate them. Indeed, if you are leading an innovation effort, you will face numerous pressures to do the wrong thing. If you bow to those pressures, you won’t build a winning Dedicated Team. And your initiative will fail.
We examine seven common mistakes.
Trap 1: Having a bias for insiders
By far the most common pitfall is choosing too many internal transfers and too few outside hires. There are several reasons for the bias:
• Pride. Confident leaders in accomplished companies naturally believe that they can get the job done with the people they have.
• Familiarity. Most people making hiring decisions intuitively think about people they know before thinking about the skills they need.
• Comfort. Hiring an outsider, especially for an influential position, portends change and feels threatening.
• Expedience. Finding and transferring someone from the inside is usually faster.
• Compensation norms. Recruiting an outsider can be a particularly difficult challenge when the innovation effort takes a company into an arena in which its established and entrenched compensation policies no longer make sense.
• A desire to give attractive opportunities to your own employees. Hiring an outsider for a much-sought-after position can disappoint and demotivate existing employees.
Trap 2: Adopting existing formal definitions of roles and responsibilities
• Use new and unfamiliar titles.A new title encourages people to rethink their roles and responsibilities from scratch and to make an explicit effort to explain their roles to others.
• Write new job descriptions. Dedicated Teams face a great deal of uncertainty, so new job descriptions are likely to be vague. The purpose of the exercise, however, is not to write accurate and detailed descriptions. It is to eliminate past knowledge about how work is divided between individuals.
• Create a separate physical space for the Dedicated Team. In the ideal situation, members of the Dedicated Team should all move from their existing desks into one shared space.
Trap 3: Reinforcing the dominance of performance engine power centers
When creating new subgroups such as Dedicated Teams, the natural tendency is that the power center remains the same, even if the need for a shift is obvious.
Trap 4: Assessing performance based on established metrics
Evaluating a company’s performance can be a complex and analytical process. Still, many companies want every employee to think about performance every day. Therefore, they simplify. The members of the Dedicated Team will talk frequently about how things are going and the conversations will naturally gravitate to the company’s most dominant performance metrics. Even if the conversations are casual, they can have a dramatic impact on how the Dedicated Team behaves. Therefore, you must be sure that you identify the performance metrics that matter most for your specific innovation initiative.
Trap 5: Failing to create a distinct culture
One of the clearest windows into a company’s culture is its collection of frequently told stories about what makes the company great. These stories are powerful for the Performance Engine (the rest of the company). But they can also shape behaviors within the Dedicated Team, even when the Dedicated Team has objectives that are inconsistent with the implied lessons of the company folklore. Therefore, you should always take the explicit step of examining the company’s culture and making conscious choices about what elements of the culture the Dedicated Team should adopt.
Trap 6: Using existing processes
Performance Engines are skilled at codifying each step in business processes and managing them for maximum efficiency. Dedicated Teams, by nature, are faced with the difficult task of inventing new processes. When the processes look similar, it is tempting to simply copy the Performance Engine. However, if the identical process would truly work, then that portion of the initiative should have been assigned to the Performance Engine. There is never a situation in which the Dedicated Team should duplicate a Performance Engine process.
Trap 7: Succumbing to the tyranny of conformance
In human resources, finance, and information technology in particular, rigidly enforced standardization can be dangerous to Dedicated Teams. Support function leaders who are intent on maximizing efficiency at all costs will make it nearly impossible for a Dedicated Team to overcome organizational memory. You must insist on being treated as an exception in these areas.
Vijay Govindarajan tells us what motivated him to write this book, at www.livemint.com/innovators.htm
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