Similar to other organizations, our government agency is actively taking steps to try to harness the ideas and creativity of our über-smart workforce in order to innovate and develop new products and services and gain efficiencies. This includes the whole gamut of areas, from operations to human capital management, and encompasses doing and thinking differently about pay and compensation. We’ve made some headway, but progress has not been as easy as 1–2–3.
Creativity ≠ Innovation
First, while they seem like the same thing, it’s important to understand that creativity is not the same thing as innovation. Creativity is when something new or original is developed, generated or formed and which has potential value. Creativity is important and is very often a precursor to innovation, but innovation is the process of taking a great idea and converting it into action and bringing the idea to life where it has wider impact. Creativity by itself does not lead to change – whether in process, practice or culture.
Getting Over Barriers
Despite its almost critical role in business, many organizations report that progress on innovating has been slow. Existing research combined with rational, critical thinking suggests that innovation and ideation is most difficult in organizations that are:
- Tradition-oriented, highly-structured, highly-regulated or legally-sensitive
- Cost / budget-driven and where budgets / resources are unpredictable
- Predisposed to very deliberate and thoughtful analysis / action
- Very uncomfortable with risk-taking, uncertainty or the possibility of failure
While these characteristics might generally apply to a broad cross-section of organizations, some readers may also recognize that those characteristics apply to many government institutions.
Although a number of these characteristics are inter-dependent (committing limited budget to ideas that might fail; extensive analysis with residual probabilistic risk, etc.), freeing up resources or budget to pursue innovation, ideation and creativity is one of the barriers most frequently encountered in organizations, and particularly in government.
Resource Conservation and Control
The conservation and control of budget and resources in business is important, particularly when budgets are limited or already committed to higher level priorities or when resources are in high demand and short supply.
Budget and resources can be limited or restricted from use due to existing processes, cultural inclination or, more rarely, simply as an excuse to avoid sharing. An example which is both illustrative and deeply painful comes to mind.
As a source of creative inspiration, our organization subscribes to an image service, which for an annual fee gives our employees access to something like 52 million different images, where we’re limited to downloading +1,000 images per year. Last year, we used about 100 images. Last week I needed an image, and found that I had to submit a “ticket” to process my request. When I inquired why image access wasn’t just decentralized to individual end-users to allow for the maximum possible utilization, the “multiple choice” response I got was:
- That’s our standard procedure for processing image requests
- We like to control and conserve the number of images that get used
- We don’t want our employees to be too creative
- All of the above
Once again, a situation which required a quick self-reminder about the strict prohibition against violence in the workplace.
In subsequent discussions, someone offered the observation that “throttling” image access was a little like monitoring and controlling individuals’ access to the drinking fountain out in the hallway. Well said.
Common Factors Inspire Uncommon Thinking
A prior post on solving human capital problems highlighted some of the factors that helped get us to a successful solution space and not surprisingly some of those same factors are regularly identified as ones that drive innovation. For us, hiring creative talent and nurturing capability along with the presence of supportive and empowering management proved to be a winning combination.
To spur innovation, the following additional factors were identified:
- Cultivating a mindset of openness and acceptance of new ideas
- Making idea research time and development budget/resources available
- Clearly articulating leadership priorities, support and the need for urgency
- Encouraging risk-taking actions, but where risk is minimized
The Doing of Differently
Making progress in innovating in your organization will most often result not from doing what you do occasionally, but from how you think and what you do on a more regular basis – maybe combined with a little sharing.
Everyone probably has a different perspective. What’s yours?
Chris Dobyns, CCP, CBP is currently employed as a Human Capital Strategic Consultant for the Office of Human Resource Strategy and Program Design for one of the largest U.S. intelligence agencies. The Office of Human Resource Strategy and Program Design is responsible for organizational effectiveness, personnel assessment, compensation and incentives, occupational structure, recognition and rewards, HR policy, human capital program design, implementation, evaluation and assessment and internal consulting. Chris has worked in the area of compensation for more than 35 years, and has been employed in various compensation-related positions by a number of large, private sector companies including, Sears, Roebuck, Arizona Public Service and Westinghouse Savannah River Company.
Original image "Do Things Differently” courtesy of Chris Dobyns.