Ignite the spark

In the second of a series of articles looking at the innovation process,
Professor Amin Rajan looks at how managers can play a key role in keeping the
ideas culture alight in the workplace 

It is well known that education is about memorising and maximising what is
already known: it is not about creating the new. The more a person knows, the
less they need to be creative.

That is not to belittle the importance of education and training – quite the
opposite, because knowledge definitely has a positive impact on work
performance. In any case, markets are never static and consumer preferences are
always changing.

But there is a world of difference between performing better in a job and coming
up with new ideas. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that factors which spark
creativity have more to do with the emotional rather than the rational brain.
This is because creativity is not a logical sequence of knowledge creation.
Instead, it is a random explosion borne of frustration. It thrives in certain
environments and remains suppressed in others.

It is essential to understand the nature of the drivers and killers to
creativity. That way, one can have better insight into the complex human dynamic
at work in the creativity process, as outlined in a new study commissioned by
the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

Build the right culture

In this context, three sets of practices are critical to creativity.
Collectively, they constitute the culture of an organisation.

Values The agreed norms a group has about what is right or wrong –
they determine what is acceptable behaviour and why.

Systems and processes Either observable or measurable, these range
from something as visible as a database to intangibles like customer
relationships. The key here is that they should incorporate the espoused values
and implement them into routine processes.

Employee behaviour This is day-to-day conduct in the workplace –
they, too, need to incorporate the espoused values.

That means motivating employees to adopt these values so that they become
part of day-to-day behaviours

Align values, processes and behaviour

Defined in this way, a business culture is strong when the systems,
processes and behaviours are in keeping with espoused values. Of course, a
successful creativity process requires more than such an alignment – leadership
provides the glue that holds together values, systems and behaviours (see box).
However, alignment is the first step.

Encourage creativity (values)

– Encourage fresh thinking

– Come up with original ideas

– Explore different business models

– Listen and reflect

– Anticipate and perceive problems

– Be intuitive

Convert creativity into benefits (systems and processes)

– Provide a realistic level of resource

– Ensure teams have the right skills and behaviours

– Understand the "nuts and bolts" of the business

– Show empathy towards clients, suppliers and employees

– Provide honest and real-time feedback

– Build effective implementation teams

Overcome barriers to creativity (behaviour)

– Shake complacency

– "Walk the talk"

– Use catalytic questions

– Make clients, suppliers and employees feel their ideas are valued

– Encourage creative teamwork

– Communicate through humour

So, what are the elements in each set that need to be aligned? Taking them
in turn, the key elements in the values set are:

– Have clear business goals

– Steer employees towards markets

– Create a sense of urgency

– Seek new ideas

– Treat change as opportunity

– Evaluate strategic direction continuously

These elements need to be incorporated in physical systems and processes by:

– Working with external suppliers and customers

– Giving high priority to new ideas

– Giving autonomy and space to employees

– Fast-tracking ideas into action

– Building creativity into reward and recognition criteria

– Communicating success stories

Finally, to complete the alignment, the values also need to be incorporated
into employee behaviour by:

– Giving open, honest real-time feedback

– Giving employees freedom to perform against stretching goals

– Encouraging learning by experimentation

– Relying on can-do stories and metaphors

– Identifying creativity role models

– Rewarding new ideas through money and non-money incentives

Develop leadership qualities

Talking about alignment is one thing, achieving it is another because
disparate practices may not reinforce one another. Leadership provides the
missing glue.

Leadership qualities that are conducive to creativity are being identified
and developed among managers, distinguishing those that encourage creativity,
those that help to overcome barriers to creativity, and those that enable ideas
to be converted into profits.

Differences between countries are more a matter of emphasis than approach.
In all regions, six qualities are highlighted as being of particular importance
in this context:

– Creating new business models

– Making employees, clients and suppliers feel their ideas are valued

– Understanding the "nuts and bolts" of the business

– Building successful implementation teams

– Ensuring they have the right skills and behaviour

– Providing realistic levels of resource for converting ideas into action

If there is one message that stands out above the rest in this research, it
is this – although creativity resides in individuals, leadership is the spark
that ignites it.

Over-prescriptive leadership style has proved to be the kiss of death for
many enlightened initiatives. This is because managers have failed to recognise
that creativity is often a random explosion both of frustration or excitement.
It requires creative dissatisfaction with the status quo.

In the UK, this lack of leadership preparedness is reflected in the
resistance to employ "wild ducks" – people with unconventional
attitude and behaviour. This phenomenon is widespread on the continent.

Nor is creativity treated as a fun part of everyone’s job in the UK, unlike
in Latin America. As one respondent – from a large multinational organisation –
put it "we have senior managers whose leadership style is directed at a
world that no longer exists".

So, getting the appropriate business practices in place is necessary, but it
is not sufficient. The leadership style needs to orchestrate these practices.

Measure and reward ideas

The appropriate leadership style is more likely to be developed if the
outcomes of creativity are duly measured and rewarded. This is because the
measurement and reward system provides a framework within which leaders are
developed and judged. We will return to this point in the third and final
article next week.

Amin Rajan is chief executive of Create. Contact: 01892 526757

Harnessing Creativity to Improve the Bottom Line is available from The
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. Contact Chantal Masters 020-7969
3407

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