Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate

I would title this “Why Big Companies Won’t Innovate” because I believe they can, if they want to.  This article struck a chord with me because the company I work for is large and change is excruciatingly slow.   They have developed cute slogans with titles like “Simply Dare” daring employees to innovate.  It feels more like a marketing campaign than a program for real innovation.  Why?  Real innovation requires investment, it requires a culture that accepts failure as part of the package for innovation, and it requires that you break the rules.  I work for a company that has processes for processes - we are a governance rich company.  Innovation is not an idea…innovation is an idea that is acted upon, designed, tested and redesigned. 
Another reason big companies are not as good at innovating may be because they police their staffing levels to ensure efficiency.  Bare bones staffing overworks the employees and leaves them feeling sapped.  It would be counter-intuitive to corporate managers to encourage employees to take a walk, play a game, or go home early, because that wouldn’t seem efficient to them.  This “down time” is the incubation period necessary for solving complex problems; these solutions often elude the conscious mind. Organizations that are too lean sacrifice ideas for efficiency.
The timing of this article is ironic.  Just this morning I had some ideas for a program I’d like to put together and launch, first at my manufacturing site, but then I’d like to pitch it to the Manufacturing Steering Committee, in an effort reach the entire organization.  I don’t want to share the details in this forum, because if it is as successful as I believe it can be, it may become intellectual property.  It is aimed at teaching the corporation how to become a culture that fosters innovation.  It’s risky, because the culture of the German giant that I work for is controlling and risk adverse, but I am so passionate about it, I’m going to pursue it. It’s a terrific dream, but unless I can sell it all the way to the top, it won’t matter.  Implementation for this, as it is for innovation, is critical.  So, what would happen if I broke the rules completely and went straight to the top with the idea… or maybe push it out to all the executives at once – talk about risky! I wouldn’t do this until after the pilot is complete and successful. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Toyota's Secret

The A3 tool that Toyota has used for years to sustain success is much more than a problem solving tool, though it is excellent for that too.  The strength, and perhaps not so obvious, lies in the cultural impact and relationship building it fosters. 

One way the culture is impacted by instilling a troubleshooting mindset amongst employees.  Cultivating this attitude vertically, top to bottom, is powerful.  Issues are identified at various levels and can be solved with cross-functional teams.  Sustainable countermeasures can be delivered through team work incorporating experience and enthusiasm. A3 also works well because it empowers employees, a valuable motivator.  This is the lubricant that keeps the machine in motion, propelling the company ahead of the competition.

Another way A3 impacts the culture is by aligning interests of people and departments.  This directs the energy constructively, resulting in positive change that is meaningful; progress fuels the process.

Numerous iterations teach the people resilience - don't give up.  This makes cracking the really tough problems more likely - one of Toyota's secret weapons.

The relationships that form and strengthen through this process make the team more robust and better poised to manage conflict. Healthy conflict is essential for growth.

Technically, the tool is simple and powerful.  The author states A3 as "standardized storytelling."  Storytelling has long been regarded as an effective way to engage people.  The pictures communicate the story quickly and succinctly.  A3 is grounded in proven scientific methods; the secret is in the application of the tool that brings people together and shapes the culture into one of continuous improvement and operational excellence.