6 Key Milestones Along Your Innovation Journey
When leaders of organizations ask us how long it will take for their teams to “become an innovative organization,” we often say that it will take about 18 months of focused attention, intention, and effort. We have seen this pattern play out, time and again, in large financial institutions and small tech firms; in government departments, and not-for-profits.
This is the journey that most organizations will take when embarking upon a change in culture:
As you can see, the path from where you are today to where you want to be is not a linear path to organizational bliss. There will be twists and turns along the way, but not to worry; the twists and turns are normal and to be expected. At times it will seem as though progress is slowing or even regressing. Here is a deeper dive into all of the phenomena you can expect to experience along your journey to a responsive, innovative organization.
1. The Perception
This graphic is called the PERCEPTION of progress for a reason. From the point of view of people going through a change, there will be a feeling of regression, discomfort, or unhappiness. But if you zoom out to the 50,000ft view, those feelings and emotions are signs of positive change. It’s kind of like going to the gym and you hurt the next day. It’s a good pain, in service of better health. If this graph was called Actual Progress, it would appear to be significantly more linear. In the image below, which we’ve adapted from the work of our good friend Dave Gray at Xplane, organizational change is a steady, incremental effort that is filled with efforts and projects that work and things that don’t. But if the lessons from the experiments are adapted and applied in a rigorous way (Build, Measure, Learn) the overall trajectory of the organization is steady and positive. From the perspective of someone who is experiencing this new, nimble, experiment-driven organization, it might feel uncomfortable and like things are regressing.
2. The Beginning
Lots of people are excited about a new direction or mandate to introduce innovation tools and methods to the organization. It might be a big team, or it might be a small team, but there is energy and enthusiasm. Workshops, keynotes, catalyst service design projects, or customer co-creation sessions open up people’s perspectives to new ways of working and there is excitement in the air.
3. The Trough of Despair
This is the most important point on the journey. When new ways of working are introduced to an organization, it can be relatively easy to do on a “one off” basis. A single “experiment” project can be easily accepted by an organization, but when there is potential for permanent change, an organization will react like any other organic entity and attempt to revert to the status quo. People who are leading the change will begin to actually notice the unproductive behaviour that permeates the organization and feel that it’s difficult or impossible to change. In short, when people become more aware of what’s possible, there can be feelings of dejection or pessimism that success is achievable. This is when leadership must step up and be even more active in rewarding new behaviours and clearing barriers.
4. Positive, Forward Momentum
At this point in the journey, leadership and change champions are seeing signals that new ways of collaborating and running innovation efforts are becoming “the norm” in some pockets of the organization. It doesn’t feel like as much of a battle to get people to engage in customer sessions, and there isn’t a sense of fear around asking tough questions of each other and our colleagues. Curiosity and “How Might We…” become common parlance. Fewer people are questioning the point of doing innovation or service design work.
5. Change is Upon Us!
Innovation activity, cross-functional collaboration, smart risk taking, and a culture of fast learning and experimentation is now the norm, not the exception. When new people join the organization this way of working seems like simply “the way we do things around here.” Innovation infrastructure is emerging, in the form of incentives and compensation, that reward speed, learning, and experimentation over perfection and inward thinking.
6. It’s Actually a Bit More Complicated
And the complication comes from the fact that different people within an organization are at different points of the journey. Some people will be starting out, full of energy, while others could damper the enthusiasm because they’re at point 3– the trough of despair. Part of the job of the people who are past the trough of despair is to assure others that it’s good on the other side. And part of the role of leadership is to understand that not everyone is at the same point of the journey and people will need different types of support and motivation along the way. For some, that journey is simply not in the cards for them, and that’s ok.
While the tactics of kicking off and sustaining change initiatives within organizations should be unique to each organization, the pattern of how people perceive the change is something that we have seen with a high degree of consistency from project to project.
At The Moment we will often work with the dual perspective of delivering great service design projects with our clients, while guiding leaders and teams through the deeper change that comes with shifting towards a sustained innovation capability. It’s what we love to do, every day!