SIMPLIFY Your Way to Innovation Success

SIMPLIFY Your Way to Innovation Success

Business August 28, 2012 / By Lisa Bodell
SIMPLIFY Your Way to Innovation Success

How are employees expected to innovate when they’re up to their necks in reports, policies, and meetings? Lisa Bodell shows you how to deep-clean your business to make room for innovation.

Would it shock you to know that managers in large-scale organizations spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings? (see more HERE) Does productive teamwork really require a meeting or report for every single action and decision? Of course, it doesn’t—and yet our organizational obsession with process continues. My new book, Kill the Company, makes the case that the very structures we created to grow our business too often hold us back from reaching our potential. Look under the hood of your own company: do you see the long-term vision or layers of red tape?

When we are mired in complexity, there’s no room for big ideas or innovation. Ideally, processes are meant to standardize and simplify the essential tasks that keep businesses running smoothly. They also provide a tangible measurement of progress and productivity, giving people a sense of efficiency and accountability. But processes can also breed a climate of complexity that re-enforces the status quo instead of encouraging innovation. How can people be expected to innovate when they’re up to their necks in reports, policies, and meetings?

If you want to be innovative, innovation cannot be your starting point. First, you have to stop, eliminate, and simplify. Take, for example, the annual strategic-planning cycle. You know the drill: change the date on last year’s PowerPoint deck; add rationale for what worked and what didn’t, and give lip service to all the new things you want to do. What if, this year, you took a different approach? What if you actually deep-cleaned the business instead of adding more clutter?

  • Eliminate Rules. Create space for what works by eliminating what doesn’t. Host a meeting and ask your team which company or departmental rules should be killed. Organize them on individual sticky notes and classify them according to how easy they are to kill and how strongly the impact would be felt if killed. After a spirited discussion, take a vote and kill a rule—or two. Most likely, many of the “rules” are really just annoyances like long reports, reimbursement protocol, and sign-offs. Killing these processes not only energizes employees, it frees up their time for projects that can help grow the business. Further guidelines for Kill a Stupid Rule are illustrated in Chapter Four of Kill the Company.
  • Reduce Low-Value Tasks. For many, meetings and emails take up most of our time. How can we make them more productive? Try inviting no more than five people to any given meeting—and have everyone check their BlackBerry at the door. Remind people that being cc:d on an email doesn’t necessarily require a response. Institute Meeting-Free Fridays or do what one enthusiastic client did: conduct a twice-annual audit of company meetings to confirm each one’s necessity and purpose—and get rid of the others.
  • Decrease Reports. Reevaluate the value of your company’s reports. How often do you really read an old one? Recurring reports tend to be backward-facing or redundant: too long and without new information. If a report takes more time to create than the initiatives it outlines, it’s not moving your company forward: it’s diverting time and energy from projects that could actually grow your business.
  • Encourage Empowerment. Simplification means eliminating bottlenecks. Ask teams to make three decisions without you this week/month. Do they really need to ask you if so-and-so should be invited to the planning meeting? Do you have to review every revision made to the PowerPoint deck? This type of shift encourages confidence and critical thinking among team members—and leaders are always surprised by how much time is suddenly freed up for more strategic tasks.

An unflinching look under the hood of your organization often reveals thick layers of policy that are choking its innovation potential. To move forward, reduce or eliminate low-value processes that aren’t driving growth. Killing “rules” and unnecessary tactics not only steers your business away from the danger of complexity, it invigorates employees and allows them to accomplish much, much more. Simplification is the first step toward fueling and achieving your company’s innovation goals.

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