Several years ago I met with a purchasing manager in a well-respected global technology company. In an effort to protect identities, let’s place him geographically somewhere in the western hemisphere. . . Two consultants and I had developed a dynamic process for implementing change in an enterprise and we were confident our system could bring great value to this mammoth organization.
After listening to our presentation, this purchasing guy leaned back in his chair and replied, “You know what I do whenever top management tells me to do something? I sit on it and don’t do anything.”
We must have looked a bit incredulous so he continued, “I don’t do anything because as soon as I try to do what they told me to do, they’ll read another book and tell me to do something else. So I just sit on it and don’t do anything.”
Somewhere in that company well-intentioned leaders pursue creative ways to bring innovation, new ideas, and fresh energy to all levels of that organization. And somewhere deep in the bowels of that company sit people like the guy I met who quietly smother those initiatives by inactivity and indifference. Perhaps he has been given too many great ideas with no plan for turning them into reality. Maybe he has run into problems when he makes changes so he has stopped trying to change anything.
I wonder how much time in senior executive strategy sessions the leaders in that company ask themselves, “Now what will we do if the people we count on to launch this don’t do anything? How can we prevent problems from developing as we implement this plan?”
Innovation without implementation creates aggravation. After watching one brilliant idea after another die on the road to implementation, it is easy to understand how people become like the manager I met. Many companies focus significant human and financial resources in the pursuit of innovation. I wonder how much energy those companies put toward ensuring their innovations are successfully implemented.
In an insightful article titled Innovation: The Classic Traps (Harvard Business Review, November 2006) Rosabeth Moss Kanter draws from years of research and observation when she writes, “Too often. . . grand declarations about innovation are followed by mediocre execution that produces anemic results, and innovation groups are quietly disbanded in cost-cutting drives” (page 73).
If your latest revitalization effort is stalled like a beat-up truck on a dusty road your problems might have more to do with your failure to anticipate problems than the quality of your new ideas. Anticipation is the first step toward prevention. The surest way to prevent a problem is to plan for it.