Performance, Innovation...and Change
How Leadership for Performance
is Different Than Leadership for Innovation
So you want to lead your organization to instill high performance? Absolutely.
And you want to promote innovation and a culture of change to keep your organization ahead of the game? Of course.
Be careful you aren’t leaving your people scratching their heads confused - or worse, that you aren’t creating disincentives for both performance and innovation.
Leading for performance is very different from leading for innovation. And leaders must often manage both simultaneously.
Performance is about achieving results, efficiently and effectively. Leading for high performance is centered on management excellence - organizing resources and processes to accomplish work, setting standards for performance and quality, then measuring execution against those standards.
Organizational characteristics that encourage high performance include:
- clear communication about expectations, both individual and group
- clarity and standardization of roles and tasks
- timely performance feedback and accountability
Peter Drucker defines innovation as “a change that creates a new dimension of performance.” A new dimension is not simply an incremental change, but reflects expanded size, scope, or direction.
Organizational characteristics that encourage ongoing innovation include:
- focus on overall results of the group, rather than individual performance
- Minimal formal structures and hierarchal roles
- An emotional tone that is personal and non-critical
Different Perspectives on Change
Change in one sense is the antithesis of performance. High performing organizations craft their business processes for efficiency and seek to repeat them with as few errors as possible. Incremental change that improves efficiency in the established process is generally welcome. When change reshapes the process, however, then performance is disrupted.
Conversely, change is inherent in the very definition innovation. To seek innovation is to seek change.
The Leadership Challenge
Performance is often in a ‘creative tension’ with innovation - the former is about systems to reduce errors and increase efficiency, whereas the latter requires experimentation that is often inefficient and downright chaotic.
Leaders who over-value performance may resist change outright, or simply give lip service to change while they focus strictly on performance execution.
Leaders who over-value innovation may fail to institute performance structures that capture value and achieve goals.
Leaders who don’t pay attention to the difference can easily give mixed messages. Following are actions that leaders can take to integrate performance with innovation...
Articulate the “mode” in which people should operate. For a given task or project, do you want people to focus on performance (do this as error free as possible), or on innovation (prototype creative solutions and learn from your mistakes)?
Define and differentiate structures that support both performance and innovation. Structures that promote performance are documented processes, defined functional units, and quality controls. Structures to promote innovation include functional units dedicated research or creativity (think skunk works), retreats or meetings that get people out of routines, cross-matrix structures, and support for communities of practice.
Cultivate a culture that supports the right balance of performance and innovation. Culture is like the river current, carrying everything in a particular direction unless resisted. Culture guides what people will do by default. Savvy leaders pay great attention to shaping the organization culture so it supports desired action.
Hire and develop people for multiple roles. Be mindful of how your hiring and development processes support performance skills, innovation skills, or both.
Articulate the organization’s direction. Direction addresses the questions, “Why does your organization exist, where is it going, and how will it get there?” It is the job of the leader to articulate direction, by ensuring clarification and expression of an organization’s purpose (mission and vision), values, and strategy. It is in having a clear direction articulated that resolves the creative tension between performance and innovation.
by Tom Stevens (c)2011
Tom Stevens helps leaders create and sustain exceptional organizations. To contact him, visit www.ThinkLeadershipIdeas.com or call 800 727-9788
This article may be freely reprinted in your company, association, or publication (or website) under the following terms: that the author attribution, copyright notice, contact information, and this reprint notice be included; and that you inform us that you are using the article (samples appreciated).
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