In “End your task, end your job?”, Seth Godin hits upon one of the classic impediments to change: the fear of loss as a result of the end of the status quo. Workers worry that a change in their tasks or the way those tasks are performed will adversely affect their personal circumstances. The thought that their prestige, compensation, or job (as Seth points out) could be at risk leads these workers to undermine change.
This resistance to change often manifests in what I like to call the “Hedgehog Response.” Like the hedgehog, the worker perceiving a threat exhibits defensive behaviors of a passively variety. It is important to recognize and address this passive-aggressive behavior.
This should be done not by disciplining the worker. Rather, it should be done by removing the perception of a threat. This can be challenging however. In the examples cited by Seth, only a consistent track record of repurposing employees and rewarding individuals who find ways to help the organization by innovating their own roles out of existence can successfully address this issue.
When introducing innovation best practice, designer hedgehogs are often seen. Spouting comments like, “We already know how to innovate,” the designer hedgehogs want the focus of innovation to remain on them, not the method. Many companies have been foiled in their efforts to become better at innovation by naively assuming that all employees will embrace the new if it promises to make them more effective. Sadly, not all employees are so altruistic.
So, what is the executive responsible for innovation competence to do?
First, don’t leave your success to chance. Grass roots adoption of any significant paradigm shift requires a high-level mandate if it is to take hold. If you take the position that you can sit back and wait for the troops to adopt innovation best practices before you make an investment in driving them into the organization, you will be rewarded with mediocrity at best.
Reward the adoption of change. Put incentives in place for employees to participate in innovation best practice programs. These incentives can take many forms. At some high performance innovation organizations, the rewards are simple recognition programs. While at other organizations, innovation skills attainment has been tied to compensation.
Make sure that the change is understood to be about acceleration and revenue, not about simple efficiency and cost reduction which raises the specter of staff reductions. This point requires no explanation.