Newsletter by Barbara Mintzer

Barbara Mintzer's Newsletter
The Power of a Vision... a Leader's Journey

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July 2004
Characteristics of an Innovative Organization

In last month's Newsletter we looked at the characteristics of an innovator.  My hope is that many of you realized you are more innovative than you thought.  If you possess a number of the 12 characteristics we discussed, you are in a pivotal position to make a difference in your company  regardless of your position in the company. In this month's Newsletter we will look at the characteristics of an innovative organization.  Today many innovative employees are frustrated because the organizations they work in do not allow them an outlet for their innovation.  Companies would be wise to reconsider their corporate culture in light of the number of people leaving because they feel stifled, with no place to grow within the company.  With employees wanting more than "a good day's pay for a good day's work" we will look at 9 characteristics of companies who are changing their outlook to accommodate the needs of more innovative and resourceful employees.


  1. Management is tolerant of failure;
  2. Bureaucracy and bureaucratic policies are at a minimum;
  3. Risks are not analyzed endlessly (paralysis by analysis);
  4. Management gives rewards to people who take risks;
  5. Management is open to outside ideas;
  6. Everyone is encouraged to suggest improvements;
  7. Ideas are listened to, no matter their source;
  8. Informal communication across departmental lines is encouraged; and
  9. Interpersonal skills are encouraged.

When we say management is tolerant of failure we do not mean management puts up with endless mistakes and people who are not doing their jobs. That would be foolish and totally counter-productive in any organization.  What we are saying is that management understands the inherent risks involved in trying something new, and people willing to take these risks may fail at their attempts to be innovative.  A corporate culture that encourages innovation will tolerate these types of failures knowing that they are part of the process people go through to come up with creative, innovative solutions to problems.  A company that does not allow for these types of failures will shut down the creativity and willingness to try in their people, and will eventually lose these people to a more forward-thinking organization.

Every company has a certain amount of bureaucracy in it ... it comes with the territory.  However, innovative companies keep the bureaucracy to a minimum and have policies in place that everyone can understand and identify with.  Job descriptions are easy to understand and allow for flexibility of the individual.  Individuals have the opportunity to add to and/or modify their job descriptions for the betterment of the organization.  Once again, innovation is encouraged in doing one's job.

When considering a new and innovative way of dealing with a challenge, the risks involved must be considered.  The equation of benefit vs. risk must always be weighed.  However, if the potential benefit exceeds the risk involved, it is necessary to go ahead and implement the innovation.  It is prudent and good judgment to analyze potential risk, but it is easy to analyze every aspect of the risk to the point where we become paralyzed by the "what if's."  At some point, faith in the people involved and the benefit of the innovation must prevail.  That is the only way companies can gain a competitive edge in today's challenging world of business.

Every organization must have two types of employees.  You need the employees who come in every day and quietly and effectively do their jobs.  They do not want to move ahead in the company, and they are happy where they are.  They do what they are told and they do it well.  They take pride in their work, however, they are not the ones to come up with new ideas.  They will implement the ideas of OTHERS but they are not the ones to innovate. Every organization needs these people, as they form the basic foundation of the company.  They need to be rewarded for their dedication, commitment and loyalty to the company, and most are.

The other type of employee is the one who may give you more grief at times, but he/she will ultimately take your organization to the next level.  This employee is the risk-taker; the visionary who can get other people on board to make things happen.  In innovative organizations this employee is rewarded for the willingness and ability to take a risk and the outcomes he/she achieves.The outcomes achieved and the reward given should be public knowledge within the company.  Perhaps a column in the company Newsletter or in a column on your company website ... let the whole company see the process of risk/outcome/reward. 

Management is open to outside ideas.  Mangement understands that new and creative ideas are vital to the success and longevity of a company.  Management is open to receiving ideas from everyone in the company.  Ideally, management will provide a place for those ideas to be explored, articulated and discussed.  Perhaps once a week, or once a month, management can set aside a certain amount of time (Tuesday afternoon from 2:00 to 4:00) for people to discuss their ideas with management.  Nobody is laughed at or diminished for his/her idea, and people can feel free to discuss their ideas without fear of punishment or retribution.This scheduled open-door time to discuss ideas gives management an opportunity to assess its employees as well as listen to their ideas and it gives management an opportunity to know employees on a deeper level.

Everyone is encouraged to suggest improvements, and that means EVERYONE.  Nobody is looked down on because of his/her position in the company.  Each person is given the same opportunity to suggest improvements coming from his/her own unique perspective.  Sam Walton of Wal-Mart was a master at this.  He would walk into one of his stores unannounced, and go into the warehouse and ask the stock clerks how they were doing and if they had any ideas as to improving their part of the business. He then went to the clerks on the floor and asked them the same thing.  He asked them what items were selling, what were not, and their suggestions for adding or deleting product to their mix.  What a smart manager he was!  Not only was he getting the ideas from the people right in the line of fire, he was making each and every person feel like a vital and important part of the organization.  Good advice to heed.

Ideas are listened to, no matter their source.  Innovative organizations look for ideas from all industries, not just their own.  Innovative managers read many magazines and periodicals from numerous industries to find out how other industries are dealing with similar challenges. Innovative organizations send their management team to conferences and conventions of their industry and other industries as well to pick up new ideas and strategies for dealing with today's daunting challenges in business.  When I am thinking of putting a new program together, I always ask people from a number of industries for their input on how I can help them with the issues they are facing.  I am always surprised at the commonalities in the issues people are facing, regardless of industry.  Innovative organizations look outside their own for ideas and solutions to their problems.

Informal communication across departmental lines is encouraged.  Part of the work I do with organizations is to move management and employees closer together to form a cohesive and productive team.  One of the strategies I stress is that members of one department become familiar with all the other departments so that each department feels free to turn to other departments within the organization for help and advice.  This is very important because employees tend to feel a loyalty to the department they work in as opposed to the organization as a whole.  Informal communication with other departments will help them see the broader picture.

Interpersonal skills are encouraged.  People are encouraged to speak up and say what is on their minds.  When teams form and meet, diferent people take turns at being the team leader.  Communication on all levels is encouraged.  When I am called into a company to bring employees and management closer together, I find the two issues that stand in the way are trust and communication.  Actually, they go hand in hand.  If employees do not trust management, they will be very reluctant to communicate how they feel.  However, when employees are encouraged to speak up, again, without fear of punishment or retribution, and what they say is taken seriously, they start to trust management.  Once trust is established, employees and management start to work from a position of shared values and a shared vision.  When that happens, it's a beautiful sight to see!!!

What are your thoughts on this subject.  I would love to hear from you.  If you believe you work for an innovative organization, what are some of the characteristics that make it innovative?  If you have a challenge or issue you would like to see discussed, let me know.  I learn just as much from you as you learn from me.  If you wish to pass this Newsletter along to a colleague who may find it of value, feel free to do so.  If that person would like to receive the Newsletter, e-mail me with the address, and I will put it on my database.  Have a wonderful month, and if you are going on vacation, have a great one.

About the Author

Barbara Mintzer is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant with over 30 years in business and health care. She speaks from experience! Her how-to programs provide participants with immediately applicable skills and strategies for getting buy-in and commitment from staff and staying on top of their professions in today's competitive and constantly changing workplace. Barbara presents keynote talks and breakout sessions for international, national, regional and state Conferences. She also conducts management retreats and in-house seminars. She facilitates panel discussions and roundtables at the same meeting...a good investment for your meeting budget. To explore the possibility of having Barbara speak at your next event, or work with your staff/leadership team, please contact her office.

Phone: (805) 964-7546
FAX: (805) 964-9636

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