Company stuck in a rut? Consider stealth innovation

Professor Paddy Miller reveals how organizations can resist stagnation and regain a creative spark.

Company stuck in a rut?  Consider stealth innovation
91 percent of senior executives worldwide consider innovation to be a top priority, according to the GE Global Innovation Barometer.
But for many large organizations with a top-down approach to management, innovation is often stifled since it is so easy for corporate leaders to hear an idea and casually dismiss it. This is why some business experts recommend a culture of stealth storming, or developing innovative products without prior approval from company executives.  
“What you see is people stealthily moving to get their innovation into an organization,” said Professor Paddy Miller, IESE Business School, Barcelona. “The best thing to do in many organizations is to fly below the radar, see if you have traction, and reveal your innovation.”
Miller recommends the following steps for HR to create a culture of innovation in the workplace:
  • Stealth sponsors – managers who are one or two levels below the C-Suite often have more time to hear new ideas and should be encouraged to remain receptive to employees’ innovative pursuits
  • Stealth testing – employees who have innovative ideas should be granted the means to gather evidence before making a formal pitch to business leaders
  • Stealth resourcing – projects should be allotted with extra money or resources in case employees want to explore a tangential avenue of research or development
In addition, HR should examine the company’s organizational structure and consider rearrangement if innovation feels stagnant. The matrix structure, for example, can increase internal conflict and hinder innovation in the process.
“Matrix structures take away my personal responsibility, my team’s responsibility, for innovative thinking. You feel less of a commitment to making something happen.”
To combat this, large businesses should break into divisions or teams where bottom-up innovation is more likely than across the organization as a whole.
“All research shows that when you’re small you tend to be agile,” Miller said. “Global businesses that have managed to create small organizations in countries are far more successful at eliminating the matrix and are so much better at innovation.”
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