Organizations that are most successful with Kaizen and continuous improvement don't have fancier boards or better software — they have leaders who are more likely engaged with the right behaviors, more consistently. In my experience, I've put the same mechanics in place and given the same training… and some organizations really create a “culture of continuous improvement” and some flounder. The key variable – leadership.
So this Forbes article caught my eye: “Bosses Think They Champion Innovation, Employees Know Better, Study Shows.”
According to a new study by Development Dimensions International, people were asked questions such as if leaders “demonstrate unwavering openness and appreciation for unique ideas and opinions”?
- 78% of leaders said “yes” (about themselves)
- Only 43% of employees agreed with them
Great leaders are self aware… it sounds like many of the survey respondents are not.
Does the leader “guide employees who fail or make mistakes to reframe the experiences as learning opportunities”?
- 77% of leaders said yes
- 47% of employees agreed
Does the leader “champion the merits of employee-initiated ideas to senior management”?
- 75% of leaders said yes
- 42% of employees agreed
The DDI researchers said a leader has four key roles (and I'd agree):
- inspire curiosity
- challenge current perspectives
- create freedom
- drive discipline
Although, I'd maybe define “discipline” as “have a disciplined improvement process” instead of thinking of disciplining employees (as the word “discipline” often implies).
It's a fast-moving world, so it's imperative that we improve more quickly. Kaizen is certainly a form of rapid cycle, small scale innovation. Forbes summarizes:
The study's conclusion recommends that companies work to close that perception gap between leadership and employees and also build both top-down and bottom-up cultures of innovation, examine innovation at every corporate level, “ignite innovation action,” and work tirelessly at continually improving communication.
Other findings from the report summary:
Leaders actions to foster employee innovation will likely fail without an organization-wide commitment to innovation
The more senior the leaders, the more they create the conditions for innovation
Why don't we have more innovation?
Who killed innovation?
When identifying the perpetrator, leaders are less likely to look in the mirror. We asked leaders and team members about barriers to innovation, and both identified the other as the main source of the blockage. Team members are likely to say their leader wants to be the person who generates all the good ideas, while leadersâ€”especially those at higher levelsâ€”are most likely to say that their team members don't offer ideas of value.
Leaders need to be willing to give up some control – letting their employees have ideas and implement them. Leaders shouldn't blame their employees for not making improvement happen. Leaders must create an environment where improvement is possible.
What are your thoughts on my summary or the report itself?
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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation: