Monday, October 31, 2011

Is Your Innovation Working?

By Virgil Carter

Does your organization have the ability to innovate?  Does it have the ability to deliver new and redesigned goods and services to your members and customers?   Or do you do what you’ve always done, the way you’ve always done it? 

Recent research by Booz & Company, reported by Anna Pettersson and August Viak in Strategy+Business, reveals an “unexpected and unheralded source of potential productivity:  midlevel managers!”  According to the article, organizations can raise their innovation productivity by recognizing and activating “the unique impact of leaders in the middle of the organization’s hierarchy”.

While the research was specifically focused on innovation in pharmaceutical companies, the findings have application to a wide range of organizations, including non-profit organizations.  Among key findings were three key elements:

1. Clearly differentiated roles for senior, middle, and project managers.  By formally defining the responsibilities of each level, organizations can take full advantage of the different contributions that people at each of these three levels (senior, middle, and project managers) can offer.  And it can avoid the often inherent duplication and redundancy that may take place.

2. A focus on the pivotal roles across the middle.  Managers in midlevel roles typically oversee groups of sufficient scale to develop expertise, create connections and opportunities for innovation, and marshal resources to support good ideas and to deliver results. Midlevel managers are well equipped to select and increase opportunities and can also guide promising ideas through the organization to make sure that they aren’t knocked out too easily in a process based on abstract criteria.

3. The development of critical skills within the middle-management group. To lead effectively, middle managers must have personal credibility. However, this is not enough.  Effective leaders differentiate themselves in several key ways. For example, they define a compelling vision or destination for their team’s work products.  Strong leaders must also connect beyond boundaries and establish critical networking interactions that are at the heart of innovation. Finally, midlevel manager must also utilize “multiple lenses” for problem solving, “applying insights gained from throughout the organization.

Use these elements to assess and build the needed training and support for the leadership capabilities of your middle management staff.  Your organization’s innovation will be the beneficiary.

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