Business is tough. The business environment these days is like a living, breathing, 3D, interactive, science fare demonstration of the concept of evolution. It is survival-of-the-fittest in action. Organizations are searching the murky waters for a competitive advantage, business gurus urge us to “innovate or die”, customers are jumping ship from any company that won’t provide outrageously good service and the shareholders are saying “we don’t give a sh*t about the customers, we want profits!” Oh, and is your company green?
Without doubt, without question, the companies that thrive are the ones that do two things staggeringly well: they innovate (this is not new information, I know) and they get things done (well, duh – right?) and the magic ingredient that makes it all happen? It’s the company culture. All CEOs want their companies to be both innovative and efficient (able to get things done), and while some organizations have attracted the kinds of employees who naturally generate a culture of innovation and action, others have made deliberate attempts to steer their employees in this direction, using internal campaigns and brainstorming meetings, only to have their efforts come off as hokey.
Of course, companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have their own remarkable stories, and are led (or have been) by true visionaries, but you might be guilty of actually killing the possibility of innovation within your firm. We spoke with someone at Paradigm Real Estate Solutions, a floundering company in Danville, California, where president Patrick Burke, an apparent disciple of Donald Trump’s management style, is known to routinely yell at employees for expressing dissenting views, and publicly humiliating key personnel with sarcasm and ridicule. The obvious consequence of this is a culture of sycophants – a team of obedient followers who agree with whatever the boss says. This might work under the visionary leadership of a Steve Jobs, or if you’re running a hotdog stand, but with a caveman like Patrick Burke at the helm of a company that requires strategy to stay afloat, you are inevitably bound for disaster.
So, how is the culture at your organization? Here are some common innovation killers which, when removed from your organization, can turn the ship around and create an environment which invites innovation.
The Abusive Boss
Innovation requires the courage to take risks. If an abusive boss uses yelling and sarcasm as their go-to tools of communication, you can be sure that those potential innovators that work for him will clam up and stay within the comfort zone of doing what they’re told. Business News Daily recently ran a story on abusive bosses, quoting Oscar Holmes IV of Rutgers-Camden’s School of Business who said that employees who perceive their bosses as mean, hostile or derogatory try to avoid the situation as a coping mechanism. It’s natural for employees to turn the other cheek when a boss is abusive since they still rely on him or her for raises, promotions and continued employment, but feedback avoidance can take its toll on job performance.
“[Avoidance] makes people more emotionally exhausted and therefore unable to perform their work at their greatest potential,” said Holmes, an assistant professor of management. “Trying to plan your day to avoid your boss requires cognitive resources that ultimately end up wasting time and energy that can be used doing work.” If your company has abusive managers, it might be time for an injection of new leadership.
It is not surprising that an organization led by a hostile manager will breed an army of sycophants. In a culture steeped in fear of public reprimand by sarcasm and hostility, employees will readily go along with whatever the boss says. If that boss is not actively engaged in (or skilled at) generating innovative ideas and strategy from their own mental steam, where will new ideas come from? The longer employees remain in such a culture, the more likely they are to get out of the habit of creative thinking, potentially resulting in long-term losses in their right-brain’s ability to come to the forefront, as this area of the brain is not being exercised. This creates a liability not only for the company, but also the individual.
To remove the sycophant tendency, managers need to give employees the assurance that they will be heard without the risk of verbal punishment if it’s not what the boss wants to hear.
Low Ethical Standards
Low ethical standards from the top can infiltrate through the ranks, sending the message that looking for shortcuts is an acceptable approach. This is poison to a company that needs to innovate, as taking shortcuts damages long-term success – shortcuts breed laziness, and laziness breeds inactivity. Failing to honor contracts, going back on your word, or otherwise being dishonest at the senior management level rapidly affects the company culture. Managers who demonstrate an unwillingness to take the high road are sending clear signals to workers that such qualities are not valued. Senior Managers should strive to be beacons of nobility and impeccable conduct, if they wish to develop a culture of action and innovation.