Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Role of Trust in Innovation

If you didn't see it, Maddie Grant asked me to do a guest post on her SocialFish blog last week, and I shamelessly used it as an opportunity to promote the innovation project I'm spearheading for the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives. If you're a regular Hourglass reader, then you've already seen here what I posted there, but I got some great comments from Maddie's readers that are probably worth a peek. They certainly prompted the following thought from me on the issue of trust.

If you're following @hourglassblog on Twitter than you already know that I recently attended (and participated in) a session on innovation with ASAE’s Jennifer Blenkle at the Council for Manufacturing Associations Leadership Meeting. Like the SocialFish commenters, we spent some time there talking about trust in associations, especially as it relates to creating and sustaining a culture of innovation.

There were a lot of good association CEOs there who understood that if you want to foster a culture of innovation in your organization, you have to “walk the talk” when it comes to trust. A CEO, after all, who preaches innovation, but doesn’t trust the staff to come up with innovative ideas--killing each one as they come up as too expensive, too impractical, too stupid, etc.--isn’t going to succeed in building a culture of innovation.

But for me, here’s where trust really comes in when we talk about innovation. A working innovation process is going to generate more ideas that can be acted upon. Someone, somehow, is going to have to decide which ones get the green light and which ones don’t. That’s unavoidable. And it may be tempting to say that it’s the CEOs job to do that--and it is--but only to an extent.

The CEO of an innovative association doesn’t just decide which ideas win and which ones lose. She communicates clearly with the entire team HOW these decisions will be made–the criteria by which the ideas will be evaluated and the conditions that must be met before they will be greenlighted. And everyone who submits innovative ideas must UNDERSTAND these criteria and SUPPORT them as the appropriate benchmarks to use in driving innovative change in the organization.

If the CEO and staff trust each other enough to have that discussion--the ideas that are generated will hit the mark more often than not, and everyone will accept the fate of the ones that are dropped.


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