Editor Jon Kennard talks to professor of strategic leadership and UNLEASH World keynote Costas Markides ahead of his appearance at the Paris event later this year.
Innovation is a by-product of something else – improved work behavior. Change behavior to cultivate an innovative work mindset.
Your people need to know that it’s okay to fail, as long as we learn from these mistakes.
Read this exclusive interview with Costas ahead of his keynote at this year’s UNLEASH World event.
We sit down with one of UNLEASH World‘s most exciting keynotes, Costas Markides of London Business School, to get his thoughts on creativity, productivity, failure, and a great deal more.
The wrong way to create urgency in the organization is by trying to scare people. This is what leaders try to do by creating a burning platform and we know that it does not work—it only creates urgency in the short term, but the urgency does not last.
Rather than scaring people by giving them something negative (a burning platform) to avoid, it is far better to give them a goal to aim for. But for this to work, people need to buy into this goal both at a rational and an emotional level. And this brings us to the challenging aspect of trying to do this: how do you ensure that people buy into this goal at an emotional level?
For people to buy into something, you will need to sell it to them. Needless to say, selling to win emotional commitment is extremely difficult. If there is one thing we know is that simply communicating it to people will almost never achieve the emotional response we want.
After all, how many of us won the ‘hearts’ of our partners using only communication or fancy PowerPoint presentations? Winning people’s hearts for change is not easy. This may explain why so many change programs fail. It is easy to come up with a nice-sounding, positive reason why we need to change.
However, how many organizations spend the time and resources to ‘sell’ this reason to their employees to win not only their rational acceptance but also their emotional commitment to it? Doing so requires us to use not only inspiring speeches and presentations but also additional tactics and strategies. It is hard but this is the only way to create the right kind of urgency in an organization.
Yes, it is that simple! Agility is associated with certain behaviors and an organization will become agile if and when every single employee starts behaving in these behaviors every day. The question, therefore, is how to encourage everybody to behave like this and to do so every day. The answer, of course, is by putting in place the culture and overall organizational environment that support these behaviors.
But here is the leadership challenge—how can you develop such a supporting culture in an organization? Most leaders try to do this in a top-down way through a culture transformation program.
A far better way to do it is through a decentralized process whereby individual managers and team leaders scattered all over the organization undertake to change their local culture through a few small and targeted actions.
Done within prescribed parameters as set out by top management, these decentralized actions could start a thousand little fires that can grow into an inferno that transforms the organizational environment of the whole company.
The decentralized approach to changing the organizational environment advocated here cannot succeed unless clear parameters are put in place to guide individual managers and team leaders what they can do without top management approval. Autonomy to undertake local changes without some constraints or guiding parameters can lead to chaos. It is therefore imperative that people know what these guiding parameters are.
The first thing to appreciate is that innovation—like agility—is not something we can ask of people. It is, instead, a by-product of something else. That ‘something else’ is a number of day-to-day behaviors—such as questioning, looking outside for ideas, working across silos, experimenting, and so on.
The idea is that if everybody in our organization engages in these behaviors on a continuous basis, then innovation is likely to follow.
Now, one of the behaviors that supports innovation is experimentation. You want your people to engage in experimentation on a continuous basis because that’s how you evaluate ideas quickly and also learn and improve on ideas. Of course, to get people to experiment, you will have to take away fear of failure. Your people need to know that it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to make mistakes—as long as we learn from these mistakes.
The trick, therefore, is to develop a culture where mistakes and failures are accepted. Whether you need to have a budget for failure to achieve this culture of psychological safety is another matter! I would have thought that there are numerous other things you can do to create a culture of experimentation and a budget for failure would not be high on my list!
One of the biggest challenges that all of us have to face in the next 12 months is to develop innovative hybrid working policies so that people can continue to work from home after the pandemic without sacrificing productivity and innovation and without undermining the company culture.
I think you will see quite a few innovative practices being developed by leading-edge companies in this area and these new practices will transform the rules of engagement forever. Another area where I expect a lot of innovation is in making the workplace a more attractive place for employees to come to every day. The workplace will be transformed from a place where people come to work to a place where people come to work and also learn, socialize, network, play, and have fun.
The companies that succeed in transforming the workplace in such a way will be the winners in the war for talent.
Costas Markides is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s UNLEASH World. Don’t miss out on any of his insight and ideas – book your tickets for our October event in Paris today.  
Editorial content manager
Jon has 20 years’ experience in digital journalism and more than a decade in L&D and HR publishing.
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