Adaptability: How to ensure that short-term changes don’t impact lasting innovation

The uncertainty and scope of the global pandemic forced us all to adopt virtual or safety conscious practices at a fast pace. Pubs are re-opening with QR-code bar service, doctors are offering virtual consultations, retailers are shifting their stores online. And whilst these sorts of behaviours are critical in times of survival mode, many businesses have been forced into quick, tough and, at times, directive rather than consultative decision-making. Which comes at a cost. These solutions are important, adaptive and, at times, creative. But are they new and innovative solutions that completely reshape their business model and service offering? Well, no. And perhaps that is ok. In crisis mode adaptability may arguably be more critical than innovation.

But what does this mean for long-term survival?  ‘Fast-paced’ changes are being understood as ones that do not involve diverse opinions, that must be directive and not challenged. And the shifting psychological contract from the war for talent to employees fearing for their job security, could threaten employee engagement and personal development.

But this is not a sustainable mode of working. What cultures will this create? Could it dampen an organisation’s chance at long-term survival and negatively impact the creation of innovative ideas? We need to be careful that adaptability is not coming at too high a cost.  Businesses have an opportunity to ensure their organisational practices are allowing them to be adaptive, but also set them up for long-term success and the creation of innovative solutions.

Some key organisational practices to bear in mind:

  • Encourage diverse opinions.  Diversity of knowledge, skills, experience and thinking brings different perspectives and problem- solving approaches. The result is often greater originality and a range of more innovative solutions.
  • Continue to engage staff. Motivated individuals who show interest and engage with their work, enjoy problem- solving and recognise the value they can add are more likely to contribute positively to the innovation process.
  • Encourage collaboration. Teams need a willingness to listen to, engage with and take on board others’ contributions. Collaboration is about leveraging the group’s strengths and balancing gaps in skills, knowledge and attributes. Collaborative decisions can still be made at pace. Adaptability does not need to come at the cost of collaboration.
  • Create psychologically safe environments. Non-conformist team members have the courage to challenge the status quo and encourage others to think differently; this constructive disruption can stimulate discussions. But there needs to be a culture where a range of ideas are encouraged and valued so people feel it is safe to constructively challenge.
  • Empower individuals by reducing hierarchical barriers. Responsive individuals unconstrained by hierarchy or fixed structure (e.g. they can organise themselves without a directive leader and make joint decisions) respond proactively to new challenges.
  • 2020 has challenged organisations and individuals in ways we could not have possibly predicted.  From finding new ways to do what we’ve always done to pivoting products and services so we can continue to operate through the pandemic.  So, now is a good time to reflect on any positives the situation has brought and to challenge organisational practices that will not be sustainable in the long-term. All of which will leave us best placed to respond to new threats whilst continuing to create innovative teams and ideas.

WPG has worked extensively with clients to help them further develop their innovative culture.  This is a project we completed with Saint Goban PAM UK, for example.  We’d be happy to discuss how this could work in your organisation so please do email to arrange an initial discussion.