Are you working to create something new? Most of us are when we think about it.
Maybe you’re making a change—implementing a new technology, improving a process, rolling out a new program, or adjusting strategic direction. Or you might be developing new product features, growing market share, or even starting up your own business. Most of my work these days is about generating new value in some way, shape or form. What about you?
Over the years, I’ve watched a multitude of leaders and teams in search of innovation. And way too often they make an unfortunate mistake. They wait until things are pretty far along, and then shift their focus to getting customers, staff, or partners “onboard.” Have you ever heard someone say, “We have to bring people along”? I hear it once or twice a week.
But bringing people along is a poor strategy for building interest and engagement in something new. In fact, it has a number of fatal flaws—especially in today’s hyper-connected, interdependent world of work. First, it assumes that I’ve got the right answer, and I just have to get others to adopt my vision, my approach, my way. Also, it typically signals that the change—whatever that may be—has been designed and developed without the involvement of the very people who will need to adopt it. There’s separation (me vs. you, us vs. them) at the root of this mindset. And most likely, it means that the innovation and change process has not been inclusive, agile, or customer-centric.
Instead, think about what it would mean if people were “standing together.”
When we approach innovation with this principle as our foundation, we’re much more likely to take an inclusive approach. We co-create value with ‘customers,’ partners, and allies by jointly producing a tangible product or solution we could not generate and produce on our own. We share ownership, share leadership, share learnings, and share the value generated. Standing together takes ‘win-win’ to a whole new level.
Why is this important? It’s because increasingly, in the new world of work that’s emerging, going it alone won’t lead to success. More often, it’s already leading to solutions that are unsustainable, strategies that can’t be scaled up, and single points of failure.
Five Practices for Standing Together
Here are five actions you can take to ensure you are Standing Together as you innovate and create new value:
- Develop a shared purpose. When it’s just your purpose, it’s not as motivating when people need to leave familiar routines, evolve approaches, and change the status quo. Instead, develop shared purposes together with others. That’s when the desired outcomes of your innovation will have power beyond your reach. You still advocate for your vision, and you’re also willing to adopt others’ perspectives and let someone else make the call. When purpose is shared, everyone has skin in the game.
- Support each other’s priorities. Competing priorities can give rise to some of the most challenging dynamics as you work to change the status quo—including active resistance, fear of taking risks, politics, competition for resources, and layers of review and approvals. That’s why it’s critical you actively seek to understand what matters to others. Standing together and co-creating value requires that we not only look out for our own priorities, but we know and support the priorities of everyone involved.
- Share the risk. Don’t fade into the background when the going gets tough. This is when your commitment to standing together will mean more than at almost any other time! When you share the risk, you challenge the status quo together and demonstrate a collective willingness to fail and learn. There is incredible power in distributing the risk across your network. Take “creative license” together, demonstrate courage to bend and adapt the rules, and stand up for controversial recommendations together.
- Leverage your network. Tap into the wisdom found in your networks of allies, sponsors, and partners. These alliances are critical for elevating your impact beyond specific projects or endeavors and for ensuring that innovations and change initiatives are not only desirable and feasible, but they are also viable. That means they are more easily adopted and adapted as things change. When your alliances are broad and diverse, they become like a neural net that generates resilience, strength, and sustainability.
- Lead with transparency. The tendency to protect our innovations, especially in the early days, is a common error. Listen, I get it. Ideas in their infancy and early prototypes can be messy. There’s lots of unknowns, and we all know people can leap to assumptions or even withdraw support quickly. But if we are going to stand together as our primary principle for challenging the status quo, we’re going to have to get used to ‘working out loud’—sharing information early and often. Be clear about what is fixed and what is still ‘in play’ in early iterations. Invite engagement in crowdsourcing, hackathons, and design thinking sessions.
Standing Together is not just for entrepreneuring, innovating, and getting work done. It’s also a way to approach mentoring. Here are some principles to keep in mind for bringing a “standing together mindset” to mentoring:
- Start within. What if being a great mentor to someone else starts within us instead of “out there”? What if we started with our own inner resources—our creativity and leadership potentials, our superpowers, and all our gifts—and learned to access them in service to mentoring ourselves and others? I invite you to deepen your skill at acting as a mentor to yourself first—to improve your capabilities to mentor others.
- Wisdom is not correlated to hierarchy. While those who’ve made it into positions of leadership will no doubt have certain valuable information and expertise to share, we must let go of the idea that wisdom and experience is attached to a role or to a level. That’s the trap of “looking up” in the hierarchy. When we truly view leadership as coming from any seat, we can find mentors and coaches all around us.
- Bring an attitude of gratitude. Satisfaction is the result when we approach mentoring as if we are fixing someone. Gratitude is the result when we’re truly there in service of someone else’s growth and success. Share your energy, compassion, creativity, and expertise with others. You’re not there to fix them, but to support them in becoming more fully themselves. Who might benefit from recognition, support, or being included? Whose venture could use some of your “social capital” (the goodwill you’ve built up that can be leveraged to sponsor others)? Who could benefit from the offer to brainstorm ideas?
It’s All About Practicing
Standing together is an ongoing practice. And it may not feel natural at first to include others generously and graciously in the process of co-creation. Every day you are likely to be tested—especially when it seems easier to simply take charge and assert your “answer” or “solution” as the best path forward.
But standing together—as your primary approach for innovating—will yield sustainable, scalable solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. You’ll find you’re spending less time getting others onboard, and more time building lasting networks and alliances that will bear fruit for years to come.
Steven Kowalski, Ph.D., is an organization development consultant, speaker, executive coach, and the author of “Creative Together: Sparking Innovation in the New World of Work.” He has more than 25 years of experience facilitating the creativity of scientists, engineers, business leaders, and professionals across industries to blaze new trails, catalyze creative potential, and deliver real-world innovation.
Innovate with Seriousness– Even When There’s No Crisis(Opens in a new browser tab)
Find him at stevenkowalski.com
By Steven Kowalski, Ph.D., 10/24/2022