Want to Create a Culture of Innovation? Take a Bottom Up Approach

There is no question in the federal procurement community that the status quo is no longer acceptable, with the need for modernization and digitization initiatives. Setting the tone is the President’s Management Agenda, along with its associated Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goals. Further, the foundational CAP Goal of “Frictionless Acquisition is fundamental to realizing these efforts:

“The Federal Government will deliver commercial items at the same speed as the market place & manage customers’ delivery expectations for acquisitions of non-commercial items by breaking down barriers to entry using modern business practices and technologies.”…

Many procurement leaders have been busy discussing these efforts, and how their agencies are achieving these outcomes. However, I argue that the results are mixed at best, as there does not seem to be enough of a focus of pushing innovation down to the level where it belongs; in the trenches with those executing contract actions.

Why is that? Because more often than not, procurement leadership either overlooks, or outright dismisses their workforce as a source of untapped potential of transformative change. I have seen both leaders exhibiting hubris; feeling that he/she knows best, or insecurity; feeling threatened by subordinates who prove to be highly competent and creative.

Either way is simply bad leadership. No one person has a monopoly on good ideas.

However, organizations with leaders who aggressively elicit, and reward the ideas of their workforce, have more engaged and empowered employees to affect change and be committed to that change. They do this by fostering a climate (i.e. creating a culture) of openness that gets the workforce engaged in the process of innovation since they know their ideas matter and can see them get implemented.

Leaders should implement these bottom up strategies by piloting new ideas on a small scale to see if they work. These ideas can be prioritized by seeing what may work, will not violate any laws or regulations and has minimal or no upfront investment. This is a low-risk approach, with little to lose–and much to gain in terms of employee motivation and improving morale. Further, the ideas can also slowly start changing the culture, and creating the needed foundation to see real change and for more expansive opportunities to innovate through larger efforts for the enterprise.

Ultimately, leaders need a multifaceted approach to continually reinforce the that employees’ ideas are welcome, needed, valued, and rewarded.

How awesome would it be to work in an organization where effectiveness could be improved if leadership were to systematically seek out and implement this kind of thinking from front-line employees?

Perhaps leaders should keep in mind that they need to focus on results and not recognition, as people around you are more likely to help you work toward your goals if they feel their efforts will be recognized in the end.

Summed up quite nicely by Harry S Truman:

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

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