Proven Insights That Drive Innovation

Proven Insights That Drive Innovation

Authors: Bernie O’Donnell & Stefan Werdegar

*This article was originally published in


Organizations that successfully drive innovation consistently incorporate three tenets into their strategy and execution. These tenets form the foundation for creating the high-caliber work culture necessary for innovation to thrive. Even successful organizations typically have a blind spot as to their potential to improve.

The right people in the right places

A major derailer of industry-leading performance is not having the right people in the right “seats on the bus,” focused on the right initiatives, at the right time, with the right resources. Getting the people right means starting by attracting, identifying and selecting those candidates who best match the organizational culture. It’s more than skills and personality! Overlooked attributes when hiring/coaching often include decision-making style, personal motivations, values, interests and personality derailers/blind spots. They also involve ensuring that you asses individuals against key competencies.

We, uniquely, sort competencies into three groups: expertise, traits and character. By using diagnostic assessments, organizations gain insight into the traits and character of their job applicants as well as into those of their current leaders and team members. Insightful leaders are then better able to coach and develop their people. One critical aspect is helping individuals understand their personal “blind spots” and how to compensate for them. This increases their ability to innovate and contribute. Hidden strengths may be identified and capitalized on while weaknesses may be complemented by using the strengths of others.

Armed with deeper understanding of their teams, leaders may better determine who to assign to what project and how to form teams that will drive innovation and execute change initiatives. Essential to this data-driven approach is the creation of a performance model based on the characteristics of top performers. Note, it is critical that “fit to the model” be correlated to job performance. This correlation validates the model’s effectiveness. Armed with this insight, leaders and top performers may better understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses; and, openly work together to build a cohesive environment of high trust. Months, even years, of learning how to work with teammates can be eliminated.

Closing the people performance gap

Jim Collins’ classic book Good to Great states that once you feel the need to manage someone, you know you’ve made a hiring mistake. That implies we shouldn’t have to manage people. Gee! But, we know there is a noticeable performance gap between those we must manage and those we don’t. It’s virtually true across industries that one-third of the people drive two-thirds of the performance results. Organizations that create a high-performance culture are adept at sizing and closing this gap. They focus on the top one-third for performance and work to place the bottom one-third in better-suited positions. Less effective organizations spend hours of management time and training dollars trying to improve that bottom one-third, but with only occasional, minimal success.

Even worse, these organizations restrict the contributions of the top one-third by forcing them to adhere to processes, policies and practices that were designed to “manage” the bottom one-third. A more effective approach is to give your top people the freedom to perform. This requires trust but that trust develops quickly among top performers whose selection and development were guided by proven performance models. And, properly engineered performance models allow for all of the strengths of diversity—just not diversity where you need unity, such as in your values. If customer/patient service is important then we don’t want people who don’t care about others or their problems. Value mismatches hurt everyone!

Building a high-performance leadership model

No organization can effectively drive innovation or optimize performance without a well-defined leadership philosophy and approach—one that is exemplified, communicated, and enforced by the entire leadership team. This is the foundation of the company’s culture and is most efficiently created when built on a proven model that is easily customized to leadership’s desired purpose, values, etc.

Exceptional leaders do things that the others don’t. A classic definition of a leader is one who has a vision and communicates it in a way that inspires others to achieve it. To that foundation of 1) vision/inspiration and 2) communication, we add 3) timely, accurate decision making, 4) proper management of the organization’s resources, and 5) effective staffing and organizational development. Aptly named the 5 Focus Factors, we find that leaders generally do all five, but rarely excel in all.

Our challenge to you is to focus on improving each one of these factors across your leadership team. Get everyone behind it by promoting a vision of the positive impact it will have. Once started, momentum will build to tackle additional factors. It will take on a life of its own.

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