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Brain circuits

How to welcome outlier ideas into your company

Published 7 March 2022 in Brain circuits • 3 min read

In part one, we looked at the competing demands you have to reconcile for boosting strategic agility.  Let’s look in more detail at one of the common areas that can be a challenge for top executives: dealing with the politics of competing teams and agendas. Many companies have lots of good ideas circulating but cannot implement them because of structures and politics.

There are reasons your business is successful in the first place and you need unity among leaders at the top, but often those people can be entrenched in the way they do things. It’s important to find creative ways to balance competing interests.

There are at least seven types of tensions that will stop executive teams from both being creative and accepting outlier thinking. Keep an eye out for them:

  1. Career ambition: People in charge want to play it safe because if something doesn’t go right their career might not progress.
  2. Ego story: We think we have the best ideas, and we often advocate for the most resources possible.
  3. Too much homogeneity in the teams: You need differences on the team to make it more likely that someone produces an outlier idea that can push the company forward.
  4. A lack of psychological safety: People must feel free to put themselves on the line with deviant ideas and know they will not be punished.
  5. The higher you go up in the organization, the more you find people who are cut off from the realities of the market. If this is the case, they may not be aware of it, or they are not prepared to admit to it.
  6. Leaders might be lacking skills: The more senior people are, the more they might lack skills. Leaders who have been around a long time may not have the skills to keep up with the ideas behind digital transformation, for instance.
  7. Overwhelmed leadership: You can have too many strategic initiatives, making it overwhelming for people.

You need to find ways to alleviate any of these tensions, especially psychological safety.

Create a culture of safety

You should make sure teams regularly have conversations and exercises where even junior staff can play devil’s advocate on ideas raised. This helps separate ideas from the individual in order to create a habit of critical thinking, of bringing something new to the table, but still collaborating so everyone can contribute to the team’s new ideas. This is essential for psychological safety.

Pair junior and senior members together

It can be useful to get a younger perspective when keeping up with rapid changes, but people with more seniority can get upset when they are eclipsed by someone with far less experience. One way to handle this is to establish mentor situations where the senior member can help advocate for the junior employee’s ideas and credit is shared.

Look at your reporting structure

If you have a team tasked with implementing a new idea, consider whether they should report directly to the CEO, so they don’t get caught up in cost battles and other corporate pressures.

Make it win-win

New ideas may fail because the leaders in charge of executing them did not necessarily invent them. To mitigate this issue, align their incentives. Executives who will implement the new ideas must have a stake to make them successful.

Remember, even when you find solutions to the tensions within your organization, you should always be looking for new and creative ways to handle things – that is the essence of agility.

Further reading: 

Resetting Management: Thrive with Agility in the Age of Uncertainty by Stéphane J.G. Girod

 

Authors

Stéphane J.G Girod

Stéphane J. G. Girod

Professor of Strategy and Organizational Innovation

Stéphane J.G. Girod is Professor of Strategy and Organizational Innovation at IMD. His research, teaching and consulting interests center around agility at the strategy, organizational and leadership levels in response to disruption. At IMD, he is also Program Director of Reinventing Luxury Lab and Program Co-Director of Digital Execution. 

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