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Three Reasons Why Innovations Fail

And what to do about it

In a world of increasingly rapid change where innovations can overwhelm us, a nimble strategy based on learning and continuous improvement is the only way for an organization to survive. We see that many well-intentioned innovation strategies, implemented to support a learning ecosystem, fail. Moreover, they often also have a negative impact on employees and the growth of the organization. The reason for this is often very simple and can be avoided if a few basic principles are followed.

1. Focus on opportunities, not problems

Seeing problems is easy, yet we often rush into fixing issues that are not the real root of the problem. By viewing a problem as an opportunity for continuous development, you can provide solutions for the future.

Opportunities can be difficult to examine, as the fear of the unknown can be limiting. At the same time, risks are difficult to assess, so sticking to what we know and what has worked in the past is often a more decisive strategy for organizations to adopt. Yet, we must dare to recognize that the future has often already caught up with us and that change is necessary to survive.

If we want to adopt nimble and sustainable strategies, then finding the root cause and understanding the consequences of the problem is the first, essential step for change. Some questions to ask ourselves are: Why is this a problem? For whom is this a problem? Where is it situated? What is the urgency? This holistic approach implies moving away from isolated problems and prioritizing their effect on employees, the organization and the ecosystem. By approaching problems this way, we can recognize their impact and opportunities.

We could also link this holistic approach to the quantum worldview, where everything is interconnected and problems often resolve themselves over time. There are plenty of examples of organizations wanting to launch a learning strategy or learning path for employees, whereby scoping the needs, finding partners and implementing the solution is only realized when the need is no longer urgent.

2. Involve all stakeholders in revamping ways of work and innovation

People often think in organizational silos when talking about innovation, and even more so when talking about learning. This is not surprising, as it is frequently associated with training. Learning, however, is so much more. It transcends the silo approach and is not just the responsibility of the L&D department. It, in all its aspects, is the backbone of future-oriented organizations. Learning from the accumulated knowledge of employees, from the data generated by many connected business applications, from the partners in the eco-system, from trends for the future and so on, is the only way organizations today can grow and survive.

Learning strategists in these future-oriented organizations can therefore no longer hide in a silo, but instead, need to connect to all aspects of learning. This also involves unlearning and letting go of stability. By focusing these strategies on those who are reluctant to innovate, such as employees, investors or customers, you will see a large transformation in their impression as a stakeholder. These stakeholders can benefit organizations from the implementation phase through to the final phases and when stakeholders from across the learning ecosystem are involved, the organization’s innovations are better aligned with wide range of subject matters. By involving all stakeholders as soon as possible, companies can ensure that all objections and fears are anticipated and identified in advance.

We also see that when the learning strategist takes a holistic approach, initiatives that are often unknown to the executive team are also considered. In my experience, some senior executives do not engage with details that they deem not important to the organization's strategy. This unfortunately includes learning management systems or communication application that is driven from other parts of the organization, often without their own knowledge. By incorporating a more holistic approach, employees are therefore involved in their own development and commitment to the organization through informal learning and are provided with the information they need. By implementing a single tool that supports both internal communication and learning, organizations can save costs and see benefits within the entire company.

3. Every organization is the shadow of its leader

‘Leadership’ is often a hollow word when talking about innovation and learning. As stated earlier, learning is a strategic choice of an organization and involves dealing with change and unpredictable times. Yet, we see that in many organizations, the senior executive team often still operates in a very traditional way - seeing change and learning as something far and not applicable to them.

Perhaps the main reason why organizations struggle with innovation and learning strategies is that they lack a role model for learning. A CEO who actively participates in initiatives and can share his own successes and failures can create a culture of engagement that contributes to the organization’s nimble growth mindset.

Communication and engagement are key to success, yet we see senior executives barely communicating the ‘why’ of a strategy, or the impact of the fast-changing world on the organization. An annual report is not what employees are waiting for. Most employees do not read those reports nor understand why they are relevant to them. Organizations that grow together with their employees communicate regularly with them and are inspired and can learn from the feedback and data it generates in a very tailor-made way.

It all comes down to a simple premise - learning is a ‘we’ story. We are people learning together, but we are also learning as part of a symbiotic relationship with innovative technologies. This cannot be rushed. It is a continuous process of improvement whereby we have to unlearn and fail in order to re-learn and recover quickly. In this reality, learning does not start from a silo but transcends and connects all stakeholders in the ecosystem in search of the habit for continuous improvement.

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