Innovation Quick Sand: Organizational Politics

All businesses face certain organizational challenges when it comes to innovation; or better said, cultural challenges.  Everything from the layout of your office, to your style of communication, stagnate business processes, lengthy development cycles, not to mention those imaginary walls between functional areas – can all slowly but surely sink innovation and leave it struggling to flourish. Identifying and addressing the areas that are holding your business back from the daily practice of innovation as a management competency can be the key to unlocking your potential success and the path to new markets, new products and services, or most importantly, reinvigorating existing and new revenue channels.  Innovation quick sand is all around but you can avoid its pitfalls. Here is what is important:

  •  Create a “culture of innovation.” Easier said than done, no doubt, but remember, organizational change requires more than a declared change in company policies. To create a breeding ground for innovation your environment needs to be flexible, responsive, and welcoming to new ideas and not only open to, but also encouraging of input from every level and all sides of the organization. Even outside the organization is fertile ground for employees to harness new ideas and change. Allowing employees to be heard will increase their investment in the success of the company. This also gives management useful insight from those employees dealing directly with the hurdles to innovation that are postponing progress.
  • Increase cross-departmental interaction. When it comes to innovation, moving beyond the domain of research and development is essential.  Innovation must span all functional boundaries at some point, yet it has to start somewhere. Innovation does not necessarily have to start with R&D. Open communication and collaboration between your research and marketing teams or your sales and supply chain departments can bring fresh perspectives and new skills to what are normally routine decisions.  Simply breaking down barriers and providing time for teams to talk to each other can increase innovation and build relationships that increase the efficiency and enjoyment of everyday interactions.  Each employee has the ability to offer his or her own unique skills, perspectives, and knowledge.  When multiple minds are brought together, expectations are surpassed and limits of innovation and creativity are limitless. 
  • Maintain a student mentality and never stop learning.  One of the best ways to create an organizational culture of innovation is by providing the tools and continuing the education of your teams with involvement at all levels from the executive suite to the front lines.  Tools such as the Innovation Management Maturity Assessment is an efficient and incredibly insight means for measuring innovation maturity across the enterprise. These are proven methodologies from the Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS), which is a first step to overcome organizational politics and tackle challenges to innovation that are unique to your business. It provides the information to develop a sound road map for change and the tenants for creating programs where innovation can be learned, taught, managed, and improved.  Just as you would need guidance when learning a new software program, implementing a company-wide focus on innovation is easier with a basic framework. Innovation is endless and continuous. Do not get stuck in a routine or mind-set. Continue to learn and evolve by embracing change. 

Establishing an organizational culture that supports innovation and openness to new ideas, beginning with top-level management and continuing all the way down the employment ladder, can establish your company as an industry leader. The key is to maintain an innovative mind-set in times when business is flourishing and especially when there is market disruption, whether those disruptions are economic or product/service related. Innovation can help your business survive challenging economic times by inventing new product solutions or discovering new ways to streamline production, as an example. Acquiring the tools and skills to overcome the hurdles to disruptive innovation or to be the catalyst for disruptive innovation in your industry is undoubtedly worth the investment.


For more information on the Innovation Management Maturity Assessment or custom programs to fuel transformation and change, contact us at 919-513-0166.


Paul Mugge

Executive Director, Center for Innovation Management Studies

Innovation Professor, Poole College of Management, NC State University

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