An invisible fence keeps my neighbor’s dogs constrained to the yard while they enjoy limited freedom outdoors. If the dogs wander too close to the boundaries, their collars give them a slight jolt warning them not to go further. After the first few times, they stopped challenging the system and seemed content to remain safely inside their designated space.
Many leaders live within the safe space of invisible boundaries where they learn they can wander safely. It only takes a couple jolts early in their careers to show them where these lines are drawn. The thinking, initiatives and proposals of these leaders and their staff are constrained by an aversion to the stress and conflict of true change.
Avoiding unknown risks, executives often stick to known solutions and existing practices and miss seeing changes on the horizon. Leaders who remain within traditional boundaries may not realize they are risking stagnation, perhaps a deeper issue than the conflict they seek to avoid. Thinking becomes limited within set boundaries and dynamic change is not likely. Change avoidance is not change management.
Executives who seek to avoid being stuck in a stagnant mindset and instead want the type of strategic thinking that leads to innovation, insist on breaking boundaries. They require opportunity exploration, broad research, and pattern detection by:
- Allocating resources for innovation, understanding that change takes time
- Never finalizing a decision without a thorough risk analysis to be sure the importance of asking questions is understood throughout the organization
- Exploring all perspectives with the help of an appointed devil’s advocate and rotating that appointment to develop a well-rounded staff
- Including six mindset buckets in discussions of their thinking process to avoid missing out on a particular perspective
- Creating networks that are cross-functional and lateral within the organization that foster a sense of connection between units rather than silo thinking
- Rewarding innovative thinking to encourage the practice in others and benefit the organization as a whole
- Avoiding placing blame by learning from mistakes instead of criticizing, embracing missteps as a chance to improve
- Addressing cross-unit issues in staff meetings by challenging everyone to own the problem and come up with solutions
- Encouraging experimentation and pilot projects to reap the potential reward from calculated risks
- Promoting those who demonstrate critical thinking instead of rewarding those who remain safely within their boundaries
- Asking questions to evaluate current practices with the potential to uncover process improvements
Innovation does not come from wishing or intentions. Change management requires action from leadership, not simply directives, platitudes, or policies. Thinking that is outside of perceived safe boundaries must be consistently encouraged and supported. Start by examining what constraints limit your thinking and taking steps to break out of your own boundaries. Your actions will encourage critical thinking, strategic planning and positive change throughout the organization.