Why innovative managers stop innovating

Looking back at my mentoring experiences this week, I realise that I have seen quite a few companies being choked of their vibrance and innovation. However, the explanations vary as to why this is happening. Drilling down, the case studies reveal something about the hidden flaws in may of us.

Let’s start with a very simple story that you can find in any town or city around the world. A husband and wife team abandon their comfort zones and known territories in order to set up a small shop in Jerusalem. They have called me in because the set up costs had mushroomed before they realised what had happened. And although sales are now on the up, the cash flow is going “west”.

What can be done, I was asked. To which I promptly asked them:” what can you do?” And once forced into the challenge, there was no shortage of good ideas. Yet, one partner was all for their implementation. The other launched into a mantra of “manjana”. It could all be put off until………well, whenever – another issue, another excuse.

I do not know them well enough. But it was interesting. Here is a business, starved of cash and struggling to save its future. Two young and talented people in charge. But one of them appears so overwhelmed that all suggestions for improvement are smothered. Is that person afraid? Too tired after months of struggling? Do they not want to be there?

Time will tell. I found a similar set up near Tel Aviv. An established family business in the building industry is being threatened by new entrants. The husband wants to carry on as normal, yet the banks are closing in.

I realised that he saw me as a “threat”. What could I know or help, when he had been the CEO for over 20 years? But I understood that his experience was key to the future.

So, I engaged him through his wife. I started to sit down with her, stadily going over the problem areas.  At the end of each meeting, I would leave her “homework”. She began preparing the tasks with her husband. This week, I heard that he is now looking forward to the next assignment.

What has made him wake up? Not sure. Maybe I was able to convey indirectly that his business has a value and is worth saving. That message jolted his ego and the “old him” is coming out of the closet. This bodes well for his company and family.

And finally, I was asked to look at a previously vibrant software firm, where the parent company has become involved in the day-to-day decision-making. Spin letters from the top have been a constant.  Profits have been maintained, as wages have been near frozen. 

And guess what, when the top guys, all smiles, turned up recently for a presentation to the managers, they were greeted with a cold reception. All efforts to rouse the troops ended up …you can guess where.

There comes a time where rhetoric, supported by false empathy and a weak reward system, is seen for waht it is: false. Staff will simply stop going “that extra mile”.

Obvious to my reader? Yes, but not if you have received your own bonus at the expense of those you are trying to encourage. Few new projects are on the horizon at this stage.

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