Recently we were talking to a pharmaceutical company that had developed a very aggressive product pipeline. But they were continually missing their deliverable dates and the company’s leadership didn’t understand why.
Turns out it wasn’t because the employees couldn’t handle the workload or weren’t creative enough to push through new products. It was that they were operating in a “business as usual” mode, which, in this case, meant that too many teams involved in the pipeline were operating independently of each other.
That was fine when product development could be stretched out over years, but now that leadership wanted to speed things up, the process wasn’t working. When we asked the various teams about it, we heard time and again, “But that’s how we’ve always done things.”
This is business as usual. Or, complacency. And it’s an innovation killer. So how do you get out of business as usual and sustain innovation? You have two choices: The wrong way and the right way.
The ‘burning platform’
One wrong approach to innovation is called “burning platform,” a concept that is taken, literally, from oil platforms out in the ocean that had caught on fire. How do you survive a burning platform? You jump off it into the ocean. And you jump fast.
In a corporate sense, a burning platform can be effective. Essentially, leaders say the old way of doing business — or “business as usual” — will no longer apply.
Perhaps this is due to a call for innovation within the firm. Or maybe there’s been a sudden change in the marketplace. Either way, leaders challenge workers to adapt to an entirely different way of doing things, or to perish.
That creates a sense of urgency, which can be effective. You can certainly burn up business as usual with this approach. But how do you sustain momentum once your people have jumped off the burning oil rig? You don’t.
If you are going to create a culture that has innovation as part of its DNA, you can’t keep a burning platform going all the time.
So the right way to break out of business as usual is to create something that is worthy of personal commitment, to make innovation and the core of the business something you can explain in a way that directly relates to each of your people.
People have a deep desire to be a part of something that makes a difference. Something that is meaningful. Something that is great.
And leaders have to tap into that to inspire their people to make things better, to innovate, and to stop operating in business-as-usual mode, because that will create a better environment for everyone in the enterprise.
“Fire! Jump!” is a message you can deliver once. “Let’s all be part of something great,” is a message you can deliver every day.