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Are standards and innovation incompatible?

Yes!!!  Any organization of scale will experience inconsistency in quality, customer experience and operational performance without the structure of centrally controlled operating standards (policy, process, training), software tools, software configurations, governing metrics and inspection.  If intent is delivery of a service and experience that everyone can be proud of, every day, everywhere; there must be a framework in place that provides execution guidance, defines roles and responsibilities, provides for transparency and inspection of execution to support sound practice.  A clear connection of these elements to mission explains how every person and element of the enterprise contributes to creating and sustaining products, services and experience.

Vesting responsibility for control and inspection in centralized experts receiving executive direction and oversight themselves is the time-tested method of providing sound, effective management of any enterprise.  But any member of an organization that works in the “field” delivering services will complain that the folks at corporate do not have a clue about operational needs, competitive circumstances or innovation they can see away from the “ivory tower”.

Social norms have changed.  Conformance and discipline are out of favor.  Self-actualization, empowerment and autonomy are what we are taught to expect in professional practice, employment and corporate life.  No wonder that staff and management dissatisfaction with the experience of employment are at all-time highs.  Companies seeking “happy employees” offer flexibility of work expectations, a variety of “soft” benefits and other concessions to professional standards and expectations. Instruments of social feedback like “Dilbert” are so popular, presenting managers as buffoons and staff as jaded manipulators.  Many organizations have relaxed controls, enabled local innovation, allowing all manner of practice and performance to flourish.  Some good to be sure, but some not so good to be certain.

Many of us need structure, support and direction to contribute our skills and talents to organizations and goals that are too large and complex to be achieved by a single person.  Sometimes corners cannot be cut, adherence to sound practices cannot be relaxed when challenging, is must be dotted and ts crossed to know that quality is delivered as expected.

But any sound standard process becomes out of date over time.  Circumstances change, new capabilities emerge, goals shift, barriers emerge.  These events usually are felt first out in the field, where operations are happening with real clients every day.  So, the field needs to be empowered to change standard practices locally to handle these challenges swiftly and effectively. Right?

Here is a hard truth: Not all field teams are created equal.  Some may have the ability to handle autonomy effectively, but many may not.  Any ability to realize value from scale rapidly disappears when effective innovation cannot be readily shared across all locations with minimal operating risk and effort.  When every local operation has been allowed to pursue innovation with autonomy, there is no real capability to learn and improve as a collective organization.  There is no guarantee that every local innovation will be successful.  Experimentation is expensive.  It also puts operating performance and quality at risk.

Bummer.  So how can a complex, large or growing enterprise balance requirements to achieve operational excellence, while staying competitive and effective in the face of a shifting landscape of competitive forces, regulation, expectations and capabilities?

  • Central control must be established and maintained.
  • Operating metrics should include ways to evaluate local teams and leaders for effectiveness – those that demonstrate particularly effective levels of execution earn the opportunity to serve as centers of innovation and experimentation to improve enterprise operating standards and practices.
  • Innovation must be vetted by a governance team and process carefully designed and led to encourage creative thinking, critical examination of current practice and proposals that may be disruptive to long held practice or direction.
  • Everyone must buy in and commit to development of an enterprise that operates with excellence everywhere, avoiding a natural tendency to focus on performance or goal attainment locally.

The parts cannot be allowed to go their separate ways, but must operate as a cohesive whole, contributing improvements and benefiting from improvements from others.  The collective must drive performance of all to the best accomplishments of the highest performers.

Standards start as innovation.  Innovations become standards with consistent adoption.  Innovation cannot be effectively exploited without standards to provide animation.  A circle of continuous improvement, but in the large, not just the local.

Contact us at BrightWork Advisory, LLC for help with effective, efficient and satisfying client support processes and practices.  Let us help you with governance of standards and continuous learning sensitive to “field team” feedback.   WWW.BRIGHTWORKADVISORY.COM

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