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Inspire your innovation team by defining the mission

October 12, 2017

“Command and control” was the common management style in the classic business setting: leaders give commands to their employees and expect things to get done. No background information, no explanation necessary. Often, an employee wouldn’t know or understand why it was important or why it would matter to the overall organization. As a result, employees learned not to ask questions and to just “do the work”. I’ve experienced this type of environment before, and it doesn’t add any meaning to the work for the employees.

Going to work should have more meaning than just doing your specific set of daily tasks in your role. What are you a bigger part of when you go to work?

Jim Haudan, author of The Art of Engagement, uses an example of the three bricklayers to demonstrate the difference between focusing solely on your task and knowing how you contribute to the bigger picture. Each bricklayer picks up a brick and sets it in place:

  • The first bricklayer says, “I’m putting one brick on top of the other.”
  • The second says, “I’m building the west wall of a church.”
  • The third says, “I’m creating a cathedral. It will stand for centuries and inspire people to do good deeds.”

Inspiring that connection between employees and their work is an important responsibility. The leader should define what is important and why it is important. When it comes to innovation, this responsibility becomes even more critical: the leader needs to provide the mission and narrative, the reason why this innovation is so important to the organization.

The narrative is key because it illustrates the current state and where the leader would like the organization to go in the future. A compelling narrative gains employee buy-in, as they want to be a part of the solution. A leader who outlines why the mission is important to the organization tells the employees that they matter and how they fit in to the organization.

The other piece to include in your narrative is what will happen if this mission isn’t completed. What risk do you run if you maintain status quo? This serves as a second motivator for employees to complete this mission, in addition to painting a clear picture of the reality of the organization.

Keep in mind however, the narrative doesn’t include directions on how to fulfill the mission --- that is up to the team! The mission empowers employees to create new ideas and solutions, and inspires engagement in the process. The result is employees who are invested in the organization’s future and ready to make it happen.

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