Think about your ‘best day at work’. When you were fully engaged, you knew what was expected, you had the resources and materials to do great work and the activity was directly linked to your organisation’s strategy, goals and important outcomes. These days are the reason you get out of bed every morning to go to work. These are the days that leaders need to create for their teams to deliver outstanding results, improvement with high staff engagement. These are the days that create great organisations.
Over the last decade I have researched how innovation works in many large organisations. How innovation teams operate? What are the secrets of managing innovation systematically in large organisations?
Innovation teams by definition are dealing with ambiguity, multiple uncertainties and the need to balance many stakeholders, executive expectations and ‘politics’. My expectation was that innovation team members would be experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety and pressure.
To my surprise, whether successful or not, many innovation teams reported they experienced their ‘best days at work’ while working in the innovation team. Many teams reported that after a short break, or recovery, they would be keen to do it again. Also, when returning to their day jobs, team members were energized to do better routine work.
The innovation team member reported that while on the activity, they felt their opinion counted, everyone on the team was committed to doing quality work and that they were regularly spoken to about the team and their individual progress. These ‘best days at work’ also included that team members knew what was expected, had resources and materials and the activity directly linked to organisation goals.
Please consider your’ best day at work’, the one you have been thinking about.
Did it involve innovation, change or a new challenge? From my experience great days at work involve innovation and engagement of staff. Innovation outcomes and engagement are linked.
Further investigation of innovation teams focused on the tools, techniques and methods that were used to deliver improved performance. If we could identify the right toolbox, then performance can be increased. As you know there are many tools of innovation from brainstorming through to design thinking. Many, many tools with wide and varied results.
The most powerful and unique factor that was uncovered was the use of outside help. Some teams called then connections, some called them sponsors. I settled on the term ‘catalyst.’
The Role of the Catalyst
In chemistry a catalysts is a chemical that accelerates a reaction and is not consumed by the reaction. In innovative organisations, a catalyst accelerates the progress of a team or an individual innovator without being consumed or owning the idea or project.
In your example of a ‘best day at work’, did you have someone that helped your progress, someone outside your team or direct boss? Did you have a catalyst help you?
A catalyst is someone who:
- Cares about you and your work.
- Encourages your development.
- Can be thought of as a best friend at work!
Now think about your future at work.
Are you an innovator? Are you a catalyst? Are you a team leader? Are you an observer of the innovation process? For each of you, would it be a good idea to to know who the catalysts are? How to be a better catalyst? How to develop catalysts?
Best practice human resources talks about developing future leaders and high performing staff. If you have ambition, the skills and capability of being a catalyst is something that should be considered. Being ambitious would you like to have the opportunity to do your best every day, receive regular recognition and praise for doing good work and have the opportunity to learn and grow every day. These are the things that catalysts do and help with every day.
At Hargraves, our attention moved from just looking at innovators, to looking at the ‘catalyst’. Identifying, developing and operationalizing a catalyst network within an organisation can deliver both innovation and engagement. Deliver both the ‘are we doing the right thing’ projects and the ‘are we doing things right’ day to day. Catalyst networks have been proven to deliver consistent and real added value whereas waiting for the inspired innovator or next big thing leads to inconsistent results.
One interesting side benefit of this approach is how a small group of innovators and catalysts can have a dramatic effect on the total organisation’s engagement and performance. Many people, for their own reasons, do not feel comfortable being an innovator or a catalyst. They are like spectators at a sporting event. The players are the innovators, the supporting staff are the catalysts; coaches, medical assistants etc. and these large number of people are the spectators in the grand stand.
Spectators celebrate the success of their team. Spectators are involved in every activity of their team – without leaving their seats. Spectators are energized and empowered by their team’s success. The use of recognition awards empowers the innovators, the catalysts and the spectators.
The benefit of understanding the innovators, catalysts and spectator analogy in your organisation is that by being or influencing the catalysts you can create change across a very large number of people. Our research shows that one catalyst for every 50 staff is sufficient to create sustaining and significant change.
The benefit of the catalyst approach is that for the first time an organisation, a team or an individual can start the process of managing innovation in a systematic way. Hargraves has been working with exemplar organisations for more than 7 years and have traced results in some for over six years, year by year. The results can be outstanding.
Has your organisation undertaken a change program that has lasted over five years and has delivered increased performance every year?
The catalysts approach, combined with recognition, provides a new and proven approach to managing innovation for productivity, engagement, change and growth in all organisations; large and small; for profit, government and not for profit.
To find out more about how we can help you collaborate with peers outside your industry/network, contact us.