In her yearly “State of the Union” address to all employees, the CEO of a mid-sized company talked about the need for innovation in everything they do. She went on to discuss “the need for new ideas to create positive change.” The executive team nodded in agreement—however, some interpreted the CEO's remarks as confirmation of the need for innovation to drive growth, while others thought the CEO was giving them free rein to cut costs substantially.
The middle managers and supervisors, who had heard the CEO speak less frequently, had no idea what she meant by “thinking innovatively,” but they understood “new ideas” and “change,” and they feared it would disrupt their way of working. Some took it to mean gradual change in someone else's area. Others decided to wait and see if this new initiative would blow over, just like all the previous commitments to dramatic change.
The front-line employees, who rarely heard the CEO speak, also had mixed opinions about the notion of thinking innovatively. Some became very anxious, as they feared this could be another program like the quality initiative that had resulted in layoffs. Others were excited because they had many ideas for improvements.
The result? Confusion. The reason? A total lack of common understanding of what the CEO meant by “thinking innovatively” and by “ideas to create change.”
This story illustrates the confusion that can result when a common understanding of innovative thinking ...