Compliments of Seth 1492 via Flickr

In his article “To innovate, turn your pecking order upside down” Tribel argues that innovation cannot proceed without “breakthrough organizational design” – where hierarchy is turned on its head, and in which employees are empowered to serve customers. He further describes “reverse innovation,in which new products are introduced first in other countries. The combination of these two phenomena makes focus on the customer (both internal and external) even more salient. Hierarchical ways of doing business are not feasible in offices where teams are charged with “managerial” responsibility.

Similarly, Upkins explains that being an “inflexible giant” is likely to alienate the individuals you most want to retain. Although he refers to product purchase, this analogy could just as easily be applied to people who receive a paycheck. He further suggests “we don’t have to win at the customer’s expense.” A stamp of approval simply for the means of asserting one’s power can mean innovation that fails miserably. Within corporate walls, a “because I say so” attitude is a surefire way to breed resentment. How then to modify the self-serving mode in which some businesses (and managers) now operate?

  • Put the people in the know out front. Expert power is employed by people closest to the product. That means you (as the supervisor) will need to take a backseat to the experts – e.g., technical gurus, marketing geniuses, and focus groups comprised of people who will ultimately purchase your goods. Relinquishing control is the only means of assuring your survival. According to Upkins, we can’t arrive at a win-win if our myopic perspective filters our perception.
  • Abandon “my way or the highway” thinking. Related to the first point, acknowledge that your skewed vantage point may be the wrong interpretation of another’s idea. Note that lopsided viewpoints perpetuate where face to face communication is a rarity. There is more than one way to “skin a cat,” and your experience (although important) pales in comparison to workers who have cutting edge training. Solicit the opinion of those who make it happen.  
    You’ve probably heard the saying you can be right or you can be happy.” When it comes to divining the future, you can be right or you can be last. The young Turks will many times have you beat when it comes to thinking outside the box. These creative idea people need to work without constrictions. If they get the heavy end of the hickory stick for suggesting things novel, they’ll learn to keep their innovative thoughts to themselves. 
  • Abdicate the throne. Letting the “lower ranking” run the show may seem unnatural, but many times that choice is the most profitable. Leave your outmoded ways at the doorstep in exchange for a true partnership with the people that count. Your position depends on it.  
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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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