Innovate or Tolerate?




There are some discussions that occur prior to an event so that planning and preparations can be made. I remember when my wife and I had just gotten engaged, we talked about where we would live, what we would do, apartment or home, rent or buy, etc. But one of the more difficult conversations was around the timing of having kids. Like most young couples, we came up with the idea of waiting for a certain amount of time with the plan to save money so we could afford to have a baby. As we began to share this plan with family, they all started to laugh at us. The comment that we heard most often was, “If you wait to have kids until you can afford them, you’ll never have them.”


At the moment, I was surprised at their advice and mumbled under my breath, “You don’t know me.” But sure enough, to this day – 23 years later, I still don’t know that we can afford the child we have! But there came a day when it occurred – we were pregnant. We were thrilled to be expecting and couldn’t wait for her to come, but then we started thinking about medical bills, daycare, decorating and setting up a nursery, clothes, diapers, formula, and the endless line of cha-chings headed our way! What did we do? We dealt with it and did what we could.

Businesses face the same type of decisions too – hopefully not around babies because that could lead to some HR issues, but around timing and whether or not to innovate or just to tolerate what is already in place. It’s a tough call and one that I think my family’s advice would still fit – “If you wait to innovate until the timing is perfect, you won’t ever innovate.”

Think about some of the things that society felt like they couldn’t live without just in the past 10 years:

  • PDAs
  • Dial Up
  • Getting film developed
  • Movie rental stores
  • Public pay phones
  • VCRs
  • Phone books
  • Maps

Society has moved on to other innovations, and businesses that still deal in the things mentioned above are considered antique or retro stores now. Innovation could not wait in these examples. But what about when it comes to other, less obvious things. Maybe things like an internal database at work, making your website mobile compatible, moving to a virtual workplace, the structure of your teams, or compensation plans. Or if you live in my world, how to attract and retain Gen Y workers through new unique and innovative approaches as Baby Boomers are retiring like crazy!  Can you “get by” with tolerating your current strategies, processes, culture, and technologies – probably. But, is “getting by” your goal?

My employer decided recently to make what our long-term staff would consider to be “radical” changes, and we made a lot of them all in the same week. We moved away from Microsoft and into Google for our email and document storage. We implemented and rolled out a new Applicant Tracking System that replaced three  others. We rolled out a new Operations Manual and internal policies. A new Employee Handbook was written. All of this was done over a two day training period last month. Was it the perfect time to do all of this? Should we have done these incrementally instead of all at once? Should we have taken segments of our business at a time to make the changes instead of the entire company? It doesn’t matter what I think or if I have an opinion on this, because these are the decisions that were made and so I deal with it and move forward. It’s too early to tell how the company as a whole will respond. I believe the changes that were made needed to be made, but the timing around them are always tricky.

I’m a process guy. I probe and dig deep and test and explore and try to come up with every scenario possible, and then design solutions that give the most people the best results possible. But with process, there needs to be accountability. If you state to your team that they have a new way of doing something, and then allow them the freedom and resources to continue doing them as before, you are asking for trouble. Not only does it cause chaos and confusion for your team, but it slows down productivity and it cause resentment among those who follow the new process. If you decide that you just cannot tolerate and that you need to innovate, then you need to demonstrate that employees may not fluctuate in their adherence.  In other words, GO ALL IN.

I wish I could look in my crystal ball and see what the coming months hold for us after these recent changes. Some have embraced the changes and can see great value in them. Others have been resentful and just can’t get past their crying and complaining. Others are on an island and trying to wing it on their own – creating their own processes as they go outside of what is acceptable (this infuriates me). Now it’s up to the executive team to decide just how important and necessary these innovations were, and what they find tolerable all over again.


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