The great ideas waste

By Jon Dakin, Director, Boxwood

In most organisations today, great ideas are being put forward at a far faster rate than they can be implemented. Businesses are trying to achieve far too much. There is very little positive change being delivered and possibly long term damage instead.
The problem is most acute in the telecoms sector, where the sheer scale of change those businesses are facing is creating a fog of war in the decision making process.

It is much easier – and more immediately rewarding – to generate ideas than it is to deliver them. However real competitive advantage increasingly lies in an organisation’s ability to identify the best ideas and execute them well. Leaders have a fundamental role to play in developing that capability within their organisation.

Innovative thinking often comes from enthusiastic, dedicated employees. The challenge that many organisations fail to deal with is how to collate their ideas, sifting the great from the mediocre and ensuring the best are fully implemented.

Perhaps it is human nature, but the process of generating new ideas is usually much more seductive for most people than the actual hard yards of delivering them. It is much easier to ‘think’ than to ‘do; much easier to design than implement, much easier to conceive than sell it, and much easier to spot a cost saving than to realise it. This problem is then compounded because it is very easy to fall in love with the next great idea, before finishing delivery of the previous one.

In this situation organisations can swiftly descend into a disjointed patchwork of improvement initiatives. Each individual idea seems to have merit, but they are often in conflict with other initiatives. Without central guidance and co-ordination, activities and resources will be wasted and the delivery of tangible benefits will be more down to luck than effort. Individuals actively engaged and supportive of specific ideas can be dispirited by the seemingly short attention span of their senior managers, as sponsorship migrates to the next big idea.

This is not just about the delivery of results. This constant search for the next bright idea, without the framework of firm objectives and clear priorities, is a hallmark of poor leadership. A business’ ability to deliver innovation and change is a yardstick of its true health.

The unfortunate truth is that great things rarely happen by accident. Without a structured process to gather ideas efficiently from the widest possible sources (employees, customers and suppliers), there is no starting point for assessing and prioritising the ideas. The lack of a structured process also makes it difficult to assess the results of improvement projects. The upshot is that results are typically determined by those who can either shout loudest or feel the most passionately about their idea – hardly a great route to delivering world beating innovation.

EXAMPLE: A well-known B2B UK telco was struggling to find its direction a few years ago. Given the emerging business opportunities to provide managed digital services over the top of existing basic telecoms contracts, there was no shortage of projects, change initiatives and general disruption. The sales staff were busy selling a variety of complex services but the business was struggling to deliver on the promises that had been made and their reputation was being impacted. Underpinning many of these complex products were even more complex IT platforms and with each new sale there was a new requirement to change them. Amidst this chaos appeared a new IT director who set the direction with 5 major programmes. These were well communicated and rigidly governed. Nothing outside of these programmes was completed with the exception of regulatory compliance work. It did not please everyone but the strategy was ultimately successful. Sales staff constrained their ambitions, the customers promise was upheld and the telco business benefited from clearer direction.

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