Can Managers Lead Innovative Change?

I had a colleague in state government ask me for help with a proposal to change a business process. From prior experience, I was aware that a particular program manager was the reviewer. He had consistently rejected change proposals because, as he stated, “…the taxpayers don’t pay me to waste time looking at childish ideas.” Rather than risk retribution and other internal skirmishes, I told this colleague that I would work on setting up an innovation program at the agency. I have since retired.

What is it, if a single concept that prevents government managers from considering innovative change proposals? Yes, they are busy with staff supervision and program responsibilities. But if not them, then who? I pose that organizational culture is the culprit, if not the key, to innovation’s promise.

The culture concept is widely featured in contemporary PA literature and I posit that it generally means the convergence of all processes, values and leadership principles in place. So when a staff person submits an innovative idea, managers are likely to follow the “unofficial official rules.” That is, managers know through experience what happens, or not, to such proposals. Likely, there is no process for innovation at the agency. Where I worked, the director had an online “suggestion box” that he commented online. He was the culture, rule and master.

So, I ask, does your public or nonprofit organization have a process in place for innovative proposals? What, how and when does the reviewing body meet? Are there policies and procedures in place? How much has innovation saved in terms of reducing program-funding costs and in providing improved services? If not, what can managers do to lead innovative change?

It all starts with somebody taking the risk of asking why not.

Submitted by Geoff McLennan


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