Last month I visited a bunch of customers (existing and potential) on the US West Coast from various industries; technology, infrastructure, software and internet-related companies.
So here you have a set of companies who are considered to be the most innovative in the world. They thrive on innovation – make money off it, add value to the world around them, innovate on products, services, business models – you name it. Innovation is the name of the game - it’s what makes the Valley thrive. It would be reasonable to conclude that the ability of these innovative organizations to drive change and be comfortable with change is huge.
And yet, interestingly, their ability, appetite and willingness to drive change within some of their own processes is astonishingly low – like that of any regular company or even worse! While the business side of their organizations is constantly innovating and changing, it’s some of the “back-office” work (finance or HR for instance) that does not want to change. They seem to have a "this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset – which bothered me and got me thinking…how could these two worlds coexist?
So here’s my hypothesis:
In these companies its clear where the excitement lies – in the front, on new products, new ways to serve customers, new tool for customers etc. So if I’m an existing or potential employee, I desperately want to move to this innovative part of the company – the part that has the buzz.
However, if I don’t bring the skill set to the table that makes me a part of the buzz, it will soon be clear that I (obviously) won’t be part of the excitement – this leads to one of two things – either I leave for a place where my skills are valued more, or I make peace with the fact that I’m a part of an organization that is not focused on my work. This is the beginning of a vicious circle that starts with mismatched expectations and leads to a growing apathy toward innovation or change. Effectively, these back-office parts of such innovative companies become the "left behind pieces” of the organization that are not innovative or change-embracing enough and therefore radically different from the rest of the organization.
It’s almost inexplicable but true that many of the most innovative companies in the world are least innovative when it comes to the way they think about the way they run their processes.