Overview: Integrity in business is ensuring your actions conform with your statements. In order to maintain integrity as part of your innovation process, you should look closely at the spoken and unspoken promises made by your innovation strategy and act on them to the fullest extent possible.
What Is Integrity?
On the most basic level, integrity is “walking the walk.” In the office, this can take a few forms:
- Humility. Admitting that you don’t know everything and actively seeking to learn from people who have knowledge to give reinforces the need for a team. It also encourages teamwork and collaboration.
- Not asking your team to do anything you yourself wouldn’t do. If you ask them to stay late, it’s because you’re also staying late.
- Keeping to your word. If you’ve promised somebody a break they need, you give them the break, even if it means compensating elsewhere.
- Honesty and clarity. You don’t hide unpleasant news or avoid awkward conversations, set standards in the workplace that are fair and consider all needs, and are open about the organization’s needs and goals.
- Taking responsibility. When things go right, you make sure the team is highlighted and praised for it. When things are challenging, you don’t point fingers but work out what happened and what next steps to take.
- Respect for the needs of the team and its members. You pay attention to how your team feels and calibrate your response accordingly. You don’t avoid tough conversations, and you take ownership of your actions and their impact.
All of this is a two-way street, of course. You have to show it to your staff while also setting expectations that they’ll do the same for you.
Without Integrity, There’s No Innovation
This all may seem like common courtesy in the workplace. Yet consider how the reverse of these behaviors adds up to a toxic environment:
- The input of the team isn’t valued, and in fact, they may be deterred from speaking up or engaging.
- Rumors abound as leaders evade questions or simply don’t engage with teams.
- Policies are unclear and not consistently enforced.
- A lack of respect for needs or work/life balance.
- Departments and teams become territorial, acting like the other people in the organization are competitors.
Many of us have spent at least a few weeks in precisely this situation. Imagine running an innovation program where nobody cares what anybody thinks. The reasons for asking for ideas are obscure or unavailable, and people think if they submit the wrong idea, they might get fired. You’d be lucky to find anything in a suggestions box.
Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of this is Sears. All brick-and-mortar retail has faced challenges from eCommerce, of course. But Sears, due to its catalog business and dependence on being an “anchor store” in malls, was particularly vulnerable. Innovation was needed.
It wasn’t forthcoming, in part because of the internal culture. Former employees have openly discussed how Sears was run, as a cutthroat internal competition between managers for scarce resources. Ideas were hoarded, not shared; weren’t given the resources needed; and faced substantial risk in being introduced for little reward. The end result has shown Sears being put at a permanent disadvantage to both eCommerce and brick-and-mortar competitors as it loses stores and market share.
Teams look to their leaders and what they do for cues about how hard they should work, how that work will be rewarded, and the culture of the company. Whenever something goes wrong, it’s often a matter of integrity in the end. Without it, innovation isn’t possible.
Where Does Integrity Come Into Innovation?
A well-run innovation process has high integrity. Most fundamentally, any good innovation process is built around respect. Without respect, there’s no trust. And if there’s no trust, why should anybody in an organization get involved in any process? Why would they believe their ideas would be listened to or treated with respect?
Next, innovation thrives on transparency. Any innovation strategy starts with a frank evaluation of the organization’s overall needs, its place in its market, the problems it faces, and where it wants to be as it finds, refines, and implements ideas. As it goes forward, it should detail what ideas are being pursued, how they’re being developed, and what the ultimate result was. And, of course, innovation thrives on the honest feedback.
This is also a good opportunity for leaders to show humility. At the top, we naturally tend to think things are going well, yet there may be challenges we don’t see. There may be ways of doing things more effectively that we’d never notice because we don’t work with those systems or in that department every day. Many effective innovators get everyone in the company on board the program for this reason.
As the process unfolds, those involved also need to be honest about ideas, what’s involved in implementing them, and whether or not the ideas work. A really good process has an element of “killing your darlings,” taking ideas that you really love and really want to see happen and setting them aside. That’s much easier to do when the people most passionate about that idea have been able to see the process you took to arrive at that conclusion and know you’re respecting how they feel.
Similarly, responsibility is a driving force for any well-run program. People who conceive ideas should be praised, and those in charge of the process should take the lead in ensuring those ideas are developed. If an idea doesn’t work out, it’s key to determine why and brings that knowledge forward with the rest of the process.
One of the core things to remember about integrity is that it has no upper limit but can be reduced by even minor actions. Building integrity isn’t just limited to the innovation process. It should be part of everything everyone on your team engages in every day.
Innovation strategy is also a great way to showcase your integrity, to “walk the walk” of involving employees, valuing what they have to say, and incorporating their feedback. As much as innovation is an ideation process, it’s also an integrity process, making it even more valuable as organizations look to the future. To learn how IdeaScale can help, request a demo!