What You Need to Know About the Dynamics of Innovation Climate


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At this time of the summer I always get so amazed by the power in my garden when lemons, tomatoes and cucumbers are ready for harvest. The basil, thyme and rosemary have been ready since long. I have tried to create different climate zones in my garden so that I can have all my favorite plants in one garden. But what is it that makes this work? What is the perfect climate for plants to flourish?

Well, there are several different conditions affecting the climate for plants, there is the temperature, the humidity in the air and the soil, the quality of the soli and access to sun or shade. These are only a few dimensions that need to be adjusted – just right for each and every plant. The conditions for plants in Sweden are also highly affected by the fact that we have four very different seasons during the year. It can differ from temperatures below -30 degrees Celsius during winter to +30 degrees Celsius during summer.

This climate variation in my garden makes me try different methods to take good care of my plants, creating the right conditions for them to grow and flourish. But, it isn’t only in the gardens that creating the right conditions and climate is an important topical. Similarly, leaders all over the world are trying to create the right conditions for people to grow and flourish in their organizations.

In the beginning of the summer I was in Porto for an ISPIM-conference presenting my latest research on the dynamics of innovation climate in organizations. When I realized that the climate is changing considerably over time I started to explore what these changes mean to leaders and how their approach must change to adapt accordingly. There is a lot to consider when leading teams and organizations for innovation, even more than creating the right conditions for the plants in your garden.

For more than 40 years, the famous organizational psychologist Göran Ekvall conducted research within the field of creative and innovation climate in organizations. He discovered ten dimensions that are prerequisites for organizations to be innovative – and they are all part of the organizational climate, which includes how we act toward each other and relate to changes in our surroundings. Among the ten climate conditions for innovation are; freedom, debate, risk-taking, idea time and conflicts etc.

However, if we go back to the garden example, the conditions in the garden are somewhat predictable – we know pretty well when winter and summer is coming, we can see with our own eyes if the soil needs water, and we can see if the plants are in need of fertilizer.

What my research showed was that you can be sure of that the innovation climate in organizations is in constant change. In my research I’ve identified climate changes from 25 to 75, on a scale of 0-100 within a few months. But, is it possible to actually see patterns of when it changes, like in the garden?

And further, how does the innovation climate change over time? Are there any differences in the dynamics between departments? Do we have ”winter” and ”summer” in our organizations? What factors affect the climate for innovation in your organization?

What I’ve found so far is the following:

  1. Temporal dynamics – dynamics in the data over time
  2. Seasonal factors – dynamics in the data due to seasonal events
  3. Hierarchical differences – differences between departments
    3.1 Level of departments
    3.2 Fluctuations patterns of departments

Lets go through them on-by-one and discuss the findings.


1. Temporal dynamics

These diagrams show the ten factors for one organization, displaying the mean value for each factor. What becomes clear is that the levels change over time – some weeks they follow the same rhythm, some weeks they have a different rhythm, and we can see relatively big changes over time. Each line represents the mean value of the organization on the corresponding factor. Visualization from Prindit.com.

 

Dynamic-1.jpg

Figure 1. Organization B – Dynamics of the innovation climate.

As shown, the level of innovation climate on organizational level change over time – a “one off” measure could therefore provide a “false” perception of the level of innovation climate in the organization.

2. Seasonal factors

Current status of innovation climate is impacted by a number of events that change during the course of the year – e.g. holidays and seasons. In this example we highlight the Easter holiday, showing that there are rather big differences before, during and after. This indicates that short weeks, due to holidays, affect the innovation climate noticeably. In Figure 2 we can see that e.g. the factor “idea time” decreased with 29% (from 43,25 to 33,46) and then increased with 31% (to 43,96) the week after Easter.

Dynamic-2.jpg

Figure 2. Seasonal factors, big differences during Easter.

 

3. Hierarchical differences – Differences in departments

Another key finding in this study is that the status of innovation climate is different in different departments within an organization. Two types of dynamics were identified; “Level of departments” and “Fluctuation patterns of departments” (see Figure 3).

Dynamic-3.jpg

Figure 3. Dynamics between departments, Organization A, climate factor “Freedom” (the different colors indicate levels; green=innovative, yellow=normal and red=stagnated).

 

3.1 Level of departments

In all cases studied we found that the level of the factors vary if we compare the departments of the organization. In this example we highlight and show the differences between all four departments within one organization. There can be a number of reasons why it differs. One pattern we have seen across different organizations is that the departments working with production tend to have less freedom and even lower levels of the innovation climate factors in general, compared to the other departments. One explanation for this may be that the employees working in the production facility have a fixed schedule and cannot choose how and when to perform their tasks since their work can be regulated and standardized.

 

3.2 Fluctuations patterns of departments

The fluctuation patterns on departmental level are not consistent with other departments within the organization, due to e.g. timing and importance of management decisions. For example, in one team a decision from management forced the leader to spend a lot of time away from the team, resulting in decreased levels on almost all measured factors. The levels went back up when the leader spent more time with the team again.

 

In conclusion, the study findings indicate that traditional measurements, like yearly employee surveys, only capture a temporary “snapshot” view of a situation in the organization, missing out on dynamics that otherwise could be a source of learning and increase the understanding of where to focus the attention. This finding is especially useful for leaders.

Secondly, a constantly changing innovation climate means that there are opportunities to actively work to improve the conditions and adapt leadership to real time conditions. This requires that the innovation climate is:

  • Frequently measured
  • Analyzed by leaders and their teams, in order to
  • Identify areas where they should direct their efforts and
  • Closing the loop by measuring the impact of the implemented actions.

 

My conclusion is also that leaders need to lead more proactive, but to have support to be proactive it is essential to get access to climate data on department or team level on a regular basis, since it can differ substantially from other parts of the organization. In this way leaders can work more “on-demand” or data-driven and see if there is a need to support the team even though employees haven’t indicated that directly. It will help to know where to focus the attention in order to secure an innovative climate even in times of turmoil. This would empower the employees since the leader act on behalf of the department/team’s best interest.

If leaders are to be good coaches for their employees they need to give specific and constructive feedback based on real-time data. Leaders need to understand how management decisions are perceived in different departments, when important organizational transitions impact the climate, and how seasonal events impact employee’s feelings and actions.

You know that the right time to sow seeds in your garden is in the spring, and you know what makes the seeds grow strong and flourish. So, why not create the right conditions for your employees to grow and flourish with a little help from real-time data?

 

/Anders Wikström, PhD in Innovation and Design, Founder and CINO @ Prindit

 

 

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