Middle Management & Innovation

Paul Sloane in his article “Who is Crushing Creativity in your office?” puts the onus of driving innovation on the leadership of the organization. While it is true that unless there is leadership will in innovation or rather any initiative, it is very difficult for it to be successful, my experience says the work needs to be done on the middle management layer to drive it across the organization.
The lower layers in the organization pyramid are usually young and hence nimble and not rigid. They also do not have the decision making in their hands and have the mandate to work on what is assigned. Now, this assignment can well be on coming out with new ways of doing things. Given a task, and some broad enabling infrastructure, they will give you the best they can.
Senior management has the birds’ eye view of the organization and they understand the need to innovate to survive in the marketplace. They may or may not know the ‘How’ part of Innovation, but they understand the ‘Why’ of it. And with this understanding, they usually launch the fancy innovation initiatives in the organization.
Given the perspective of above two layers, the actual responsibility of making innovation happen lies on the shoulders of middle management. They have to figure out the ‘How’ of innovation and then put in a process to make it happen. The important point is that more often than not, they have to do this while managing the regular operational business responsibilities. Given our productivity drives using all possible management methods and models, all middle managers often have more on their plates than they can chew. Lost on operations, they either ignore these initiatives or at least put them on a low priority. The importance of initiative never tickles downs to the layers below them, and this is where the initiatives die.
Leaders need to enable this layer to not become the bottleneck in the innovation drives, by picking up the set of people who believe in these initiatives and have the inherent drive to run with them. Leaders need to provide these frontrunners a very solid support for them to be able to bring in the expected changes in the organization.
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