Changing The Work of Innovation: A Systems Approach

George S. Day, Marketing, The Wharton School, and Gregory P. Shea, Center for Leadership and Change Management, The Wharton School

Abstract: The work of innovation occurs within an organizational environment that can either help or hinder the necessary activities. The essence of this environment is revealed by the narrative within an organization about: the centrality of innovation to the organic growth strategy, evidence of leadership commitment to innovation, the ability of the organization to innovate, and stories of past successes and failures. These narratives are compelling storylines that members of an organization use to interpret the past, explain the current situation and make inferences about future prospects for growth fueled by innovation. Firms with lagging rates of organic growth suffer from a growth-denying narrative about innovation, whereas growth leaders have a coherent growth-affirming narrative in place. To grow faster many elements of the system through which innovation work gets done have to be changed to induce a more supportive innovation narrative. Our objective is to describe and apply the work systems change model to the development of a growth-enabling narrative, to start an organization on a path to growing faster than rivals. We’ll first illustrate this change model as it was applied by Whirlpool, then provide a theoretical rationale and guidelines for application by any firm seeking to improve its organic growth rate. The work systems change model focuses on aligning the system within which the work of innovation is done, to elicit desired behaviors through adaptation. The change approach is purposeful and iterative; starting with a desired end state that is captured in a narrative that communicates, inspires, and focuses the change initiative.