The Reason That Innovation Isn’t Happening In Your IT Department

Innovation Only Happens When IT Staff Feel That It's Wanted
Innovation Only Happens When IT Staff Feel That It’s Wanted

How many times do you have to tell your IT department: it’s time to start innovating again? The global recession is over, if your company is going to start to grow and be successful, then the IT department is going to have to be out in front and leading the charge. Since budgets are still constrained, it’s going to take a great deal of innovation to find ways to do more with what you currently have. Why isn’t anyone doing this?

You Are Not Alone

I’m not sure if this is going to make you feel any better, but as CIO (or as almost-CIO) you are not alone in this absence of innovation. Lots of firms are finding that their IT departments are missing that spark of innovation also.

What’s going on here? That’s the very question that two researchers, Feirong Yuan and Richard Woodman , set out to answer. They sent out surveys to 100’s of employees of companies and they covered everyone from the top of the pyramid to the folks working in the mailroom.

It’s All About Image

Their findings were actually quite interesting. What they discovered is that innovation in an IT department is being withheld because IT staff are concerned about the risk to their workplace image that being seen as being innovative would cause. The power of creating unfavorable social impressions with their coworkers is what is keeping their mouths shut.

A lot of this can be tied back to just exactly what a given IT worker’s job title is. If it doesn’t explicitly say “innovator” in their job description, then you’ve got a problem. IT workers who are not expected to be innovators feel that their coworkers will develop a negative impression of them if they start to suggest different ways of doing things.

This goes even one step further. The researchers discovered that many IT employees fear that too much innovation on their part will start to “provoke anger” among their fellow IT coworkers. This will be especially true with those workers who are happy with the way that things are – the “don’t rock the boat” mentality.

The Role Of The CIO

As the CIO, it’s going to be your job to make innovation happen in your IT department. If you don’t, then you won’t be CIO for very long. What you are going to have to communicate to the entire IT department is that the whole organization is behind the push for more innovation.

Showing that innovation is what is being expected will go a long way in setting the stage for your IT staff. Telling the department over and over again that you are looking for them to be innovative will serve to lower the perceived social risk of coming forward with innovative suggestions.

Your job as CIO is to create an IT workplace where your staff will feel comfortable in being innovative. This means that you are going to have to make everyone understand that individual differences are not only tolerated, but are actually critical in order to help the IT department look at problems in different ways.

What All Of This Means For You

As CIO you are going to have to make the most out of the resources that you have – funding will always be tight. This means that you are going to have to find ways to get your IT department’s staff to get creative and innovate. However, recent studies have shown that workers who are not expected to be innovative often worry about their image and don’t speak up.

In order to change this, as CIO you are going to have to clearly and repeatedly communicate to the IT department that innovation is not only encouraged, but it is also expected. You’re going to have to create an environment in which all workers feel comfortable speaking up and being innovative.

There is no one magic action that you can take to make your IT department be more innovative. However, given time and a consistent message from you that innovation is a good thing, you can convince everyone in your IT department to think hard and become the innovation engine that the company is going to need in order to both survive and thrive.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What is the one thing that you think a CIO can do to make innovation happen in an IT department?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every modern company should have an IT department. Every company should have a smoothly running IT department that adds value to everything the company does. I’m betting that most companies have about 50% of what they need – they’ve got an IT department. What’s missing is a way to transform that IT department in to a savvy IT department. For that matter, what does a savvy IT department look like anyway?