The pooping horses that killed innovation in the workplace (video)

Simon Thiessen

Simon Thiessen About The Author

09-Mar-2016 09:00:00

innovation_in_the_workplace_-_horse_poop.jpgWhat are YOU still doing for no good reason?

I’m going to share with you one of my favorite stories about change and innovation in the workplace. This story highlights the reasons that organisations sometimes find it so difficult to change consistently. It also explains why organisational change is often such a big upheaval because they have to bridge such a big gap between where they’ve come from and the world that exists today. My name’s Simon Thiessen; I’m the CEO of the Real Learning Experience.


Video transcipt

What's holding back your organisation?

innovation_in_the_workplace_SOP.jpgA few years ago, I was working with the senior management team at a major fire service. They were sharing with me their frustrations about the process of adapting, of evolving, of growing, of innovating and changing.

I asked them the question “Are there still rules, processes, procedures in place here that actually don’t serve any purpose, that bog the organisation down in the way things have been rather than allowing it to embrace the future?” One of the participants, the oldest man in the room said to me: “I’ve got a great example and I bet no one in this room can answer my question.”

He then described a ritual that occurs in that fire service. Every evening, the garages that house the fire trucks get swept out. Every Saturday morning, the trucks are taken out into the street and the entire garage is hosed out. He asked the question “Does anyone know why we do that?

A bunch of people came out with various answers about discipline and routine and all that sort of stuff, but none of the answers were accurate. I want you to stop for a minute, think about why they might have been doing this. Can you think of a valid reason in today’s world that might apply? Or perhaps the valid reason only applied in a world gone by.

After a number of people took guesses, one person finally said “Is it anything to do with horses?” Of course, that was the answer. This routine, this protocol was established in the days that the fire engines were horse drawn and of course, sweeping out and hosing out was pretty significantly important in those days. With those days long gone, this organisation was still working to the same protocol.

Read: Belling the cat - a critical step in an innovation process

It's killing innovation in the workplace


Of course, there may be reasons that it’s still valid, but that was the original reason the protocol was established. One of the problems organisations have is, as the world changes, we build new protocols, new rules, new processes, but we forget to clear out the old ones.

As a result, people get tied up with all this dead wood, this rule upon rule, protocol upon protocol, and often people feel that they can’t move for the boundaries they have to work within. Innovation in the workplace and organisational change get suffocated by often meaningless restrictions that limit what people can do and the way they can think.

One of the most important things you can do as a leader to encourage your people to consistently grow, to consistently change and to foster innovation in the workplace, and also to give your people the feeling that they can make a difference in their role, is to consistently, regularly, look at the rules and protocols and challenge them. “Does this one still serve a purpose in today’s world? Is it something that we could live without and give people some discretion, some freedom to do their jobs?”

Anytime people feel that they’re able to use their initiative without staggering into some red tape, some old-fashioned rules, they’re much more likely to feel empowered and engaged, which after all is the objective of every leader. Thank you again for watching!

Follow up with: You ask me to what? Dealing with resistance to an innovation process

You are a dinosaur leader if you resist organisational change 

It is ineffective and guarantees underperformance from your staff. The best way to drive high performance is to adapt your leadership style to suit the situation. 

Download 'Don't be the ineffective dinosaur leader' SlideShare and learn how. 


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