Years ago I was talking to a client, a Senior VP in the company, about a project that had to do with behavioural change in sales force management. We had it all crafted and, I wanted to say that, what we were doing was not only good for sales force management, but also it was truly fantastic for innovation in the company as a whole. I was told very seriously: ‘That’s OK, but I am not in charge of Innovation’. They had in fact a whole ‘department’ for that ‘topic’. I remember this often as an anecdote but, I have to say, I have seen the same pattern again and again in different formats: ‘That sounds good, but has nothing to do with me’.
The ‘job description’, and the label associated with it, are very often a mental prison. Learning and Development managers switch off as soon as we are not talking ‘training’. Discussions about some kind of group intervention that could have a high and broad strategic impact, are side-lined as ‘that would be good for the senior management team, but we are ‘just Marketing’. Etc.
The idea that only the Top Leadership team should have a broad, complete and unrestricted view of things, is as silly as expecting that the man in the production line in the factory has a complete view of Corporate Strategy. But these extremes, often invoked, are a cover up for the day to day reality of thousands of managers, middle managers, senior mangers and staff in general, being prisoners of a title, a job, a domain and/or a toolkit. ‘Thinking broad’, ‘having an helicopter view’ and ‘doing the best for the entire company’ is harder when we ask people to focus, focus and focus. In that context ‘I am not in charge of Innovation, Peter is’, is more ubiquitous than expected.
There are two pressing questions for Corporate 2014: (1) what kind of brains, mental models and new skills we really need, and (2) what kind of fabric, environment, culture and kind of prisons we are offering them.
It’s only when we start seeing titles and roles as potential prisons, that we have a chance to start answering those questions.