Boost Innovation by Strengthening the Organization’s Immune Systems

post by Kris Oestergaard:
Today, every business is looking to find ways to streamline
its innovative abilities. Those successful in establishing a culture of
innovation have addressed their organization’s “immune systems.” Just as the
body’s immune system keeps it healthy, stable and tolerant of change, an
organization’s immune system must be strong in order to handle the task of
But in a rapidly changing world, many of the defense
mechanisms organizations utilize are no longer appropriate — and can even put
organizations’ innovation at risk. Too often, when innovation processes fall
short, top managers make the impulsive diagnosis that it’s because their people
are simply unwilling to change. This assumption is pervasive: A recent study
revealed that 76
percent of managers believed their organizations didn’t have the
capabilities needed to move into the future. 
But this conclusion is inexact. Every organization’s immune
system is affected by an individual immune system, an organizational immune
system and asocietal immune system. Organizational leaders need to
address all three in order to transform into innovation champions.
1. Understanding individual’s resistance to
 Humans have different risk profiles. Some are
thrill-seekers while others avoid exposure to risk at all costs. Knowing this,
management needs to make a very compelling case if it wants to convince its
staff to join in the organization’s innovation journey. Otherwise, the
individual immune system kicks in and those with a low tolerance for risk,
reluctant to change if the outcome is uncertain, won’t get on board. 
2. Assessing your organizational immune system. Transformation
processes demand risk taking, the development of new staff capabilities and a
strong focus on innovation. But very often, organizations attempt to kickstart
a large transformation process without adapting their policies for measuring
and rewarding employee behavior to the new reality they have set out to create.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) and rewards systems make up a large part of
the organizational immune system. Unless these are aligned with the
organization’s strategic long-term goals, they aren’t supporting the motivation
and attitudes needed to drive innovation efforts.
Grundfos, the Danish water pump manufacturer, is among the
legacy organizations that have intentionally restructured their rewards systems
to boost innovation. Grundfos evaluates employees on new parameters, including
a willingness to help others and motivation to undertake a new digitization
journey. Another example is Microsoft, which now includes sharing and building
on the knowledge of others among its KPIs. These performance indicators help
employees become aware of and work in a way that builds the desired innovation
culture of the organization. 
3. Taking the temperature of the societal
immune system.
Organizational innovation efforts are subject
to changes in the societal immune system as well. These can take the form of
legislative inaction in regulating new industries. Consider Uber’s entry into
the ride-hailing world, pushing the regulated taxi companies to the sidelines.
Or, look at how the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has disrupted the regulated banking
industry. Legislation can also serve to established industries by keeping new
players out of the market and limiting innovation. But new business models can
also seek out places where restrictions don’t apply. 
Longtime suppliers and customers represent another subset
of the societal immune system. Both need ongoing education and encouragement to
keep them well informed of and up to date on any new directions and
developments you create. For example, helping clients stay up to speed with
technological upgrades of products is critical to maintaining the
organization’s market share.
It’s essential to understand the influence that individual,
organizational and societal immune systems have on increasing an organization’s
innovation capacity. Business leaders need to analyze and address each of the
three immune systems to create the best possible foundation for their
innovation strategy. 
is a sought after speaker, facilitator,
researcher and expert on innovation in legacy organizations, corporate cultures
and exponential organizations. He is co-founder and Chief Learning and
Innovation Officer at SingularityU Nordic, a collaborative venture with
Singularity University in Silicon Valley. His new book is Transforming
Legacy Organizations: Turn Your Established Business into an Innovation
Champion to Win the Future
 (Wiley, June 10, 2019). Learn more