Most federal program managers and contractors say they want more innovation but don't really-- or at least don't know where to start or how to recognize it when they get there. And we're talking about a ton of really smart, committed leaders able to do little more than talk the talk.
Tom Fox pulled a string in his Washington Post blog entry coming out of the 2013 Best Places to Work Survey and had some suggestions-- all solid ideas but ones that still don't get to the tripping point for most organizations.
Employees conditioned to follow and incrementally refine already-laid out processes over the course of their careers require more than a bullet point on the staff meeting agenda amounting to "let's be more innovative."
Defining what that change might look like-- from the minute to massive-- has to be the starting point.
This problem isn't isolated to the feds. I'm working right now with a private sector client on developing a slate of investment ideas for the coming year. While this is an impressive group of kick-ass analysts, like a lot of us, they're thinking "innovation" around the edges and are overly focused on technology. The entrenched mindset is the direct (but largely unintentional) outcome of decades of organizational focus on building a culture of quality, client service, and contract compliance. Innovative thinking requires an un-doing (or at least very public relaxing) of a lot of these previous practices.
To avoid these well-worn paths, leadership must spend time painting the blue sky then describing a wide-open future that reimagines the industry, the infrastructure, the assumed processes, and the required resources.