from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 7
Wagner, an expert in organizational behavior, is a founding
partner of Prism Ltd., in Portland, Oregon.
He has published The
Power of Total Commitment (Praxis Press, Lake Oswego, OR,
managers will always tell you they are committed to innovation,
but are they really? At
first this question seems ridiculous.
Obviously, they’ve spent years in jobs requiring creative
leaps to allow their companies to compete in a changing world. If they hadn’t succeeded, they wouldn’t be R&D
managers. Ergo, they
must be committed.
why is this not a
ridiculous question? Basically,
because commitment is little understood.
Almost everyone can recognize it, yet few can explain it in
behavioral terms. One
reason commitment is hard to explain is that it is composed of two
interrelated components: improvement
is a story about Professor Porsche, whose company produces great
sports cars. One day,
as he led a group of dignitaries through one of his plants, he was
asked which, of all the famous cars on display, was his favorite. His answer displayed a deep understanding of commitment.
He responded with: “I haven't built it yet.”
Commitment does not rest on yesterday’s success.
Instead it “raises the bar” to new heights.
well are you and your R&D organization living this principle
of commitment? Is the
rate, and quality, of innovation improving each year?
be committed to something means being dedicated to its
improvement. If you
are committed to your marriage, you will work to make it better. If you are committed to your organization, you will dedicate
yourself to making it a better organization. If you are committed to research, you will try to do better
your behavior demonstrate commitment?
Truly committed managers work diligently to improve the
success rate of innovation in their organization. Such managers
actively learn from anyone who might provide valuable insight.
For example, someone trained in “quality” might have
useful knowledge for the R&D function. Management can also challenge themselves, their researchers,
and their senior management to improve their “innovation”
action closely parallels the process of innovation.
Any innovation calls for some new type of action:
looking for a better way, learning from others, challenging
current expectations, or taking risks to make changes.
Committed people also have an active curiosity, a passion
for learning, a willingness to challenge the status
quo, and an eagerness to experiment with new methods and
in an R&D organization provides many opportunities to practice
this kind of commitment.
manager who is committed to innovation
must be careful not to come across as “good is never good
people tire and quit a race with no clear finish line.
What is needed is a sense of a finish line.
This is supplied through actions dedicated to support.
Importance of Support
is distinct from improvement.
Supporting behaviors include focusing on what is important,
leading by example, and rewarding success—as well as managing
disrespect and building respect.
This aspect of commitment fixes on today, not tomorrow.
example is the crucible of commitment.
Talk does not count for much.
No matter how eloquently you philosophize about your
commitment to innovation, what you do about innovation is what
show support for innovation requires focus.
A manager’s commitment to R&D may be demonstrated by
focusing on influencing higher management for a bigger budget,
more employees, or fewer visiting dignitaries.
It may mean devoting the time to ensuring more critical
thinking, or more expansive thinking, early in a project.
your commitments extends beyond yourself to helping others act
appropriately. It is
well known that what gets rewarded is what gets done. A classic article written many years ago summed this up,
“The folly of hoping for A while rewarding B.”
What gets rewarded in your organization? Are they the right things?
The closer you tie rewards to researchers’ innovative
behavior, the more they will recognize that you are committed to
any long journey, commitment to constant improvement requires
periods of rest and nourishment.
People need to pause and celebrate their successes.
who show support through focus, personal example, and effective
rewards, can still destroy commitment in their organization by
permitting disrespectful behavior.
Though you may value a particular commitment, others may
destroy it by cynicism, complacency, apathy, or some other form of
committed R&D manager must also “light a fire” under the
Rodgers, who ran world-wide marketing for IBM during its best
years, said he didn’t care to associate with the apathetic.
He was fond of saying, “The most insidious disease in
business is complacency. I
call it psychosclerosis: a
hardening of the attitudes.”
is one of your most important assets, and only by understanding
commitment can you nurture it.
Unfortunately, many people who feel their commitment is
misunderstood fail to grasp that other people are judging their actions, not their attitudes and beliefs.
you are dissatisfied with the level of commitment to R&D, ask
yourself these questions:
we focusing on what's important?
example are we, as management, setting?
is being rewarded for what?
are we building respect (or managing disrespect)?
are we looking for a better way?
are we learning from?
expectations are being challenged?
are we doing in regard to taking risks?
you are questioning your organization's commitment, the first
place to look is inward. Are
you committed? Are you acting
creatively? Are you improving? Are you
a better R&D manager this year than you were last year?
Will you be a better manager next year?
you are truly committed to yourself, the answer to the last five
questions is Yes!
to Get It
requires balancing two behaviors—supporting and improving.
Focus on what's important
• Look for a
Lead by example
• Learn from