#021 How to Drive Innovation As a Leader

3 Ways to Manage The Tension Between Control and Freedom

📣 This is Refresh. Rethink—the place to reinvent yourself as a business leader.

Welcome to this week's issue!

I'm writing this issue for you from our 100-year-old homestead. Spring has kicked off here in Lithuania, and today is a beautiful morning. Most weekends, we chill out here, away from the busy city.

🌲 When surrounded by nature, I feel more in touch with my creativity. Letting go of a stressful environment is the key to being more in touch with the idea machine.

Where are you most creative?

🎨 Creativity is crucial for innovation. And in this day and age, innovative companies are the ones that stick around. Look at Apple, Google, and other big-name innovators.

They have nailed the creative energy well!

Creativity is thinking up the idea of flying into space. While innovation is building the rocket. ""

As leaders, we influence the level of creativity in our teams and, therefore, the level of innovation. For our teams to innovate, we want to create a safe environment.

People feel less stressed in a safe environment, and that boosts creativity.

Today's issue is about just that! How do we drive innovation as a leader, focusing on one specific topic, " Managing the tension between autonomy and control."

Let's dive in.🤿

Managing The Tension Between Control and Autonomy

I admire Robert Simons, a professor at Harvard, for his work in this area. He speaks a lot about this tension between control and autonomy. So much so that last year, I took his intense six-week course at Harvard Business School Online called: " Strategy Execution." (This an excellent course if you want to learn how to make strategy work effectively).

As said, creativity leads to innovation. We drive creativity by giving more autonomy to people. But too much freedom leads to misaligned efforts toward the overall strategic direction.

The trick is to strike a balance between control and autonomy which is the unique sweet spot for your company to stay innovative while staying aligned!

Here are three ways to control the level between control and tension

1) Play with the size of the objectives

Larger objectives require more work and creativity to accomplish. Working with small/medium and large teams, I've seen that the larger the goal, the more it drives autonomy. As we've seen, autonomy drives creativity and

Under one condition, though! They get the support (tools, resources, influence) necessary to work on larger goals.

Smaller objectives, on the other hand, reduce autonomy and keeps the team closer to the ball. Control is higher, and the team stays more aligned.

But watch out! Choose wisely when to move the lever from autonomy to control! Tool long or too much control reduces engagement.

Note to yourself:

When I give larger objectives, my team needs to be more creative. That way I give more autonomy. Smaller objective on the other hand, give me more control over the allocation of efforts

2) Shift from accountability to responsibility (and back)

Here's my take on the difference between the two. Accountability is taking up on the result of a process or several processes, whereas responsibility is taking up in the process (a series of tasks) itself.

So if you want to move the lever more to the autonomous side, give away accountability from yourself to your team. When you want more control, take accountability back and make the team responsible solely for the execution.

A great matrix I use with all my clients is the RACI framework. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Each of these aspects expresses a different balance between control and accountability.

A great way to manage the tension!

Note to yourself:

Responsibility and accountable are not the same. The former gives less autonomy, the latter gives more. This way I can move the lever between control and autonomy to manage the use of resources.

3) Build feedback and interactive control systems

The third way to manage the tension between control and autonomy hits two flies in one slap. Setting up systems and reports with critical performance indicators and having them interpreted consistently allows for a good level of control while giving more freedom.

A well-designed scorecard or performance report shows where blindspots are if you move the lever more to the autonomy side.

See it as a car dashboard; it tells you everything you need to know to drive safely and effectively toward your destination.

Note to yourself:

When I have control systems in place that allow me to interpret the result of expended resources, I can give more autonomy without losing full control over the alignment and direction.

Managing the tension between control and autonomy is challenging. On one side, you want to give people the freedom to be creative. While on the other side, you want to maintain control over focus and resources.

By playing with the size of objectives, switching between accountability and responsibility, and implementing interactive control systems, you, as a leader, have three powerful tools to manage this tension.

Did this make your day that 1% better we all aim for?

How do you drive innovation at your company?

Let me know by replying!

See you next week


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