By Bob Connolly (EdD, MBA, MA)

General Director, Crossroads Management Consulting Co, Ltd

When I teach Leadership and Innovation in my MBA classes, my students often tell me the theory does not always translate well to real life in Vietnamese businesses. One student offered a clear summation of why it doesn’t work: ‘The word ‘Innovation’ sounds like lovely fruit, but the taste of failure is very bitter.’ (Jungchan Kim, 2021)

In fact, the fear of failure is one of the most common barriers to developing an innovation culture within organizations. While the leaders state they are prepared to take risks, they lament that their workers seldom offer their own ideas for change. Put simply, workers feel it is not worth the risk to speak up, and they will wait until the boss tells them what to do.

Have you ever tried to convince your workforce that they should take that risk and speak up? A truly innovative business culture requires both leaders and staff to trust each other. It is the leader’s responsibility to build this two-way trust over time.

Trust is built by clarifying mutually understood expectations and then living up to those expectations from both sides. In a business, the clearest communication for these expectations is in Mission, Vision, and Values (MVV). When the leaders ‘live’ MVV and communicate that actions and decisions should be based on MVV, then both sides should understand what is expected.

Leaders can encourage workers to make good decisions by referring to MVV when responding to questions about what should be done. A leader can ask ‘what do you think we should do based upon our MVV?’ This takes a lot of time on the part of the leader, but the payoff will come when workers start to buy into it. The goal should be for workers to come to you with a proposal based on MVV, and then later to let you know they made a decision based on MVV. The goal is to have them make the correct decisions even when the boss is not there.

By Ron Cruickshank (PhD, MA, BA)

Network Manager Hanoi, Business Executive Network

As an organizational therapist, I hear from CEOs of the difficulties they have in Vietnam of releasing the creative energy within their enterprises. The most successful companies build it into their structure. Then, they reinforce this structure with basic business metrics that incentivize the risk-taking, creativity, and innovation thinking that results in new products or services.

For example, Merck, since 2009, has introduced 12 blockbuster new products and has started 120 new companies. 3M introduces over 300 new products per year, as does Rubbermaid. Over 90% of these new products are successful. This does not happen by accident. Each of these companies has a deliberate process that causes new product creation to happen. If this premise is true, then I would suggest that a critical role of the modern CEO is to install a purposeful process of methodical innovation and develop the management systems that ensure it’s practiced on a constant basis by every person in the organization.

In my experience, most innovative companies follow a process and see innovation and creativity as a competitive strategy. They use their processes as a tool for systemically identifying, anticipating, recognizing, and exploiting change before their competition. For them, change provides the building blocks of creativity and innovation.

For Vietnam to continue to grow and take its rightful place in global markets, I think it is useful for us all to explore how we establish a culture of innovation and creativity in our respective industries. Lots of ideas, let’s chat.

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