After budget cuts eliminated a staff development program, the Connecticut Department of Transportation had to get creative and come up with a new way to develop new leaders.
A key to sustaining an innovative culture is to retain the agency’s talent. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has full-time quality coordinators assigned to each district to identify potential problems. Three environmental monitoring surveys are used to assess the effectiveness of the organization.
A culture of innovation flows from the leadership of the CEO outward. With words and actions, agency leaders at all levels must make a visible and continuous commitment to innovation. In the context of a state DOT, this can mean swimming against a conservative, hierarchy-driven, and standard operating procedure-focused culture where innovation is slow to take root.
Position innovation as a core organizational attribute that helps agencies unlock the potential to make progress on tough mission-driven goals like safety, mobility, and preservation. Innovation is one of four agency-wide ‘values’ embedded at Caltrans in its 2015-20 Strategic Management Plan, alongside ‘integrity,’ ‘commitment,’ and ‘teamwork.’
Don’t wait for the ultimate innovation process to be put in place to get started. Instead, work constantly to close the gap: This is IDT's Mantra.
Unsurprisingly, adding the word ‘innovation’ to a strategic plan and moving on will not change a conservative, hierarchy-driven, and standard operating procedure-focused culture. DOT CEOs like those in Idaho and CalTrans, make innovation a constant theme wherever and whenever they engage with personnel and they invest in tools and processes to back up those words.
Occasionally, innovations are born in the CEO suite and pushed downward, but this is a limiting innovation paradigm. Leaders get much more powerful results if they foster a bottom-up innovation process designed to inspire anyone, anywhere in the agency so that new ideas are continuously emerging organically and moving forward for testing and implementation. Kiewit, ITD and CalTrans all use digital crowdsourcing platforms for ideation across their agencies.
Senior leaders pick broad challenges that are aligned with mission critical business goals and then get out of the way to let employee teams own the process of finding solutions to these challenges. The concept is to motivate, coach and empower, not micro-manage.
A leader cannot carry the torch for innovation alone and neither is innovation is ever a single box on an org chart – it should emerge across all levels and areas in an organization. But neither can innovation penetrate deep into an organization without some level of dedicated staff resources: 1) a central day-to-day team who can carry out other key strategies like communication, recognition, training, and measurement and 2) a handpicked group of mid-level or senior ‘champions’ who are early adopters with trusted status and a high level of energy.
Use performance measurement to look at where within an organization innovation is taking root and where it is being resisted and work to align employees in these areas. Break down the resistors! At Kiewit, innovation leaders are careful to build a tight case for their ideas so that detractors cannot resist innovation by pointing to poorly implemented or ineffective ideas. Measurement is used to prove that innovation works.