When innovation and change collide

Innovation has become a positive buzzword in the business world. Everyone wants to innovate (or be seen as being innovative). Think of the multiple awards for ‘most innovative business of the year’. It’s a symbol of success. 

Change, on the other hand, is this confronting state we need to try and ‘manage’. Sayings like ‘the pace of change is burning our people out’ and ‘things change too fast, I can’t keep up’ are just illustrations of the negative connotation change can be given.

It’s interesting to think of ‘innovation’ and ‘change’ as drawing such opposite sentiments when, in reality, they are completely intertwined. We cannot innovate without bringing about change.

So if being innovative is seen as a desirable capability to keep us ahead of the curve, then being able to turn ‘change’ into a positive experience during which our people thrive is absolutely critical.

The Helmsman Project hosted last February Michelle Etheve, Co-Founder of The Change Lab, as part of its Leadership & Innovation Series. Michelle shared with us insights from their latest The Change Lab Workplace Survey, which included a statistically significant representation of the US workforce (stay tuned for their Australian survey to come out later in the year).

Two of the key highlights from the survey were that: 1) people can thrive in the face of change if they have adequate tools, knowledge, skills and resources, and; 2) wellbeing levels are not impacted by the amount of change an organisation experiences. In other words, the pace of change isn’t the culprit, our leadership approach to it is. So here’s the good news: we, as leaders, have in our hands the power to impact our people’s wellbeing and capacity to function effectively through change. This, in turn, can lead to successful change, which leads to greater wellbeing… and the cycle continues.

Michelle went on to share with us five factors indicative of change success:

  1. 1. Driven by organisational purpose: have a clearly articulated and understood purpose
  2. 2. Concentrated on strengths: focus on building on your strengths rather than fixing your weaknesses
  3. 3. Led by inclusive and meaningful conversations: invite people in the process, inquire on how they would like to proceed and encourage diverse perspectives
  4. 4. Powered by opportunities for purposeful self-organisation: empower and encourage your people to use their strengths to make the best change ideas happen
  5. 5. Sustained by people’s willing commitment

Although these factors may sound intuitive, I think we often get caught up in the whirlwind of daily life and ‘forget’ to explain the purpose, or to invite those on the frontline in the very early stages of the conversation, even before the change initiative has been clearly articulated.

All in all, it is a useful framework to refer to, especially as we strive for this most sought-after title of ‘innovative business’.

If you're interested in Michelle's insights on Appreciative Inquiry, a strengths-based leadership technique to engage in meaningful, positive conversations in support of successful change initiatives, read more here

Best wishes,

Kim Larochelle


Kim Larochelle

Kim joined The Helmsman Project as a volunteer when it first started delivering programs in 2013. In January 2014, she became one of the organisation's first two employees and is now CEO. She has had the privilege, along with the team, to witness and support The Helmsman Project's growth.

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