HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Hong Kong
Eric J. Romero

How to stop innovation killers in Hong Kong


Innovation is essential for companies in Hong Kong to compete and win in today's global and hyper-competitive environment. Unfortunately, many of the factors that kill innovation are very common in organizations.

Bureaucracy & hierarchy are the enemies of creativity and innovation! They are based on the assumption that control, predictability and certainty can be created by management. This is mostly nonsense, particularly in today’s hyper-change environment where flexibility is essential. Bureaucracy is the opposite of flexibility because it dictates what workers should do. This is accomplished by rules, polices, procedures, etc. Personnel are required to follow a procedure or policy, even if the situation requires a different course of action. The fact that many of the rules and policies in these books are outdated, unnecessarily restrictive, and costly does not seem to bother control-minded managers who insist on using them. Over time, the result is employee apathy and poor performance.

The solution is to demolish bureaucracy and hierarchy, or better yet, never create them in the first place. When managing skilled workers, allow them to control most of their job activities, which they find motivating. Encourage them to innovate and improve what they do. Rather than relying on specific policies and rules, use general guidelines to help personnel make decisions.

Political correctness is based on the idea that one has a right to never be offended. People who subscribe to this irrational belief think that everyone should restrict expressing unpleasant ideas to protect their overly sensitive brains from harm. Political correctness is the opposite of free speech. It restricts the sharing of ideas, so it limits creativity and the ability to improve. Unfortunately, most firms are infected with political correctness, which severely limits not only what workers can talk about, but also how.

The solution is to end political correctness in your organization by encouraging free speech. The freer personnel can talk, the more creative they can be, because that’s how individuals typically share ideas, by talking. A big part of realizing the goal of eliminating political correctness is selecting mature individuals who can accept that others have a right to express their ideas, even if they disagree or find it uncomfortable. Some training can be used to help open-minded staff learn to appreciate free speech and the value it provides the organization in terms of improved communication and increased creativity.

Unconventional leadership is the key to overcoming these problems because it leads to creativity, flexibility and risk-taking. There’s no escaping conflict or uncertainly. Bureaucracy and hierarchy don't reduce uncertainly. While they are effective at controlling personnel, in a dynamic high-change environment that requires innovation, they are dysfunctional. Political correctness or fake niceness does not eliminate unpleasant issues; it just creates a false impression that everything is OK. Managing conflict effectively allows individuals to disagree, discuss and learn in a positive exchange of ideas. If you have hired mature adults, this should be easy. If not, training and/or exits of unchangeable workers are necessary.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Eric J. Romero

Eric J. Romero

Dr. Eric J. Romero, PhD is an expert in Unconventional Leadership, Culture, Strategy & Innovation. He helps managers become unconventional leaders who innovate and beat the competition.

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