Many organizations think that a lot of work will be taken over by robots, but that will not be so, says Henk Volberda.
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In Volberda’s new book Innovation, he discusses innovation issues within organizations. ‘Not the robots, but it’s up to us’ is the subtitle of the book. “Companies that zoom in on technology such as robots, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, big data and so on see their workforce shrink by about six percent. And you see that companies that simultaneously invest in technology and also in other ways of managing and organizing, actually have a growth in the workforce of more than eight percent. However, that does not alter the fact that robots will take over jobs, especially in administrative and office functions, but new research shows that new jobs are also being created by robotisation. But very different jobs,’ says Volberda.

And an important condition: there must be innovation. ‘In most of the companies I visit… yesterday I also had a session with an organization in the construction sector, they have such a robot and that leads to efficiency gains, but that is very difficult, there is a lot of resistance. I think most companies are not getting it right.”

Volberda calls for investment in the soft side of innovation. This means that organizations must invest in things such as leadership and organizational form, employee skills, or co-creation with partners. “If you look at innovation success, a quarter is determined by your investments, R&D and IT, but three quarters of innovation success are determined by your leadership style, way of organizing and the organization of work. So this book is actually a plea to pay attention to that,’ says Volberda.

The letter of five for innovation

For example, Volberda developed the Write of five for innovation, and then often focuses his attention on number two on the list: leadership. “There are two extreme forms of leadership: transactional leadership, which is mainly focused on achieving goals, avoiding mistakes and leading to control and control, and does not lead to more innovation, because it is more of the same. At the other end of the spectrum are transformational leaders who can bring about major change, but the question is whether they can make organizations more innovative’, argues Volberda.

Write of five for innovation

  • Technology
  • Servant Leadership
  • Flat organizations
  • Work smarter
  • Co creation

A servant leader has the most effect on innovation. According to Volberda, many people say that they are a servant leader, but that is not possible at all, if you are a servant leader, then discount yourself as fact. In successful companies, the managers often say ’that’s because of me’. However, a servant leader puts his employees completely at the center and he / she is very focused on personal development. At such moments you see that employees appreciate that, so they take responsibility and then come up with new ideas. Servant leadership works especially well in a small context.

For example, he says, ‘if a CEO of a large company says he is a servant leader, then by definition it cannot be, because for that he has to know his people, he has to interact with them, and if it becomes very large, that is impossible to do’.

Yet servant leadership does not only work in small organizations. ‘It also works in larger organizations, but then you have to break it down into smaller cells. Eckard Wintzen called that the cell structure, but nowadays we call it the holocracy, or the Spotify model, as at ING. And then there are no managers, but only circles, which are very task-oriented and within which people fulfill roles. Many tech companies in Silicon Valley work according to the holocracy model,’ says Volberda.

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