Hey, early-career nonprofit professionals, what gets in the way of workplace innovation?

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This week it was my privilege to speak to a thoughtful group of social change entrepreneurs in an accelerator for early/mid career nonprofit professionals.

Realizing that I have been in the workforce for 30 years, I knew I needed to stretch my memory banks to think back to what it was like in my early career. What was it like to be an ambitious, entrepreneurial young person just getting started, with lots of ideas but without a proven track record yet and also without much decision-making authority.

So, thinking about how innovation fits within our career journey, I took inspiration from the Japanese concept of Ikagai, which is a framework for finding purpose and direction in your life. Hat tip to fundraising guru Jon DeLange for turning me on to this concept.

For this presentation, I knew I would need to count on the participants to share their experiences and thoughts. These are thoughtful and entrepreneurial nonprofit professionals who bring a lot to the table. We can learn from them. When we came to the third part of the presentation, I asked, what gets in the way of innovation? Their candid responses should give us a lot to think about:

So true! We had a candid conversation about these challenges. We asked, which of these obstacles are outside of our control, and which of these obstacles are within our control that we can do something about?  The drift of the conversation was that for a number of these challenges, we can keep in mind that we are in the driver’s seat of our lives, and of our careers.

For anyone who is a nonprofit leader, someone who manages teams and people and can have influence over the systems and processes of an organization, we should give careful attention to the messy realities of the workplace and how we can help draw out the entrepreneurial and innovative best from our colleagues.  I wrote a chapter about how organizational design can help or hinder innovators in my book.  This is important.  If we don’t pay attention to this, entrepreneurial staff will take their time and talents elsewhere.