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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 01-Jul-2022
Posted by: Angela HENGSBERGER

What an organisational burnout has to do with innovation


A company can also suffer a burnout: a paralysed state in which nothing more can be positively changed. What does this have to do with innovation? A lot, because a burnout prevents innovation, and innovation should prevent a burnout.


When an organization slides into a burnout

Not only employees can suffer a burnout, organizations can also burn out. Above all, old and large organisations are susceptible.

An organisational burnout occurs when an organisation is in a paralysed state which it can no longer positively change on its own (definition according to Gustav Greve). Despite many efforts, the organization feels paralyzed. Many may be aware of the situation if nothing improves significantly after the third change program, including reorganization, but if uncertainty has increased. And this even though everyone worked to the limit.

There are many reasons for an organisational burnout, for example

  • Constant change of strategy and the associated instabilities and ambiguities.
  • Increasing complexity and problems in dealing with it.
  • Competence deficits at management levels.
  • Isolation of the middle management level between top and bottom, e.g. the pressure on results leads to too much being invested in operational and too little in management tasks.
  • Increasing scarcity of resources and increasing demands and workload eliminate every quality and cause a gradual deterioration of results and organized exhaustion.
  • Unrealistic performance targets lead to excessive demands and demotivation.
  • Lack of emotional commitment and personal identification of employees through a negative management culture.
  • High fluctuations lead to a loss of know-how and instability.
  • Blind arrogance of success: Success and satisfaction make you sluggish and blind and so every change and improvement is warded off.


What does a burnout have to do with innovation?

Quite a lot. Because a burnout prevents innovation, and innovation should prevent a burnout. Innovation is the lifeblood of every organization.

The goal of every organization is a long lifespan and this with success, either combined with high returns or growth. This requires that an organization must constantly develop and improve - known as the "learning organization".

  • Rapid response to problems and crises.
  • High resistance to external disturbances and problems.
  • Quick and effective recognition and use of opportunities.

And that is also the task of innovation: the rapid identification of potentials and opportunities and their exploitation in the form of new and improved products, services, business models or processes. Therefore, innovation is the elixir of every organization.


Increasing demands on innovation activity

But the pressure has increased immensely. Small innovations are no longer enough. Whereas incremental innovation used to increase the value of a company, today it brings a maximum of short-term stability.

The demands of rapid, sometimes turbulent change are higher: customer requirements change more rapidly. Product life cycles are getting shorter. And new competitors unexpectedly appear on the market.

If you want to increase the value of the company sustainably and significantly, there is only one possibility: the search for new sources of growth, mostly radical and disruptive innovations. 

Anforderungen Innovationen

picture source: LEAD Innovation 

A burnout makes innovations impossible

However, if an organization struggles with burnout symptoms, any innovation is blocked. Paralysed and encrusted structures make the company virtually incapable of action and prevent any positive change. All innovation efforts are futile. 

Therefore, the basis of every innovation is a healthy organization, where new things are welcome and which has the ability to change and implementation power to use innovations.


In a healthy organization, innovation comes almost by itself

It does not fail because of technologies or processes, but because of people and organisations. The past with stories by Kodak or Nokia proves this. Because there was no shortage of technologies or ideas.

The top priority is to work on the performance and strength of an organization. Because then innovations happen almost by themselves, it only needs more initial ignitions and no more fights.

In order to increase the strength of an organisation and to prevent burnout, strong leadership work from the very top is required. First and foremost

  • the strategy to create clarity and orientation for all.
  • the culture that is to promote cooperation, motivation, commitment, etc. And a culture of innovation that is a breeding ground for improvements.




Strengths of a healthy organization

A healthy organisation is characterised by resilience, resilience and strength, and manages to emerge as a winner even under difficult conditions:

This is ensured by

  • Prevention: Unexpected changes and crises have hit many a company hard. Organizations must recognize their own weaknesses and attack surfaces and weak signals for threats but also opportunities (trends, changes, ideas, new needs, new competitors...) early and react proactively.
  • Innovation and change: To solve problems and seize opportunities, organizations must be able to react quickly and effectively. The implementation strength of an organization is the success factor.
  • Agility: Since you cannot predict the future with a glass ball, you cannot prevent all eventualities. Therefore, an organisation must be flexible and able to adapt the course quickly. Fast decisions and actions paired with stability are the credo.

Success is decided in the company. It's like a soccer game. The external conditions are basically the same for all companies, but the better team will win.


Innovation as part of every job description

As you can see, many of these tasks are also part of the innovation management agenda. But these are not the tasks of individual actors, but must be engraved in the corporate DNA for all.

Innovation must not only be the task of an innovation manager or the R&D department, but must be part of every job description.


Conclusion: What an organisational burnout has to do with innovation

Standstill is death. Strategy and culture are the most important levers to avoid an organizational burnout and to use the innovative power of an organization. This is the only way for companies to emerge as winners even in turbulent times. Innovation must be on the agenda of all employees, because innovation is ultimately the lifeblood of every company.

Measuring innovative strength

Source: Organizational Burnout: The Hidden Phenomenon of Burnt-Organizations by Gustav Greve, 2nd edition 2012, Springer Gabler Verlag


Born and raised in Vienna. Since 2012 she has been in charge of Business Development at LEAD Innovation with the functions marketing, sales and communication.

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