Internal Innovation: Pushers, Pullers, and Lifters

Filed Under Innovation

push-pull-lift

by
June 23, 2014

Many companies that are struggling with innovation immediately look to their internal talent and wonder why there are only a handful of employees that are actively innovative.

At DK New Media, we’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens of organizations, many of which were incredibly agile and innovative. Still, others struggled to move in any direction at all — it’s my personal belief that the issue wasn’t necessarily that the employees weren’t an innovative bunch, but that the balance of types of innovators was off.

Striking a Balance

Innovative workforces require a combination of pushers, pullers, and lifters.

  • Pushers are your true, blue innovators. They’re always curious, constantly creative, and forever looking to the future to transform the products and services your company is providing its customers.
  • Pullers are the voice of caution. These are the folks who discover road blocks, constraints, and possible repercussions of bringing change to the organization.
  • Lifters understand that innovation without execution can destroy a company. These are those incredible, process-oriented, timely, and professional human resources you have that will convert an idea into a viable solution.

Your organization should always have a tug-of-war between the three in order to build a solid strategy for success. We’ve watched some of our clients, who were totally innovation-based, fail to succeed because they didn’t acknowledge the value of this trifecta. They’d rid their staff of pullers, thinking they were holding them back, yet drive headlong towards ruin because they’d never avoid even the most obvious risks. They exhausted their pushers, who couldn’t keep up with a company that changed direction so quickly that process and efficiency could never be established. The team was always running until they grew frustrated, tired, and ultimately, fed up enough to leave.

It’s not just a balance of talent within the organization that is necessary. At times, you may need to flood your team with pushers to drive innovation. At others, you may need to bring more lifters to your staff to take successful innovations and drive them to market.

A Historical Perspective

This balance of resources and the stage your company is currently in can have a huge impact on turnover. However, change is completely natural, and companies shouldn’t fear their employees leaving, nor should they believe it evil to terminate employment where necessary. I can’t think of anything more cruel than keeping a lifter in a company where there are no pullers and all pushers. Or keeping a puller in a company of all pushers and lifters. The imbalance within organizations that ignore this issue will eventually drive those people to quit. Or worse, they’ll stay in a position within the organization that they hate, never growing and never achieving success.

As a B2B consultancy firm, we are consistently evaluating the companies we may work with to understand how our presence may disrupt or assist that balance. If we’re working with a company of pullers, we know we’re going to have to improve their output so they don’t get frustrated and let us go. If we’re working with a company of pushers, we know we have to slow them down to measure results, and provide them the evidence they need to execute well. If we’re working with a company of lifters, we know we’re going to have to strike a balance between innovation and risk.

What’s Your Balance?

As you continue to identify core problems within your company, you may be surprised to discover whether or not they’re attributable to the balance of resources and types of innovators you have. Perhaps you’re an extremely innovative company and you can’t figure out why profitability is suffering. Or perhaps you’re an extremely process-oriented company and your innovation is lacking.

But, as you look to your organization and these available resources, ask yourself: does this necessary balance truly exist, and is it supported and sustainable? Or have aggressive goals and politics driven resource equality into the shadows?

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