Routines in an organization i.e. work are actions for undertaking tasks covered in a mixture of technologies, formal procedures, and informal habits. Importantly routines are seen as evolving in the light of experience that become the mechanisms that conduct the lessons of history. It means routines have an existence independent of particular personnel and new members of the organization learn them on joining, and most routines withstand the departure of individual routines. Equally they are constantly being adapted so that formal policy may not always reflect the current nature of the routine.
The important thing to note is that routines are what make one organization different from another in how they carry out the same basic activity. We could almost say they represent the specific strategy of the firm. Each enterprise learns its own particular way in which it manages quality, manages people etc. How we manage innovation around here is one set of routines which describes and differentiates the responses which organizations manage structuring and managing in the generic model.
It follows that some routines are better than others in coping with the uncertainties of the outside world, in both the short and the long term. And it is possible to learn from others experience in this way. The important point is to remember that routines are firm specific and must be learned. Simply copying what someone else does is unlikely to help, any more than watching someone drive and then attempting to copy them will make a beginner even an experienced driver. There may be helpful ways which can be used to improve the new learner’s routines, but there is no substitute for the long and experience based process of learning.
Successful innovation management routines are not easy to acquire because they represent what a particular firm has learned over time through a process of trial and error, which tend to be very firm specific. Instead each firm has to find its own way of doing these things – in other words developing its own particular routines.
In this context we can see the same hierarchical relationship in developing capabilities as there is in learning to drive. Basic skills are behaviours associated with things like planning and managing projects or understanding customer needs. These routines need to be integrated into broader abilities which taken together make up an organization’s capability in managing innovation.
The negative side lies not in their strength but also their weakness because they represent different patterns of thinking about the world, they are flexible but they can also become barriers to thinking in different ways. Thus core capabilities can become core rigidities when the organization is too committed to the old ways to change. So it becomes important, from the standpoint of management not only to build routines but also to recognize when and how to destroy them and allow new ones to emerge.
Successful management of an organization is primarily about building and improving the way things are done. Learning to do this comes from recognizing and understanding effective management whether developed in-house or observed in another enterprise and facilitating the same across the organization.
The problem with regular work is that it has to be learned to make it effective and learning is difficult. It takes time and money to try new things, it affects and disturbs the day-to-day working of the firm. It can upset organizational arrangements and require efforts in acquiring and using new skills. Not surprisingly most firms are reluctant learners and one method which they adopt is to try and short cut the process by borrowing ideas from other organizations.
There is a lot of potential in learning from others but simply copying what seems to work for another organization will not necessarily bring any benefits and may end up costing a great deal and acting in a negative way to the organization from finding its own ways of dealing with a particular problem. The temptation to copy gives rise to something which every organization thinks it needs in order to deal with its particular problems.
Organizations are constantly seeking for new answers to old problems, and the scale of investment in the new fashions of management thinking have often been considerable. The original evidence for the value of these tools and techniques was strong, with case studies and other reports testifying to their proven value within the context of origin. But there is also extensive evidence to suggest that these changes do not always work, and in many cases lead to considerable dissatisfaction.