Leading for Collaborative Innovation

by the Town of Chapel Hill, NC for the TLG 2019 Innovation Showcase program

Dec 19, 2018

Theme: Relentless Creativity

The Town of Chapel Hill was facing a turning point. For years, executive leadership championed the idea that, as the silver tsunami hit the organization, internal candidates would be prioritized over external candidates. This reasoning was driven by the idea that Chapel Hill, a college town with a deeply engaged citizenry, is a special community and that it is easier to teach internal candidates than it is to hire external candidates with technical skills but who may struggle to adapt to the community’s expectations. However, the Town hit a snag – when the tsunami started to hit, internal candidates were not performing well in the assessment center process. So the question became a simple one – do we prioritize culture over skills? Or skills over culture?

Town leadership was stubborn. It maintained its belief that we should value culture over technical skills. At a crossroads, the Town developed the Leading for Collaborative Innovation (LCI) program, an in-house leadership development program designed to increase the capacity of leaders to innovate and solve problems from a collaborative perspective.

This program was a significant investment, both in terms of dollars and time. LCI uses a cohort model where 12 - 15 employees are selected after completing an application and interview. The program was open to all employees so employees could self-nominate themselves, rather than having each department submit a candidate. Employees who are accepted then work on teams to design and implement an innovation project over the next seven months.

Once a month, the entire cohort convenes for a 2-day module to learn about the innovation skills identified in The Innovator’s DNA and discuss how they apply to their team project. The employees receive leadership assessments and coaching. The program then culminates sharing project results with the Town’s Senior Leadership Team. 

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