Successful businesses need to establish and maintain a culture that encourages and supports autonomy, innovation, respect, and motivation. In order for that to be created and implemented, the leadership needs to be committed to it and model it.
Here are some essentials for establishing this in your organization:
- Be intentional in your desire to innovate
A fair number of business leaders talk the talk but do not walk the walk about innovation. This is an exciting concept that investors and the Board often like to hear. However inside, they might harbour nervousness as innovation often involves risk.
Too many companies have the well-honed skills to kill ideas before they can grow. Nine out of 10 necessary criteria may be met by an innovative idea but because there is one that is not met, the idea is discounted.
Intentional innovation involves not only announcing the company’s plan to‘innovate’ but also the creation of avenues for that innovation to occur throughout the entire company. While a senior product development manager should always have innovation front and centre, the shipping and receiving clerk may have insightful and valuable suggestions, but if they have no real way of getting their ideas known, or be recognized for them why would they share them? Intentional innovation provides legitimate and meaningful opportunities for all to bring forth their ideas. The other part of the truly fertile ground for innovation is nurturing a culture of ‘yes’. Too many companies have the well-honed skills to kill ideas before they can grow. Nine out of 10 necessary criteria may be met by an innovative idea but because there is one that is not met, the idea is discounted. The bottom line….. you cannot innovate and have everything stay the same, in other words, the leadership needs to have the fortitude to make the necessary changes and be able to offer compelling reasons to the rest of the organization why this is going to be great.
- Allow for unstructured experimenting time
You cannot develop a strong core of great employees overnight. The same is true for innovation. Your organization has to have a real and respected place to encourage, germinate and develop new ideas. Time and resources must be given to your people so that they can actually do this. Most of the best ideas come when a mind is free from the regular routine. Therefore you must allow individuals to have some limited latitude beyond the normal confines of the office, both in when they work and where they work. Fun staff retreats, outdoor activities, and walks can all be conducive to creative thought. The difference in quantity and the quality of ideas can prove to be impressive and should not to be ignored……rather it should be greatly encouraged and supported.
- Permit errors
Any company ramping up authentic innovation efforts needs to allow for and expect errors and inefficiencies. Innovation does not always yield its benefits according to preset timelines and costs as it is often unpredictable.
The movie industry is an example of innovation. Only 1 movie in 10 made in Hollywood ever makes any real money. Most lose money or break even. But the one that makes money makes a lot of money and finances the rest of the operation and provides a profit. Now you should have a better batting average than 1 in 10 with your innovative efforts however you do need to be prepared for some minimal impact or even negative impact efforts during the process because they will happen. But this is when the true leaders shine because they learn from the mistakes and yet continue to support the innovation efforts.
- Learn how to effectively measure the innovative impact
One of the keys to nurturing impactful innovative efforts is to have determined how you will measure their impact and the resulting successes. Key metrics include additions to revenue, profit margins, penetration into new markets, a reduction of costs, less absenteeism or turnover, etc. When determining which metrics to use, keep them few in number, relevant, motivational, and known to everyone. If everyone understands how it works they will be more likely to participate when they actually have a suggestion.
- Motivate in a meaningful way
Innovation causes change in the way people work, and what they work on. If an innovative effort only benefits the executive team but needs to be implemented by the support staff, don’t expect them to be excited to do it. Leaders need to ensure that all those affected clearly understand the impact of these innovative and creative efforts and can see the benefits for themselves and their departments. Whether it means more skill development, promotional opportunities, job diversity or income/bonuses, it needs to be seen as important to each employee responsible for it’s success. An internal PR effort informing and celebrating innovative efforts goes a long way to show the entire company the leadership is fully committed to the innovation process.
In closing, if you want to establish a culture of innovation you need to at least consider the five points described above and implement them in your organization.
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