Innovating with purpose channels the creativity of your team into the realization of your vision.
Go beyond thinking outside of the box – eliminate the box! Then join your team in creating a new reality. It seems that everyone is on board with the need to innovate. Yet we see so few examples of strong and effective commitment to innovation. I’ve had the pleasure of working with several organizations that were quite intentional about innovation. Here is what I learned.
Be clear about your purpose. A little focus can help team members channel their creative energy. Too many restrictions can limit the potential of efforts to innovate. To find the right balance, try linking the outcome of innovation to your mission or KPIs (key performance indicators). Or simply focus the team on innovation that will improve customer success. It’s also good to mix it up a bit. Variety will help maintain energy and enthusiasm – and it increases the likelihood of more team members joining in.
Demonstrate support from the top. Investing time into innovation is just that… an investment. Without clear support from the top, team members may feel that they just can’t afford to take the time away from established action items to focus on innovation. It’s important that everyone understands that the senior leadership team values innovation and encourages time and energy invested in breaking new ground.
Recognize successes and failures. Not every idea will be pursued…not even all the good ideas. Resource limitations often mean that we can’t pursue even strong new ideas when they (at least in the moment) would distract from higher priorities that affect commitments to key stakeholders. That doesn’t mean that quality efforts by team members shouldn’t be recognized. If someone invested their time to innovate on behalf of the organization they deserve your investment of time to recognize their efforts. This is key to creating and nurturing a culture of innovation.
Provide a little structure. Establishing some ground rules can make a big difference in the quality of outcomes. It may seem counter-intuitive to risk “boxing people in” when you’re trying to get them thinking “outside the box.” Rather than forms and templates, my suggestion is to establish success criteria that everyone understands before they begin. Then when it’s time for team members to share their outcomes… give them a lot of freedom. It shouldn’t matter if you are watching a role play, video or slideshow – what should matter is how well the outcome aligns with success criteria.
Find and support your champions. You need team members who will champion the cause of innovation throughout the organization. I prefer a mix of people that crosses levels and departments. What’s most important is that these individuals truly believe in the power of innovation and that they understand the objectives of your innovation efforts. I encourage you to meet with these folks regularly to demonstrate your commitment and interest, maintain alignment and get a sense of how things are evolving.
Don’t just hope that it happens. Even the most motivated innovators may struggle to make time to innovate unless you (sometimes) set aside the time for them. In one organization we scheduled and promoted innovation days twice a year. It was excited to see people forming teams, sharing their plans for the day and strategizing about how to make the most of the time we set aside. We supplied limited edition T-shirts (only available to participants) and always had plenty of food and beverages around so that everyone could make the most of the day. The energy in the office on these days was through the roof.
Engage the entire team. I believe that everyone in the organization should be invited to participate in innovation. By engaging team members across the organization, you break down barriers, stimulate creativity in all areas of the company and improve the quality of the output.
Innovation is key to an organizations long term success. It can also be a lot of fun. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to be disruptive!