Developing an culture of growth through Innovation
Many years before running our own innovation consultancy, I worked for a large multi-national aircraft manufacturer. Part of the company were extremely forward thinking in terms of innovation, but there was one major challenge. Their innovation capacity was isolated – there were pockets of activity, but no innovation culture that ran through the organisation.
I really realised this when I was called into my managers office for a chat. He sat me down and gently “advised” me that I should really think about getting a “real” role – such as an analyst or designer – as innovation wasn’t really going to take me anywhere in the company. To this day, I’m happy that I’m so stubborn and chose to disagree.
Roll on 15 years and what’s changed? For me, I have – I’ve taken this experience along with every other and studied it well in order to determine what makes a company’s workforce prepared for innovation.
Your Innovation Culture is driven by Champions and Influencers
Every company needs is an anchor point – a master, guru or as we like to call them, an “Innovation Champion”. These people drive the innovation agenda within the organisation. Typically this will be someone with strong leadership traits. They should communicate well with the senior management team but also have a good rapport with the wider workforce. Ultimately, this person is going to want to get the entire company involved in activities, and turn this into a way of life within the business.
With the scope of activities you’re going to want to manage, there’s no way that your Innovation Champion can do this alone. Their support comes in the form of “Innovation Influencers” that are distributed throughout the organisation. Innovation Influencers are able to draw diverse groups of people together, identify problems and opportunities, develop solutions and manage their implementation.
An Innovation Culture is all about structure
Imagine the viral effect that this has – a series of practitioners running innovation projects throughout your organisation, from product and service development to HR. All of this is directed by your Innovation Champion who ensures that activity is aligned with the corporate strategy.
Sound organised? Few people realise, but that’s what Innovation is all about. It’s not about pulling something out of the cupboard when you need a new idea. It’s not something that resides solely in the realm of academia and inventors. Innovation is actually a structured process, with rules, which when applied correctly leads to significant benefit.
Your Innovation Culture requires balance
The balance of innovation changes with the relevant position of the organisation and each department within. There are times when “all hands on deck” are required to meet a specific client need. However, in the background someone should be thinking “can we do this better, faster or cheaper so next time it’s more profitable, productive or introduces new revenue streams?”. This is where your Innovation Leader conducts your proverbial commercial orchestra.
The best thing about innovation is that it engages people, particularly when facilitated by a good leader. What could be better than energising and empowering your people, resulting in a culture of continuous growth through Innovation? If you’re not innovating, the first question you should be asking yourself is “why”.
How can you help everyone buy-in to your Innovation Culture?
It would be naive to think that the entire workforce will buy into this philosophy immediately. It would be equally incorrect to think that everyone needs to be creative every step of the way. Innovation, at it’s best, requires a range of skills, approaches and attitudes. After all, creativity is nothing without exploitation! However, the majority of people do need to “buy in” and this is where we start to think a little more about how we recognise and reward innovation in our businesses.
It’s a common misconception that the way to get your staff to perform better is to incentivise them with financial rewards – pay rises, bonuses, etc. Ask your staff and many of them will confirm this.
Here’s the show stopper – that’s because they often don’t know themselves what drives their desire and passion to work.
Case Study – Increasing Engagement through Innovation
We were recently working with a company who had a specific problem leading to a high complaint rate for one of their services. The management team had designed a high tech solution which required a new computer system, networks and training estimated at around £15k. The staff who would be using the system weren’t keen on the solution. With a little head-scratching, solved the problem for a mere £5 – with a solution they preferred. I’ve not gone in to the detail because it’s what happened next that really made the difference.
Whenever one of the team walked past the new £5 solution, they smirked to themselves. In their mind (and in jest) you could see them smugly flicking the good 2-fingers at the MD’s office. There was no malice, but it was their way of saying “WE owned that problem, WE solved that problem, and WE just saved the company the £15k you were going to spend on the solution”.
What’s even better is that the “buzz” generated from that thought alone gave them the drive to want to solve more problems. Those who weren’t involved in the generation of the first solution wanted to be a part of the “buzz” and get involved. Where there wasn’t a problem, they looked for new opportunities to make things better. Soon the business became a self-improving entity.
The management team knew what was happening and loved it. “The staff are beginning to think for themselves” one told me. Another said “They used to ignore us or come to us with problems – now they improve things with their own initiative or come to us to ask about support for new ideas”.
So what does drive people?
So what is this “buzz”? When we look into the detail, it isn’t actually that surprising. If we consider the basic human drivers for reward, we find that there are four groups of factors the give people pleasure at work. These are:
- Financial rewards – extra money including pay rises, bonuses, share options or other rewards which can be assigned a financial value – extra holidays, a weekend break, etc.
- Recognition from peers – some people seek a simple “thank-you” or “well done”. These people tend to do that little bit extra in the hope that it gets seen and acknowledged by their colleagues and management team
- Achievement – for many individuals (especially the technically minded) achieving an outcome or solving a problem is satisfaction in itself. It’s the proverbial “putting the last piece in the jigsaw” feeling which gives them a glow of fulfilment.
- Moral reward – the final factor is the self-acknowledgement that you’re dome something good for a greater cause. You’ve helped your colleagues to do their job better, or you’ve made your business a better place to work or able to achieve more.
Most people don’t recognise that these factors are so influential in driving their happiness and engagement within the workplace. Many would deny the strength of these drivers until they had actually experienced them, as this case study has shown.
So what’s the moral?
The moral of this blog is that money can’t always buy you happiness. However, creativity and innovation can. That is, if haven a happier and more productive busienss is what rocks your boat.
I suppose the other moral is that the management team don’t always have the best ideas. The best managers and leaders recognise the strengths in their people, and facilitate, manage or lead rather than do. Overlook the collective knowledge, experience and creativity within your people at your peril!
For more information on how you can develop innovation champions, Innovation Influencers, or just get more from our people contact us for a chat. WE cover a wide range of innovation support activities which can help you achieve your full potential.
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