Building An Innovation Culture (When You’re Stuck With A Lot Of Non-innovators On Payroll)27 December, 2016 / Articles
How do you encourage a culture of innovation at your company, when your employees seem all too comfortable going along with the status quo?
It’s not going to be easy at first, but there is a process. Let’s say you’re the CEO, or a division head, and you wake up one morning, gung ho to bring your employees aboard the innovation train. The problem that you’re going to run into is that very few people–including very few of your employees–think of ourselves as innovators, at least once we pass the age of nine or ten and get better at following rules than breaking them. From then on, we start thinking of innovation as something that happens elsewhere, and via someone else, via the Einsteins, Curies, Bransons, and Musks of the world.
But as a leader, if you’re going to stimulate and harness the innovative impulses of your employees companywide, you need to get your employees to understand that innovation can be the domain of anyone who has eyes, ears, dissatisfaction, and a bit of time to put their thoughts into action. To make this point, start by giving your employees a very broad picture of “innovation,” letting them know that it comes in many shapes and sizes. Here are four areas that are all ripe for innovation:
- Product: What you sell or make
- Process: How you make it, how you sell it
- Business Model: How your company is conceptualized
- Tone of voice: The texture, rather than the substance, of how you conduct business, from the finish (glossy vs rough) that you use for your marketing catalog, to the words you use on the telephone (formal vs. slang, for example) when interacting with customers.
Once employees understand that not everything innovative involves sexy, disruptive “blowing stuff up” or “betting the farm”-style innovation, the next step is to demonstrate to employees that your company is set up to embrace their “innovative seeds”: to help their innovative ideas become full-blown innovations with organizational support. This requires a system, open to all, that provides employees with an organized, formal way to suggest innovations in any of the four areas I’ve delineated. In such a system, since not every innovative seed can be acted upon, they’re also given the courtesy and respect of being informed of what happens to each suggestion: why it is rejected, or postponed for later consideration, or actually selected for additional action.
Now that you have a broad definition of innovation, and a supportive system for the submission of “innovative seeds,” you’re ready to give innovation a go, which I encourage, because there’s huge upside here: If you can harness the innovative power of your employee base, you’re going to be a tough company to beat in your marketplace, and in any markets you choose to enter in the future.