Almost every organization recognizes the need for innovation, yet many of those same organizations do their best to squash innovation whenever it dares to emerge unbidden. Some companies have caught “not invented here” syndrome and some think only ideas that come from the ranks of management can be worthwhile. Others might bog a new idea down in torturous ROI justifications, completely forgetting that the cost of not innovating exceeds the costs of implementing new ideas. If you recognize the value of innovation, here are a few ideas to help bring it to light.
Value Creativity in All Forms
As Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Maybe that’s why companies seem to shy away from it. Too much fun.
Creativity doesn’t always take the form of big ideas. It may be incremental improvements or a simple twist that adds a whole new dimension to a product or service. This type of innovation is easy to overlook upon first examination as it may appear small and simple. But as continuous improvement programs in manufacturing continue to show, even slight changes can add up to substantial savings.
Ask for Ideas
The old-style suggestion box may have fallen out of favor, but companies that ask for ideas and put formal policies in place to reward them tend to lead the pack. Consider Bill Gates of Microsoft and his famous Think Week program. Twice a year he took an entire week in seclusion to formulate the companies upcoming strategy. He took a second week each year to review ideas submitted by employees. These can be gathered as part of the employee performance review process, using a traditional employee review template. It is just as important for employees to be able to give their feedback as it is for them to receive it. The Think Week process was open to all employees, and Gates personally reviewed each entry. Accepted ideas led to big rewards, but every participant won because they felt that the company valued their ideas.
In a similar vein, Google famously touts that employees have the option to spend up to 10 percent of their time on personal projects and creative ideas. Some of these projects have resulted in new products and services, helping to propel Google to its place of eminence.
Not every company can afford to give employees 10 percent of their time for thinking, but every company can listen and praise employees who come up with new ideas. Let the creator of the idea lead the team responsible for implementing the new idea-most creative people would consider that a reward.
Flexible Cross-functional Teams
Many companies set up project teams for new projects or brainstorming events, but too often, with one or two exceptions, the teams have the same members every time. Worse yet, the teams are almost always led by the highest-ranking member of the committee, so team members either don’t speak their minds or they “rubber stamp” whatever the leader comes up with. That’s not an atmosphere conducive to innovation.
Reconstitute teams for every project or innovation cycle, and they should draw on employees from every part of the organization. Just because an employee doesn’t run the drill press doesn’t mean that person can’t see that rearranging the workstation would improve efficiency. And even if some team members don’t talk to customers every day, they know how they like to be treated during the buying cycle. Solicit ideas from everyone, everywhere in the organization, all the time.
To avoid the “rubber stamp” problem, select someone outside of management to run the team, and make sure any managers in the group know that they are just one of the team members during group meetings. It’s hard for people used to being in charge to step back, but it’s twice as hard for someone who isn’t at the same organizational level to speak up. Keep the organizational hierarchy out of innovation, even if it means meetings are sometimes a little livelier than normal.
Don’t Let Employees Stagnate
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut if you’ve been in the same job for years, so companies need to take steps to ensure fresh thinking. Though, that doesn’t mean forcing a reorganization every two years or putting people in roles that make them uncomfortable.
It’s important to ensure that every employee sees a career path that meets their objectives. Even if an employee has “topped out,” allow everyone the opportunity to work on a different project or a cross-functional team at least once a year. Who knows, you may find that someone you thought had “dead-ended” is full of innovative and creative ideas. Maybe they just needed a little encouragement and a safe outlet for ideas.
Hear from an Innovation Expert
At QAD Explore 2019, innovation expert Bob Moesta will speak about some of the ways companies innovate to keep their products relevant. Join us in New Orleans, May 6-9, and learn about strategies for driving and improving innovation from a recognized leader.
How does your company foster innovation? What are you doing to help promote the creation of new ideas in your industry? Let us know in the comments below.