We won’t survive on the status quo
Innovation means stepping outside the status quo, thinking creatively and nurturing a welcoming environment so that the best new ideas can flourish. Improved customer satisfaction, cost savings and, ultimately, long-term viability are some of the more obvious benefits of innovation.
It's understandable that innovation can sometimes get put on the back burner. We spend a lot of time 'getting things right' in organisations. We focus on recognising, preventing and mitigating risk. At a seeming juxtaposition with this is the need to be ahead of the curve – and the competition. Add to that the ever-increasing pace and demands of modern working life and it's no wonder that we find it difficult to carve out adequate time for thinking creatively about change, problem-solving and process improvement.
The empowering language of innovation
How can we talk about innovation to really make it part of our 'business as usual'? Like many things, permission to think freely starts at the top. Empowering team members to lead creative 'solutioning' is a leadership responsibility.
Ask coaching-style questions to wake the creative juices in your teams and demonstrate that new ideas are welcome:
- Who can help us solve this problem in a new way? Are they the 'usual suspects' or can we invite some new voices into this conversation?
- What is our real vision? Have the decisions that we've made so far remained true to that vision? How can we remain true to our vision in the future?
- What does it feel like to work with us? What should it feel like? (current and prospective employees, customers, suppliers etc.)
Lack of engagement kills innovation
Do you want team members to 'think outside the box'? If so, you can't have a dominant organisational culture where stereotypes, overly-constraining hierarchy and 'command and control' communication styles rule. If you hear employees saying things like: “I used to put ideas forward, but there’s really no point now. I just got a bit tired of hearing ‘that’s not how we do it around here’ ” then you may have some engagement barriers to overcome.
It's a commitment to make innovation a true leveller in your organisation. Allow innovators to be acknowledged as key influencers and reward them with recognition, affirmations and thanks:
- “That was a real breakthrough.”
- “We hadn't thought of it that way before. Great call.”
- “That’s an unconventional way of looking at this issue. You've really gotten us thinking.”
- “Can you share that idea at the next leadership meeting?”
Harness the power of the silent majority with enterprise-wide online innovation tools like Spigit and IdeaScale. These types of platforms can be helpful to capture and crowdsource the best ideas. In organisations that struggle with diversity issues, where historically marginalised groups are reluctant to confidently speak out in meetings or put ideas forward, these online platforms can be highly democratic, allowing anyone to participate.
Eureka! We’ve innovated! Job done. (Not quite!)
Innovation is an ongoing process, not a result. Bless it with patience. Test and pilot new ideas, take rational risks and talk realistically when there are setbacks. Just because something needs adjusting, or the introduction of new information has nudged an activity in an unexpected direction, doesn't mean that you have to adopt wholesale abandonment of all new ideas. There's no room for “See, I told you this wouldn't work” language in an innovation culture.
How will you speak about innovation today?
Learn more with these additional resources:
- Turn meetings into innovation labs with some simple facilitation techniques
- This is how Google approaches innovation (hint: it’s all about empowering employees)
- Read about the classic traps of embedding innovation and ideas
- Want to know even more? Check out the articles and videos available at Innovation Excellence
Heather Wagoner is a senior communication manager at a FTSE 100 company. She’s also an executive coach and blogs about leadership and communication at www.heatherwagoner.com. Follow her on Twitter @Heather_Wagoner.
[Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]