Innovation is a huge buzzword nowadays – from the HRPA 2012 conference where many of the keynote speeches focused on innovation, to twitter chats like #peoplechat and #tchat about innovation, it’s having a huge impact on the HR profession. Of course, with my focus on Innovative HR, it’s also a slight obsession of mine. I believe that if your organization is not innovative, it will not be around beyond this decade (if that). I’ve written in the past about social technology as part of Innovative HR, and it’s about time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) about building a culture of innovation.
Building any type of culture is dependent on a huge number of factors. I believe that every employee touch point has an impact, from your recruiting process to training and development, decision making, project management, performance management and even day to day interactions with leaders. While companies often say they are focused on innovation, an innovative culture is created by actions not intentions.
Here are some cultural actions that will help build a culture of innovation. Some of these are inspired by others, whom I’ve referenced below.
Build trust. This is fundamental to encouraging innovation. It’s also difficult to do if trust has been broken in the past. Leaders need to open themselves to feedback, share their own personal strengths and weaknesses, and watch out for reactionary behaviours that may injure trust. Employees need to feel that they can trust their bosses to be non-judgemental about their ideas, and leaders need to trust their employees to work on their own, without micro-managing. All of the following ideas really build upon this fundamental cultural quality.
Hire diverse people. Not just diverse racially or culturally. Hire people with different personalities, experiences, even different industries. Don’t be fooled into only hiring creative people or people similar to you. In order to make innovation stick, you’ll need a variety of people to help identify problems, plan implementation and engage hearts and minds. It’s not just about idea generation.
Ensure that everyone is aligned on your organization’s purpose. Continually communicate your company’s mission and vision. Make sure everyone knows, regardless of their role, how they contribute to these. If you aren’t aligned on purpose, you’ll have employees innovating ideas that will never get C-suite support or help the organization meet their goals.
Encourage people to ask “why” and “why not”, even when they’re challenging decisions. Leaders need to be ready to have their ideas challenged, and celebrate it when they are. A company full of “yes-men” will not innovate. The problem is that we teach this out of children in an effort to get them to follow rules and behave. Now it’s our job to teach it back into our employees, and recognize and reward it when they re-learn it. * Inspired by Amanda Lang of Lang & O’Leary at #HRPA2012
Include Innovation as part of your Performance Management process. Keep in mind that not everyone will be a big idea-generator, but all have a role to play in the innovation process. They may be the person to define a new problem to solve, to plan the steps to implementation of a new innovation, or to engage the hearts and minds of others in the change or new program. Regardless, everyone should have some element of the innovation process included in their performance objectives.
Provide autonomy. If employees aren’t engaged or don’t feel that they can make a difference, they will not innovate. Ask yourself: How much impact does a frontline employee have on how they do their job in your organization? If the answer is “none”, there’s something wrong. Once they’re aligned to your purpose, they should be able to be innovative in their process. I’ve worked in companies that provided scripted steps of service for their employees. Guess what? Engagement dropped. Innovation was deficient, and the customer experience declined.
Watch your response to new ideas, even when you like them. Successful people often hear a great idea and have an urge to make it even better. They say things like “That’s great. How about we add this…” or “What if we tried…” Their instant response and addition to the idea may improve the idea by 5% but decrease engagement and motivation by 50%. Recognize the idea, celebrate it, and allow it to permeate before you add your own thoughts to it. * Inspired by Marshall Goldsmith at #HRPA2012
Provide opportunities for collaboration and crowdsourcing. I’m a huge fan of tools like Yammer, IBM’s connections, Jive software, etc. But collaboration doesn’t have to happen through technology. If you don’t have that as an option, have cross functional brainstorming sessions, breakfasts, project teams. Blow up the traditional, siloed organizational chart and invite people in other departments who show a competency or interest in a project to be involved in it.
Don’t let lack of consensus kill an idea. Or, as my friend Salima Nathoo (@socialsalima) puts it: “Consensus is the poison to potential”. Everyone won’t likely agree to an idea at first. Change is difficult. New ideas, which may be contrary to your own, are difficult. Work with the idea to grow it, ensure it solves a problem and is aligned to your organization’s purpose, but don’t let the naysayers create an impermeable roadblock.
Provide time for innovating. Most companies, after years of economic challenges, are lean today. This is understandable but it’s important to see past the short term financial objectives into the future of how your company will continue to grow and be successful through innovation. Employees are in a time crunch, and often are so task-focused that they don’t have time to think or reflect. It’s important for leaders to watch for this and help teams to prioritize and plan innovation time, from brainstorming meetings to independent reflection time.
Ensure your office’s physical space allows innovation. I don’t mean you need to add pingpong tables or slides from floor to floor like some companies have. But small changes can make a difference. Are your leaders all in corner offices? At minimum, encourage open doors. Do people have cubicles? Try knocking down the walls. I’ve worked in an open environment like this, and while it took some getting used to, it was amazing how it opened the lines of communication and collaboration. What about meeting space? Make sure there is enough of it, or open up access to tools like Skype, google hangouts, or other technology for collaborative meetings. Take a hard look at how your office is physically laid out and find opportunities for more creativity, collaboration, and quiet time.
This is only 10 ideas for touch points with your employees. What do you think? Do you disagree with any of these? Have other suggestions? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below or connect with me on twitter!
If you enjoyed this, you might also like: