Dear Aunty B,
I recently enjoyed SmartCompany’s interview with Tim Pethick on innovation.
My problem is that while I recognise the importance of innovation, we are a mature business and I can’t get my staff to get excited – or even do things differently.
How do I promote innovation in my company?
The word innovation can be quite intimidating. Staff may think they need to invent the next big thing – while great, that’s unrealistic. So start by giving some examples of the types of innovation you are looking for. Explain that tweaking client service so they have a better experience, or so there is more value in the package, is an innovation.
Then give staff a rationale for your sudden interest in innovation. How about this? “The company’s growth is slowing as interest rates rise and consumer demand falls. So WE NEED TO INNOVATE!” That should get the message across.
Make sure everyone knows this is a company initiative and that ideas from the floor can be even more important than those from the board.
You can reinforce the message with small things, from suggestion boxes around the workplace to big things like all-day strategic workshops offsite.
Reward those who come up with new ideas. Motivate the risk takers and performance review those who set up barriers to innovation – that soon sends out a message about the behaviour you are seeking.
Poach innovators from competitors and then groan privately to a few staff (with big mouths) about the big salary you are paying them. Take in young people who display imagination and creativity in interviews. Ask them what innovations they made at their first job and how they changed the workplace for the better.
Set up intranet sites and newsletters that share information about the new initiatives and their success. This also ensures people collaborate across the company. If people’s ideas fail, send out the message to all staff that while this specific initiative did not work, that it is good something new was tried.
Make sure your staff see that you are contributing to benchmarking initiatives. Report on what other companies are doing and the great ideas they are creating.
Lastly make sure your business does not have more than one or two layers of management. As soon as you introduce layers, you introduce politics. And politics stifles innovation.
Your Aunty B.