4 Tips for Making Innovation Efforts (Really) Count

In a recent study by Accenture, it came to light that over half of the people surveyed believe that today’s corporate managers are more encouraging of employee-driven innovation than they were just five years ago. But even support from management isn’t effectively translating into the overall company culture.

In fact, nearly eighty percent of participants said that new ideas are rewarded only when implemented and proven to work; consequently, about twenty-seven percent avoid suggesting new ideas or solutions at all, fearing a negative response. Not exactly the best environment for curating ideas from the entire company. To help you avoid the pitfalls of a broken idea management system, here are 4 tips that can help you make your innovation efforts truly count.

1. Curate Ideas, Not Ideators

A troubling statistic from the aforementioned survey: 53 percent of participants “believe their company does not support ideas from all levels of the workforce, which implies that leadership limits its expectations to business decision makers alone.” Tsk, tsk — great ideas are never singular to people in leadership positions, and treating your innovation management system like a totem pole essentially guarantees that you’re missing out on opportunities to collaborate, catalyze change, and shape new solutions.

The notion can be intimidating, though — particularly in companies with hundreds of potential participants, where there’s an inherent risk of missing ideas simply because there are so many to investigate. But of course, that’s where innovation management software comes in.

2. Identify Intrapreneurs — and Then Pay Attention to Them

We’ve already touched on the value of intrapreneurship, but as with most things, identifying intrapreneurs is merely the first step. Ideas aren’t worth much until they’re voiced and cultivated, and the same goes for your company’s key innovators. Says the team at Accenture, a company losing its entrepreneurial edge will “likely come in the form of employees opting to jump ship when their innovative ambitions are thwarted.” Taking that a step further, failing to effectively nurture and encourage your chosen intrapreneurs and their efforts could either lead to them seeking new opportunities, or cause them to simply shut down from lack of support.

It’s critical that this kind of empowerment be standardized, expected, and systematic; otherwise, it won’t be as effective at fortifying existing intrapreneurs or attracting new ones. Consider cycles of submission, collaboration, and recognition, as well as what types of incentives will work best for your teams.

3. Infrastructure > Incentives

Speaking of motivation: everybody loves a good perk, but research indicates that passionate ideators are going to ideate regardless of the dangling carrots. Perhaps more important for bringing great ideas to the fore is providing the resources (money and people), bandwidth (time to focus on initiatives outside of their given role), and framework necessary for those ideas to become a reality.

After all, the bigwigs at Google allow employees to spend about a fifth of their time developing entrepreneurial ideas into executable projects — that’s how Gmail and Adsense became a reality.

4. Encourage Collaboration (But Not Every Time)

Collaboration can be an incredible way to drive innovation — sometimes, a new perspective is all it takes to shape an idea into something more. But it can also be the biggest mistake you make when implementing an innovation program:

Says Keith Sawyer, psychologist at Washington University, “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

What we call the collaborative process, then, is really a cycle of group convergence and individual work that ebbs and flows over the course of a project – the team meets to kick things off, individual contributors disperse and complete their assigned tasks, the group comes together to review progress and offer feedback, and the cycle repeats until completion. Thus like collaboration, brainstorming works best when it combines the diverse perspectives of a group with enough individual autonomy to move beyond standard groupthink and get to genuine creative breakthroughs.

At the end of the day, putting a successful innovation program in place requires a good deal of flexibility and paying attention.

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