Innovation is a big buzz word at the moment across both industry and government, and so it should be! We are living in an ever changing world with no time to stagnate if we are to overcome the challenges we face on a daily basis; uncertainty of the future, financial issues and the racing pace of technological advancement.
The word ‘change’ frightens everyone to a greater or lesser extent as it alerts the fear of failure in all of us. However change is necessary in order to survive, grow and is actually essential for success. The iPhone is a perfect example of this. Over the last ten years Apple have developed 18 evolving models of the product, and have in turn seen an upward trajectory of unit sales in millions each time a new model is released.
In conversations I have with business leaders, it is highly motivating to hear about new products, services and venture capital backed start-ups that have been born through innovation. On the other hand I speak with those who are looking to change jobs because they are resistant to changes in their organization. This raises a question in my mind as to why these employees wouldn’t be excited by the same.
I think it is because although great accomplishments are taking place in technology and the market, the culture of innovation is lacking within many businesses and this is what needs addressing.
Business leaders will obviously be thinking about innovation on a macro level but it is the micro level, the people within the business who make it happen. A change in culture is a difficult thing to achieve but it has to start somewhere.
The easiest thing to do to start this process is to encourage people to externalize their ideas through dialogue, and this should be open dialogue where ideas and challenges to existing practices are embraced and respected. Taking the time to listen to your people can see huge benefits and also promotes empowerment, and accountability. It can be difficult for a leader sometimes to sit in front of their team and not be tempted to interrupt or defend current practices, but those who do actively listen to their employees command respect, and with that comes loyalty and motivation. Ideas become reality based on discussion, disagreement, solution and then development.
It is not enough to run short lived campaigns, a culture grows from embryonic beginnings to being the life blood of an organization and this takes time and effort. I have seen companies who have engaged their employees in creating their vision statement achieve great outputs from this activity; and when the innovation strategy is created in the board room, then the roadmap to delivery needs to be written with input from your people.
In my opinion the most important aspect of employee engagement is to ensure that each and every member of your team understands how they fit into, and contribute to the overall strategy as an individual. Every employee should be treated like a business partner from day one. If this is the case then the sense of belonging and ownership of individual contribution is instilled within each person who joins your business. Every leader wants to drive high performance and there is “no I in team” so therefore creating a culture where it is safe to speak about new ideas, or what can be done more effectively creates cohesion between team and leader.
As your business innovates, are you still using the same performance metrics to measure your employees? If so, change them and keep changing them to fit with what your business is doing over a period of time. Incentivized goals are crucial to get your employees to advocate innovation and change, and you cannot expect people to perform against metrics that are not relevant. Encourage lateral thinking and learning through lunchtime focus groups and recognize your people for getting involved in these activities in their performance plans.
To create an environment to support innovation takes much more than installing games in brightly painted rooms, or running workshops with ideas written on post it notes stuck to a wall. It has to be part of everyday life. These things don’t happen overnight, but to make a start in winning the hearts and minds of your people by actively involving them in your decision making process, is a giant leap towards success.
I am aware that theory is easy and putting it into practice is challenging, but it only takes time for listening to embark on the journey to changing your culture. The rest will come through trial and error as everything does in life. But make a start now and your tomorrow will be a better day than today.
I will be conducting a series of interviews this year with regional business leaders around innovation, entrepreneurship and culture as I feel that these are very important topics to discuss in the present market.
Wishing everybody an innovative and successful 2018!