Helping Frontline Workers Become Innovative
Innovative organizations do not miraculously come into existence. Rather, they are created by leaders who establish the conditions necessary to bring out the innovative ideas within everyone.
How can organizational leaders create these conditions? In particular, how can they create conditions that will encourage frontline workers to be innovative? This requires, I believe, that leaders fulfill two major conditions. They must convince frontline workers that the leadership supports the line; and, they must ensure that frontline workers understand the big picture.
In every effective organization, there is some kind of implicit contract between the leadership and the line. The line will produce what the leadership wants; in turn, the leadership produces what the line wants. The organization’s leadership wants to make this message as explicit as possible: “You produce for us, and we’ll produce for you”.
This implicit contract is needed by any organization that seeks to become innovative. Frontline workers will not help an organization’s leadership do a better job at achieving its mission unless they believe these leaders will help them.
Frontline workers: leadership on their side
But what should those frontline workers who have decided that being innovative is good for the organization attempt to accomplish? In what direction should they attempt to innovate? What are the constraints? How will an innovation fit within other efforts being made throughout the agency? What is the purpose of the agency and how will any specific innovation help to achieve that purpose? To be effective as innovators, frontline workers must understand what the organization is trying to accomplish, why it is trying to accomplish that, and how it might achieve that goal.
Frontline workers understand the big picture
Before frontline workers are going to become innovative, they have to believe that the organization’s leadership supports them, and they have to understand the big picture.
Be immediately responsive
When an executive first asks frontline workers or middle managers what should be done to improve the organization’s effectiveness, the responses will inevitably focus on working conditions. People will complain about the lack of a soft drink machine, the broken toilet, or the photocopier that barely reproduces the original. Obviously, workers will be more productive if they have the right tool.
The quicker that top management produces the new copier, the better its credibility will be.
In fact, before asking frontline workers what should be done to improve the organization, its leaders ought to know the answer they will hear. Before top management meets with the workers, leaders ought to find out what kind of improvements the workers will request. Before the meeting, they ought to check out exactly what they will have to do to produce the improvement and how long it will take. Then, when confronted with the request, they can commit to making the improvement and also state clearly whether the improvement will be completed in a day, a week, a month, or a year.
To identify the needs of frontline workers, the agency’s leadership ought to ask the union. In fact, in a unionized agency, if the organization’s leaders go straight to their frontline workers, the union will view this as a direct threat, an effort to undermine its role.
Innovative organizations make mistakes, lots of mistakes. And how the organization treats these mistakes and those who make them sends important signals throughout the organization. If the mistaken innovators are punished in any way, even if they are just perceived to be punished, frontline workers will relearn a basic lesson of bureaucratic life: It does not pay to experiment with new ideas.
Unfortunately, a lot of people make their living catching mistaken innovations. These mistake catchers get their jollies and their professional recognition from uncovering and exposing mistakes. The moral fervor with which they take on this assignment combined with the well-known and easily implemented strategy for publicizing any mistake creates the
If frontline workers learn that no mistake, even an honest mistake, goes unpunished, they will certainly be reluctant to be innovative. Consequently, leaders who wish to create an innovative organization have to figure out ways to prevent those who make mistakes from being punished.
- IT Innovation: is outsourcing possible? (worldofinnovations.net)
- Innovative Leadership Workbook for Emerging Leaders and Managers is a… (prweb.com)
- Free Yourself with a Fearless Front Line (cherylmcmillan.com)
- Should You Take That Innovation Job? (blogs.hbr.org)
- 2- Leadership and Innovation: Relating to Circumstances and Change (serdarbicer.wordpress.com)
- Should You Take That Innovation Job? – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
1. Innovation as a corporate function
At a growing number of large organizations, innovation is now an identified organizational group, with a specific mandate, roles and responsibilities, metrics, processes, resources, and governance. According to a 2012 Capgemini study, 43% of large global companies now have a formally accountable innovation executive. Innovation has become a corporate function, and the trend is gaining steam.
2. Most leaders see Innovation as distraction
Yet despite the trend, today’s innovation leader has a very difficult mission, for two reasons. First, most corporate warriors in middle management persist in thinking of innovation as a management fad – a distraction from quarterly goals and core objectives. As a result, the innovation leader faces a constant uphill battle for legitimacy – unless he/she demonstrates clear, powerful business results from innovation’s efforts. And there is a limited time window before faith and confidence are lost permanently.
3. Innovation breaks operational excellence
Secondly, innovation has a distinct rhythm from the daily business. Instead of driving to efficiency and operational excellence, successful innovation requires space and time to create, tolerance of failure and a culture of open experimentation. In a corporate setting, individuals with ‘innovative’ personalities have long since learned to hide or downplay them, for the sake of career advancement. So the natural rhythm of innovation inevitably feels strange and foreign within a large organization.
4. Innovation as strategic axis for competition
Yet senior leaders increasingly view innovation as a strategic imperative, allowing the firm to adapt and respond to competitive pressures, customer needs and technology change in a rapidly changing, information-rich 21st century world. Most of the time, a great deal is riding on the success or failure of the Innovation Leader. In some cases, the C-suite has staked the company’s future on it.
5. Innovation Project Outsourcing
In this environment, outsourcing is a critical enabler of success. Experienced innovation firms use proven methods and tools to produce those crucial early-stage results, while also injecting the DNA of innovation process into the organization. Typically this outsourcing takes one of two forms.
When the need for a specific innovation is clear – breakthrough new product designs, for example – the innovation leader may outsource the entirety of an innovation project. This is called Innovation Project Outsourcing – in which an innovation firm acts like a design agency, working independently and producing ready-made innovations as deliverables. These projects can range from R&D and engineering work, product and/or industrial design, to innovation process design.
6. Innovation Process Outsourcing
Ultimately, however, the innovation leader cannot be wholly dependent on an outsourcer to produce innovation. Innovation Process Outsourcing is a critical step in embedding innovation habits into an organisation’s DNA. An experienced innovation firm will be intimately familiar with the difficulties of involving broad sets of enterprise stakeholders in a collaborative process. Working underneath the innovation leader, outsourced programme managers can be embedded into the organization as change agents and campaign managers. Through careful scoping of innovation initiatives, combined with skilful management of the campaigns themselves, dramatic results can be achieved while also socializing the behaviors and rhythms of successful enterprise innovation.
7. Innovation Skill Transfert
The end goal of these outsourcing efforts is innovation skill transfer and discipline-building within the corporation. Over time, the outsourcer trains its client on the core Innovation Management skills and methods, which allows the innovation programme to achieve sustainable scale as an enterprise program. As a result, the organisation begins to treat ideas as valuable intellectual capital – and consistently collect, vet and leverage this capital for business benefit.
8. Permanent home for innovation outsourcing
In the longer term, there is a permanent home for innovation outsourcing in most companies. Innovation strategy is a core competence any organisation needs to build, refine and invest in – it’s the future of the company. But aspects of how innovation is built and executed may be outsourced, as external parties have skills and competencies which the company may not have or even need to be in-house.
- Cloud’s role in the move from outsourcing to smartsourcing (intechnology.co.uk)
- Why Innovation Programs Are A Total Waste Of Time (ceo.com)
- 5 Myths About Innovation And Strategy (ceo.com)
- 2013 Winners: Training Outsourcing Companies Watch List (barebrilliance.wordpress.com)
- Kill Your Innovation Champion (psychologytoday.com)
- Outsourcing Business Processes for Innovation (barebrilliance.wordpress.com)
Innovation over-highlighted in companies?
On the web, we can read articles saying that companies & people overrated Innovation. Arguments are clear: consumers that would like some products do not especially want innovative products. These consumers need very good products, with the right price – depending on level of life of consumers & at the right moment – accessible during the seasons, the locations, the time and so on… It seems to be absolutely true, isn’t it?
We are not buying a car because there is tablet inside but because the design of the car is what’s we expected, the fiability and global quality is very good and the car bought is in relation with what’s we would like to do with it: driving in cities, driving in the nature or allowing us to drive with 4 children.
Does it means that cars produced do not require important innovations to build the best car for the smallest price?
What is innovation?
Wikipedia answers to this question: “Innovation is the development of new values through solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or old customer and market needs in value adding new ways. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments, and society.”
It means that reducing company’s innovation to innovative products is really viewing it as a small piece of what can be innovation. Innovation concept is larger.
Culture of innovation
The standard structures of the company are managing the recurrent operations. We do not have to reduce the importance of these structures: financial results made with them, allow companies to have an innovation structure.
But innovation cannot be processed as in standard structures: there is no recurrent action in its management. Innovation needs its own organization with dedicated managers and experts. Innovation does not have to be separated from the rest of the company: people in the standard structure needs to participate to innovations.
Innovation structures need their own budget with dedicated KPIs, radically different from other budgets. Another key point is the sponsorship. It must clearly be sponsored by executive board members. Steering committees, less structured, must be put in place.
At the end, all collaborators of the company, employees, directors, board members and CEO must contribute to innovation process. Putting a culture of innovation is a key element in a company.
Is Innovation really overrated?
For a company, innovation is larger than having innovative products. Having a process reducing time to proceed operations, having new product with new services more adapted to the market or using new technologies for selling or for having better products is innovation!
I have already heard that coming back to the root of project management is probably more important than having innovation focus. I have to say that there is no link between project management and innovation. Both are required in different steps in any company.
Since 5 years, innovation is entered in all companies, the small ones as the big ones, companies from every countries and from all sectors. It is not a fashion way that will disappear within 5 years. Innovation is a key element that companies have right now to integrate in their strategy for a long time.
The demand for creativity from employees is rising in this age of rapid technological advancement. This is evident when we see multinational companies like Google setting up something known as a the 20 percent program or policy where Google developers get to spend 20 percent of their working hours (a day at work) on side projects. It was an attempt to give employees the time and space to think innovatively. Indeed, the policy works well, with some of the best products of Google (e.g. Google News) originating from the program.
Some of you may think that creativity is an inborn trait rather than something that can be learned and developed. This may be so, but without a conducive environment for creativity to be expressed, how can we expect to see ideas arising from creative employees? This is precisely what this article is about, to show you ways which you can adopt in the workplace to encourage employees to seek innovation in their work.
1. Reward Creativity
If you want to get employees to think out-of-the-box, you need to motivate them with some form of rewards. Moreover, suggestions have to be taken seriously so that employees are willing to come up with more creative ways of improving the workplace. Otherwise, everyone will think it’s a waste of time to squeeze out creative juices for suggestions that won’t be implemented anyway.
To kick-start things up, you can set goals for your employees to think up of some ways of making work processes more efficient. Encourage them to think more about concrete target to be reached with innovation that solution. From the ideas proposed by some employees, you’ll assess which idea is the best. This will be followed with a reward for the employee and equally important, implementation. The reward can be tangible ones like giving monetary incentives, or intangible ones like recognition from the organization by announcing the winner to the rest.
2. Anonymity & Confidentiality
Your employees may already be motivated to be creative but have no outlets to voice out their wonderful ideas. While the outspoken ones can always speak to the management about some suggestions they have in mind, others may be too shy or afraid to do so in this manner. Providing a suggestion box or anything similar would grant these employees the anonymity and confidentiality they crave, thereby inspiring the creative spirit that you wish to instill as part of the organization culture.
However, some of the most creative ideas are born out of brainstorming sessions where a group of people discuss and debate about possible solutions to a problem. Having such a private channel for employees to contribute ideas may thus hinder the creative process. Moreover, those who provide the effective ideas won’t get identified and get the recognition they need. It will be wise to balance both private and public mediums for employees to propose their suggestions.
3. Innovation Teams
A more systematic way of promoting creativity in the workplace is to set up innovation teams. Each innovation team will be tasked to come up with ideas on how to improve the work process of a particular aspect. Deadlines are to be set to ensure that the teams present their ideas and be rewarded if they are excellent. When done properly, this will signal to everyone that the organization values work-related creativity.
One catch is that such innovation teams may be seen as too ‘deliberate’ to some employees. Creativity is supposed to be spontaneous; ideas arising from the strokes of genius. Having such teams may make it seem like an extra chore for those assigned to them, and the systematic approach (i.e. the focus on a single topic) may come across as too rigid for creativity to flourish.
4. Support Creativity
Employees may be unwilling to take risks because they do not know whether the organization supports creativity. This is when you need to guide the organization in the right direction, and show that creativity is highly valued. This has a lot to do with how receptive you are to their ideas, and how you make known your intention to be a more creative company.
One reason why employees are not thinking out-of-the-box or coming up with solution that are vastly different from how things used to be done is that they may be afraid of the repercussions of making mistakes. Risk-taking has to be encouraged and be seen as a norm in the organization. Developing a creative culture takes time, but it starts off with management being more open-minded and less judgmental to the suggestions by employees.
5. Diversity Among Employees
How can different ideas exchange if everyone thinks in a similar manner? Employees with comparable backgrounds, qualifications, experience, etc creates a homogeneous working environment. Perhaps having such homogeneity between the employees will facilitate team-bonding and such, but when it comes to workplace creativity, a uniform and agreeable crowd leaves little room for ideas to flourish.
Rather than setting stringent recruitment prerequisites, you might consider giving more allowance in your criteria. Hire staffs from different knowledge and background and get them to mingle around in projects and even company events. Organize more informal settings between employees with dissimilar profiles for the interchanging of thoughts.
6. Positive Working Environment
Sometimes, too serious a mindset can hinder creativity. Having fun during work allows one to be relaxed and that’s where one tends to get inspired with wonderful ideas. Needless to say, a stressful or even depressing work environment doesn’t give one the mood to think of doing things differently. The employee would only look forward to the end of the day.
Psychological studies have revealed that positive mood can spur creativity. The idea is that positive mood awards us with greater flexibility in thinking because our perspectives are widened. We become more open-minded in that sense and are willing to explore alternatives. Knowing such findings now, incorporating fun into the work through team-bonding activities or retreats every once in a while can be a crucial element in injecting creativity in the workplace.
Post based articles
- 6 Ways to Encourage Creation and Innovation (worldofinnovations.net)
- Creativity Requires A Culture That Respects Effort And Failure (businessinsider.com)
- Tap your employee creativity (tarungill.com)
- 2 Ways to Instantly Boost Creativity in the Office (business2community.com)
- There’s A Critical Difference Between Creativity And Innovation (businessinsider.com)