Finding your Company’s Innovation
Complexity, it’s not what you wanted to hear but it’s what happens every time you try to figure out how to get innovation on your side. This is the sinking feeling that many managers get because, more often than not, they are looking directly at the elephant instead of what the elephant is eating. In general, that is how the brain works and is a survival instinct affecting our modern living. We look straight at the source of our pain or what we perceive as the source.
As an avid motorcyclist I know to avoid the survival instinct when going around a sharp corner and seeing some debris on the road, if I look at it then I’ll run over it, so I look back to where I’m going instead. It would seem reasonable that if we avoid our instinct to look directly at what we need to do then we’ll be forced to look again at our goals. By checking back with our goals we can get another sense of how to move towards innovation. Innovation is created by need and comes from a clear understanding of what we really want to accomplish, after that its simply having a vehicle to accumulate innovation.
There is a lot of literature that talks about vision, mission, values, setting targets, and focussing on goals. Kouzes and Posner’s (2012) book The Leadership Challenge is a great example. The field of leadership is rife with work on goal setting, as the old saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going then how do you expect to get there?” The goal is not innovation; Kouzes and Posner described a research and development department that used regular feedback to clarify the goals of the organization which had the benefit of increasing moral. Goal Theories alone, as Denhardt, Denhardt, and Aristigueta (2013) argued, account for a 90% chance of enhancing performance. However, setting a goal of innovation would likely alienate and demotivate anyone who didn’t meet that goal. Feedback and goal clarification can help people to feel needed, supporting original and innovative ideas. Despite the sea of information on these topics one could look back at their goals. If your team are not motivated or not getting any small wins then they are probably not getting feedback or clarity on the goals. Although you may be working on clarification and communicating there ultimately needs to be some kind of measures to base your efforts on.
A great saying that comes in several similar forms is, “you get what you measure”. This is powerful because people need to know if they are on the right track and a measure can either help them get there or take them away from the goal. No measures at all are just frustrating. In his book Management Powertools, Onsman (2004) addresses key performance indicators (KPIs) and the Balanced Scorecard created by Kaplan and Norton in 1996. Onsman noted how effective the KPIs are at influencing multiple levels of the organization. A key performance indicator could drive a manager’s behaviour to promote risk taking among the staff. Measures drive behaviour, when the behaviour doesn’t pay off then you must analyze why, it could be that the measure is perverse and needs to be changed. In every case, people need the training and tools to meet the measures demanded of them.
CREATE THE SPACE
Creativity just happens . . . as long as it’s in the right environment. Environment matters because if someone doesn’t feel engaged, valued, and generally supported in their work then they won’t be motivated to solve problems. One study in the Creativity Research Journal on work environments and creativity found that support for a creative workspace has a significant impact on employee job satisfaction (Stokols, Clithereo, & Zmuidzinas, 2010). When a supportive environment exists it can give feelings of self-determination and control, which in turn can positively influence intrinsic motivation and creativity (Denhardt et al., 2013, p. 74). I think it is important to note the potential contrast in managing by measures and environmental support. One has to weigh the effects of rigorous measures with the freedom to experiment. Having achieved some balance in this regard a method for collecting innovation is necessary.
OFFER A METHOD
Don’t ask for French fries when you only have orange juice. People are creative but if they don’t have the resources to do the work they will lose interest, motivation, and trust that they are supported. I had the great opportunity to work with a company that had a program in place to collect improvement opportunity ideas from the staff, they just didn’t have the environment for it. I went about changing the environment and became the most successful plant in the company for the effort. The program was simple, offer employees a form letter to express their idea, investigate the value of it, suggest, and then implement the improvement. The manager was responsible for approving, funding, and responding to each opportunity as a part of the KPIs.
Another good way of handling this is to train staff how to write internal proposals; this gives staff the confidence and the vehicle for innovation. Reave (2002) gives an excellent account of this process in the paper, Promoting innovation in the workplace, in which the author suggests teaching student to write internal proposals for their work engagements. Ultimately, any flavor of business process improvement method should be applied. I like this one: Initiate (get approval), Analyze (get approval), Redesign (get approval), and Implement (close). The methods for collecting innovative ideas are likely endless but will depend on setting the stage to allow for innovation.
In summary, there are two key components to innovation, understanding goals and the supportive tools that help achieve them. Though I admit there is a lot of potential complexity in each of these areas the organization should look for simple answers to clarify, create, collect, and act.
Denhardt, R. B., Denhardt, J. V., & Aristigueta, M. P. (2013). Managing human behavior in public and nonprofit organizations. (3rd, Ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed.). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Onsman, H. (2004). Management powertools. North Ryde: McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd.
Reave, L. (2002). Promoting innovation in the workplace: The internal proposal. Business Communication Quarterly, 65(4), 8-21.
Stokols, D., Clithereo, C., & Zmuidzinas, M. (2010). Qualities of work environments that promote perceived support for creativity. Creativity Research journal, 137-147.
Brian Mendoza Dominguez