4 Ways to Nurture Employee Innovation from Within Your Organization

Instead of looking outward for ideas and innovation, consider fostering employee innovation from within your own company. It's a great way to get ahead.

July 6, 2018
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Many business leaders tend to look outward to find sources of potential innovation. This is quite understandable since you do have to keep a watchful eye on the competition in today’s business environments. Smaller and more agile teams are attempting to disrupt various industries. They might just have that next killer concept. As such, established companies are often inclined to pursue mergers and acquisitions. If you can’t beat them, buy them out.

However, this way of thinking makes leaders overlook the option to innovate internally. This can be quite unfortunate since existing staff can already be a rich source of ideas. Your people already know your market and your customers. They are also in the best position to recognize the current issues and limitations of your own company.

This brings other benefits as well. Letting staff participate in innovation programs can encourage teamwork and camaraderie. Your staff can also feel valued since they get to express and share their ideas. Putting up such initiatives isn’t too hard to do these days, especially with the availability of digital collaboration tools.

Why not look inward to find that next game-changing idea? Below are a few steps you can take.

1. Formalize the Program

Among the reasons why innovation programs fail is because they’re often done on a whim and set up informally. Without any structure, you run the risk of letting the initiative devolve into a bull session that only generates complaints and inane comments. You don’t just want crazy ideas. You need brazen but feasible concepts that create value for all stakeholders.

You can set up your innovation program in a variety of ways. Larger enterprises typically create their own incubation centers where they allow teams to operate as if they’re startups. Their resources allow them to do that. However, if you’re a smaller enterprise, you can enable teams to embark on pet projects alongside their usual tasks. They can target smaller outcomes like proofs-of-concept instead of fully working products. Solid ideas could be spun off to something bigger later anyway.

Formalize the program with guidelines. You could introduce parameters such as allowing only concepts that are aligned with your company’s mission or your industry. This way, you can avoid getting into something that the organization isn’t really prepared to take on. Provide budgets and allow staff to allocate a portion of their time to working on their initiatives.

2. Break Down the Silos

When organizations grow, there’s a natural tendency for teams and departments to draw lines and become their own tribe. Silos prevent growth. Departments even become territorial, preventing the smooth flow of ideas and collaboration within the organization.

Let your innovation program help bring these silos down. Form cross-disciplinary teams to allow participants to tap a variety of skills and perspectives needed by ventures these days. In the very least, the exercise could allow them to gain an appreciation of what each department brings into the organization.

Have them use collaboration tools like Trello, Conceptboard, and Slack to allow them to operate efficiently. Cross-disciplinary teams often aren’t typically collocated, so providing means for them to share ideas digitally can help. If you’re willing to go take it up a notch, you can adopt a more advance platform like Qmarkets’ innovation management software that has integrated communication, workflow, and evaluation features. This way, your innovation program can become an integral part of the way you work.

3. Track Progress

Insert a time element into your program. Otherwise, projects won’t likely progress. Keep in mind Parkinson’s Law – work expands to the time allotted for the task. Identify regular touch points to ensure that teams continue working on their concepts and can pace themselves accordingly.

Take these regular checkups as an opportunity to get the energy up. A good way to inject excitement is to make events out of program milestones. For instance, if your business is involved in software development, you can hold a hackathon instead of sit-down brainstorming sessions. You can also host pitch and demo sessions once the ideas have been distilled.

Keep in mind that these exercises are meant to be quick and relatively messy. You’re not gunning for polished products. You just have to be able to realistically envision their effort as a real product or service that you can offer. Quicker turnarounds mean that teams get relevant feedback and allow them to pivot directions towards a more viable alternative.

Invite representatives across business units to serve as panels so that you can get more diverse input. This can also excite other units when they see that there are fresh ideas in the pipeline.

4. Provide Executive Support

While innovation should be an organization-wide responsibility, leadership must take on a critical role in the process. In the case of innovation programs, someone has to provide executive support for the efforts.

If you’re the one taking on the role of executive sponsor, prepare to be quite involved. It would be your duty to keep their efforts aligned with the business’s overall goals. You also have to advocate for the effort and enable these innovation teams. There may come a time when conflicts will arise, especially when it comes to workload and scheduling.

Provide teams the latitude to pursue their projects, especially if their concepts already show much promise. Stopping their efforts to refocus them full-time on their routine tasks might disrupt the much-needed momentum to get their idea to the next stage. If you plan the program well, then they should be able to manage their time and workloads in the first place.

Prepare to Pursue the Best Ideas

Always keep in mind that one can always think of radical ideas but the challenge is to prove that it will be a feasible venture. These efforts not only seek to generate bright ideas, they’re to bring these concepts closer to reality. Mistakes will be also be made. Don’t be afraid to scrap ideas that won’t deliver value to anyone. Have your participants embrace failure too. It’s part of innovation. However, if there’s truly a killer idea with a solid business case, then you should be prepared to pursue the effort. Reward the team as well to know that they have contributed much to the future of your organization.

Are You Ready to Embrace And Nurture Innovation?

Nurture innovation is having a profound impact on organizations across the globe. Are you ready to take the plunge? You may be surprised by its effectiveness.