There’s so much talk about innovation these days, from creating a culture that fuels innovation to embracing open innovation for better business. But there’s one subject seldom discussed: people.
People are often the missing link when it comes to innovation. They’re the most significant element related to innovating or making significant things happen. People includes you, your colleagues, your customers and even partners outside your organization.
It’s quite obvious that you have to invest in people if you want innovation. They’re your existing or potential innovators and they’re capable of driving your organization forward into the era of modern innovation.
Investing in people demands knowing people. Grow from within demands internal innovation. How do you make this possible? Here’s how.
Think about People and the Roles They Play
Want to organize a strong innovation team? Think about people first. Think about what and how each of them can contribute to the team. Don’t just think about what they can do: their skills and capabilities. Think about what you can do to help them improve their skills. Bring out and nurture their innovator’s mindset through corporate innovation training programs.
This is easier said than done. Take companies with a rigid top-down approach, for instance. There’s almost always a huge gap between what senior management wants and what employees are capable of. Such close, hierarchical structure ignores options and alternatives. It ignores feedback and promotes skill atrophy.
Now let’s consider a transparent, horizontal culture where everyone with a diverse set of skills contribute something valuable to the workplace. Feedback is highly encouraged, which is why all teams are likely to achieve the right solution and innovate more.
Treat Your Employees as You Would Treat Your Customers
A new generation of employees is no longer looking for a boring, high-paying job. They want to build a meaningful career, something that allows that to work differently and flexibly. But a lot of companies equate flexible work hours and workplace to laziness and lack of responsibility.
The fact is, millennials who work outside the confines of a “9 to 5” job or outside the cubicle tend to invest 50 to 60 hours of work every week, including evenings and weekends.
Having a choice empowers employees, just as customers who all have the privilege to choose what and when to buy. So trust your employees enough and provide them with everything they need to innovate. This is where creativity at work begins, not in restricting employees to a routine job or a stiff job description.
Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture
Innovation is hard because it asks people to focus on the big picture: not on profit and output, not on pleasing shareholders. These things are important, sure, but they can block you from clearly seeing the big picture.
Take, for instance, middle managers who narrowly focus on their profit-and-loss responsibility. Many don’t furnish employees with adequate resources necessary for innovation. Why? Because it won’t benefit them in the short run even if it’s the right thing to do in the long run. There are people who kill innovation.
Attract and Reward Thinkers and Doers
Thinkers and doers come in different shapes and sizes. And they don’t usually claim to be innovators. They’re most likely ambitious but certainly creative, intuitive and independent. They crave freedom, openness and collaboration.
You can’t force these people to sign up and work for your company. You can’t buy them off. But you can, however, create an ideal work environment that supports and nurtures creative and innovative types of individuals. The keyword here is create. You can't impose or force change in the workplace from the top down but you can create an environment that naturally allows innovation to happen.