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10 ways professional firms can encourage innovation- and 7 ways to kill it!

Guest contributor and conference speaker Richard Stupple explains how professional firms can create a culture where every employee is encouraged & empowered to innovate.

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Encouraging innovation by Richard Stupple
"Innovation is a process to bring new ideas, new methods or new products to an organisation. For many businesses however, innovation has been limited to looking for a "big" idea to advance a company's competitive position. True innovation is about involving every single employee to look around their work area to identify small problems and to be empowered and responsible to solve them."
Richard Stupple, Boxchange

Many organisations list "innovation" as one of their values but few ever achieve it. Experience tells us that the meaning of "innovation" is not understood by the majority of staff and most feel that it doesn't apply to them. As a result, for most businesses, true innovation rarely comes to life. Richard Stupple at Boxchange explains more. 

Innovation capability can be built inside any business, in any sector, in any part of the value chain; it is not linked only to invention, technology or R&D, but is clearly linked to new value creation and capture of value in a new way.

Innovation is a process to bring new ideas, new methods or new products to an organisation. For many businesses however, innovation has been limited to looking for a "big" idea to advance a company's competitive position. True innovation is about involving every single employee to look around their work area to identify small problems and to be empowered and responsible to solve them.

From this process of involving all employees in continuous improvement comes daily improvements in quality, efficiencies, productivity, and customer satisfaction - and miraculously great commercial ideas will also "pop" out.

Innovation is everyone’s job!

Great organisations don’t depend on a small number of exclusive people to come up with innovations. Instead they create a culture in which every single employee is encouraged and empowered to innovate – whether it’s in processes, products, or services. This leads to new customer offerings, healthier margins, stronger customer relationships, and better, more efficient work practices. In fact, 62% of those who took part in a recent “Innovation in the Workplace” poll say that innovation has led to improved financial performance for their company.

10 ways to encourage innovation

You can help your firm innovate by creating a culture in which all employees are actively encouraged to put ideas forward. But how do you get the best from people and encourage them to be at their most creative?
I often hear managers blame “the company” for not allowing employees to be innovative. While that may be true to some extent, it frustrates me that these managers don’t seem to understand that in the eyes of their employees, they are the company.

Here are 10 things you can do to create an environment where employees are encouraged to be innovative:

  1. Give employees a reason to care. The fact is, if people aren’t feeling connected to your company, there’s little incentive for them to be innovative. Make sure your employees are in the loop on your firm’s strategies and challenges, and invite their input. Employees who are involved early on in processes and plans will be motivated to see them through to completion. Their active participation will fuel more ideas than if they learn of initiatives as they are being rolled out
  2. Stress the importance of creativity. Ensure all your staff know that you want to hear their ideas. Unless they understand how innovating your business processes can keep your firm competitive, your efforts at encouraging creative thinking risk falling flat.
  3. Make time for brainstorming. Allocate time for new ideas to emerge. For example, set aside time for brainstorming, hold regular group workshops and arrange team days out. A team involved in a brainstorming session is likely to be more effective than the sum of its parts. Individuals within the team can feed off each other – exploring, testing and refining ideas. You should also give individuals the space to reflect privately on their work if you think they need it
  4. Actively solicit ideas. When you hire a pair of hands you get a brain for free – tap into the collective brains of your workforce! Place suggestion boxes around the workplace, appeal for new ideas to solve particular problems and, quite literally, keep your door open to new ideas
  5. Cross-fertilise. Broadening people’s experiences can be a great way to spark ideas. Short-term job swaps and shadowing in-house can introduce a fresh perspective to roles. Encourage people to look at how other businesses do things, even those in other sectors, and consider how they can be adapted or improved
  6. Challenge the way staff work. Encourage employees to keep looking anew at the way they approach their work. Ask people whether they have considered alternative ways of working and what might be achieved by doing things differently
  7. Make innovation “cool”. Another way businesses can encourage innovation is to make it “cool.” Promoting opportunities for employees to try new and different ways of doing things in the workplace - as well as offering recognition and rewards for innovative acts - teaches that experimentation, creativity and exploration are worthwhile pursuits
  8. Be supportive. Respond enthusiastically to all ideas and never make someone offering an idea, however hopeless, feel foolish. Give even the most apparently outlandish of ideas a chance to be aired
  9. Tolerate mistakes. A certain amount of risk-taking is inevitable with creative thinking. Allow people to learn from their mistakes. Never put off the creative flow by penalising those whose ideas don’t work out
  10. Act on ideas. Creative thinking is only worthwhile if it results in action. Provide the time and resources to develop and implement those ideas worth acting upon. Failure to do so not only means your firm will fail to benefit from innovation, but flow of ideas may well dry up if staff feel the process is pointless.

Warning signs

There are some things you will never hear at the most innovative organisations. Listen to your managers and staff and be on alert for them. These are clear indicators that innovation in your company has not yet taken hold and come to life:

  • “We have always done it this way” - This is the biggest killer of innovation in any organisation and contains the seven most expensive words in business. This widely used phrase may be a sign that your workplace is resistant to new ideas and, if you’re currently stuck in this sort of culture, it can be frustrating and costly in the long term
  • “Can we do that?” - Permission seekers are the mark of an unclear company vision. “We can’t do that,” should also raise red flags. If your people see others try, fail and then get punished, you can guarantee that people will remain in the safe spot
  • “We have to go through the proper channels” - is a statement that signals employees are not well-networked and failing to cross silo walls. Though one person may come up with the idea, nobody creates a great innovation solely on their own
  • “That’s good enough” and “that’s not my job” are two dangerous phrases signalling that people are not focused on the future of the company.

Stay on alert for these dangerous phrases — a great brand name, reputation or history will not protect you from losing your edge.

Seven creativity killers

  1. Surveillance. Making people feel they are constantly watched stifles risk-taking
  2. Over Evaluation. People who must constantly worry about how they're doing learn to ignore the personal satisfaction of their own accomplishments
  3. Competition. People put into win-lose, only-one-can-come-out-on-top situations quickly shed the willingness to make mistakes
  4. Micro-management. Constantly telling people how to do things often leaves them feeling that originality is a mistake
  5. Restricting choice. Dictating the "right" way to do something prevents following where curiosity and passion lead
  6. Pressure. Unreasonably high expectations deter experimentation and exploration
  7. Time. (The biggest killer!) Limited time squashes the opportunity to become engrossed in and swept away by what you are doing.

Firms that constantly innovate will continue to thrive and stay ahead of the competition – those that don’t will become irrelevant over time.

For more information

Contact Richard Stupple at Boxchange. Richard will be leading the Managing/Senior Partners Retreat and a session at the 2018 EMEA Regional Conference