Regardless of the motives - whether that’s maximizing profits, doing good for the society, or both - every company wants to flourish, grow, and be best, or at least unique, in the industry. However, that doesn’t come as easily, especially nowadays. For a modern company to thrive and be competitive, it should be innovative at its core.
Constant business process innovation “integrated to daily operations” is what is needed for any organizational growth. The new font on the packaging, small improvements in the process - they all add up to enormous positive changes if done properly and on a constant basis.
Innovation is no longer a single event or a project that's done at time X; it should become a part of a company's DNA. It concerns all and benefits all. In fact, truly innovative companies are found to be a happier place to work, and their employees report higher productivity and better wellbeing.
In such a win-win situation, companies would definitely be better off encouraging innovation at all levels. But first things first, what is innovation?
The term is so abstract and broad that it’s hard to limit it to a single definition. However, it’s very simple once you understand the core of it.
Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas.
That’s pretty much it. It all comes down to ideas - simple, crazy, practically unachievable, inspiring, good, bad - any ideas.
When the ideas are heard and welcomed, then the company is moving in the right direction. And who is better at providing worthy ideas that truly make sense than employees themselves? Well, that’s why staff-driven innovation is one of the core drivers of any growth.
Innovation is about all
Back in the 1950s, innovation used to be something that the R&D department came up with. It was highly tech-centered and completely separate from the entire organization.
Later, it integrated with Marketing, so that market demand itself directed R&D.
Finally, in the 90s, people understood that instead of leaving everything to R&D, they could also share their accumulated-over-the-years knowledge and throw out some ideas.
Since then, innovation is more external and concerns every part of the company, rather than particular teams.
All in all, it was extremely ineffective for an R&D team to try to guess which innovation projects could solve people’s problems. As it moved towards involving all teams and getting viable data from them, innovation became more feasible and less abstract.
How to encourage innovation
Companies need innovative minds, bold thinking people who would become a part of an idea-generating engine for them. However, any engine needs to be fueled (except for perpetual motion machine of course :), and companies have to learn to do that properly.
“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” — Steve Jobs
Even the most creative people wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas without feeling the support. Therefore, companies should create an environment that fosters innovativeness and inventiveness in the company.
Well, here is a basic recipe for encouraging creativity in the organization.
- Collecting ideas.
This simple approach has really proven to be very effective over the years. Big innovative companies such as Google, IBM, and Amazon have successfully employed idea-collection in their innovation process. There are many ways in which it could be done - from something as simple as Idea Box to allocating a specific time for idea generation and even daydreaming.
BUT the main point is that it shouldn’t stop there. When people share their thoughts, share their ideas that they’ve been carefully growing inside for a long time, then they want to actually be HEARD; and that brings us to the next vital element of a truly creative organization - culture.
- Creating the right culture.
People don’t work solely for a wage, they work for a total value that they get from a particular job. After setting the idea-encouraging mode for the whole organization, it is important to take the next steps right.
The first main ingredient of this recipe is constantly giving feedback. Whether the idea seems good or bad, it is important to communicate back and genuinely show appreciation. In fact, throughout history, the craziest and impossible ideas are seen to be a breakthrough. So brainstorming the ideas with the team, having idea generation sessions that involve multiple people could also be a great way to involve employees through collaboration.
Obviously, the overall culture in the organization must be open and trustworthy. People find it easier to be innovative when the firm structure is more decentralized, there’s no hierarchy and there’s a chill and fun atmosphere around.
- Providing the right tools.
The best companies provide employees with all the tools needed to unleash their full potential. They truly help them grow both personally and professionally.
If the employee is stressed about the work, is about to have a burnout, and his/her only goal is to make the work done and get rid of it, then the IDEA generation and innovativeness would be the last thing they think about :D Therefore, it is important to prevent such things by organizing quality training programs and making their jobs less monotonous and more fun.
And again, who is better than employees themselves in bringing the ideas that truly make change in the work process?
Internal process innovation
Now that we’ve discussed innovation overall, why not innovate internal processes as well? After all, people feel more creative and willing to share their ideas only when they like the environment and enjoy their work.
However, assumptions are the enemy of a good process. If employees could actually know the internal processes, how much time of their work each process takes, and what manual work could be eliminated, then that could be the first and important step in re-designing the knowledge work inside the company. After having all the data available, people could have those problems at the back of their minds and brainstorm possible solutions in a "background mode".
Just like with product innovation, where we needed to know the market demand and data for that, we need data available for internal operations, so that people know what processes could be improved inside the company. Workfellow could help with analyzing the work and obtaining the right data.
On a final note
Innovation is not simple. It takes so many forms and comes from different sources. Most of the innovation projects fail as well. However, the ones that succeed make a real change and prove that the whole journey was worth it.
Innovation can’t be demanded from the people. It doesn’t come just because the deadline is here or the boss is asking to come up with something “creative”. It is something that comes when people enjoy the work, and even then, only with the right environment and right approach can it be implemented.