As part of my series entitled “Creating A Culture Of Innovation”, I highlighted an approach back in August, that I’ve come up with to begin doing just that.
Here’s a great list of questions to ask the first line employees in your organization, to determine whether your organization is really serious about innovation being part of it’s culture. These questions are slightly modified versions of the questions outlined by Gary Hamel in the recent interview with McKinsey and Co.
1) “How have you been trained as a business innovator? What investment has the company made in teaching you how to innovate?”
Yes, this should be filtered down all the way to your companies lowest level employee.
2) “If you have an idea, how much bureaucracy do you have to go through to experiment with it? How long is it going to take for you to get a small percentage of your time and/or a relatively small amount of experimental capital to test your idea? Is it a matter of months, or is it very easy for that to happen?”
This falls in line with the “Nurture” step in my SANE approach. Companies that are serious about innovation being a part of their culture have systems, and processes in place to help nurture ideas. The build it into their budgets, and strategic plans.
3) “Are you actually being measured on your innovation performance, or your team’s innovation? Does it influence your compensation?”
“Put your money where your mouth is”. Companies that are serious about innovation will find ways to compensate employees for their innovative contributions, and provide incentives for continued innovation.
4) “As you look at the management process in your company, do they tend to help you work as an innovator or get in the way?”
This falls in line with the “Execute” step in my SANE approach.
Getting in the way doesn’t just mean getting involved and complicating things. It also means simply not doing everything possible to help innovative ideas that have been supported be brought to life.
In thinking about innovation and how innovation can become a cultural trait, as opposed to something that organizations strive for artificially, I came up with what I call the “SANE” approach to innovation, or SANE Innovation.
This approach is to be used by leadership, or the individual/individuals you have made responsible for managing innovation within your organization or team. In my opinion, at the company level, this person should be your CEO or another executive. I don’t believe it is by any means their sole responsibility to innovate. I do believe however, that innovation needs an owner, a champion in your organization.
SANE = Set Expectations->Ask->Nurture->Execute
Set Expectations – Set the expectations of your team members appropriately. Let them know that you want innovation to be a core part of your culture, and not just something you talk about. Let them know that you are confident that each and every one of them has the ability to truly innovate, and that as the leader you will shoulder the responsibility of supporting them, and helping them hone their creativity and talents.
Ask – Ask them to innovate, and ask them often. Now that you’ve shown that you are serious about innovation being something that is expected from everyone, and that you are willing to help them innovate, put the ball back in their court and ask them to come up with innovative, outside the box ideas and solutions to problems. Reinforce how much you value, and expect their ideas by providing them with a system and/or process for submitting those ideas regularly. Depending on your organization, some ideas may need to be private, and reviewed by specific people, but the more ideas that are public, and accessible to everyone in your organization the better.
Also, don’t shortcut the process yourself. Be sure to submit your own ideas, and ask the rest of your organization to comment on them and give their honest opinions, just as they would with anyone else’s idea.
Nurture – Nurtue ideas and innovators properly. Make the nurturing and refinement process something that not just management is involved in. Ensure that the original stake holders in the idea maintain ownership of it, and are comfortable with their level of involvement in it going forward. The more involvement on their part the better. Taking their idea and running with it on your own, even if you at some point give them credit for it, will only create angst, and resentment. In the end your realization of “their” idea will most likely be far from what they envisioned it to be anyway, and they may not even want to be given credit for it.
Execute – Great ideas in and of themselves are worthless. It’s the execution of those ideas that counts. Make sure that when innovative ideas are identified and supported, that you execute on them to bring them to reality. One of the worst things you can do at this stage, when you have a mature idea that has been fleshed out, and that you have supported, is let the idea flounder. Make the execution of innovative ideas/concepts a priority over all things that are not mission critical to your business at the time they arise. Empower the stake holders/idea owners to execute and provide them with all the necessary support and resources needed to do so. Innovative ideas that make it to the point of approval should not become stagnant, as it undermines your entire standpoint, and devalues the worth you place on innovation in your organization.
Remember, you haven’t done anything innovative until you execute.