Expert’s Advice

Question

My name is Hassan, I currently work as HR Manager in my organization. I have been saddled with the responsibility of encouraging innovation among our employees, we are an innovation-driven company. How do we create an enabling environment that encourages innovation?

 

Dear Hassan,

I am elated to read from you and to learn that your organization has decided to take active steps in creating an environment that encourages innovation. For organizations to stay ahead of their competitors, it is important that they continue to grow by implementing new and efficient processes in their business practices that will increase workflow efficiency and quality of goods or services. To build an innovation-driven company, you need to create an environment that encourages your employees to consistently come up with new ideas, inventions, and solutions that will help your company stay ahead and achieve its goals.

While revolutionary ideas can be conceived at any place and time, being intentional about cultivating an innovative culture in an organization not only helps companies defend their bottom lines, but also encourages employee creativity thus resulting in higher levels of employee satisfaction and retention. As the HR manager, it is important that you create a roadmap that ensures your company policies, processes and procedures encourage people to think critically and creatively. Be prepared that the steps toward creating an innovative environment will not be easy, this is because organizations are structured and work with standardized processes which may stifle innovation. However, the key to building and sustaining an innovative culture is integrating your innovation enablers into your company processes.

Irrespective of the industry and/or size of your organization, harnessing the innovative potential of your employees is dependent on a blend of your management style, company culture, values, strategy, and resources.

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Leadership & management

The culture of a company is directed and controlled by the tone at the top. Your leadership team should commit to building an innovation enabling environment by supporting the steps and processes taken to ensure this. The management style of your organization should empower your employees to think about the challenges the organization is facing and come up with possible solutions. You should ensure employees take ownership and responsibility for new ideas and solutions without fear of breaking the chain of command.

Your organization should also consider adopting a flat management structure that allows employees to skip bureaucracies and become agile. However, a flat structure is not without its cons.

Communication

For employees to become innovative and churn out groundbreaking ideas, clear and consistent information on the company vision, mission and strategy must be well communicated such that employees have the requisite knowledge upon which they can birth new ideas. Internal communication based on openness and trust developed over years is a key to setting this atmosphere. All employees, irrespective of position and cadre, should be kept abreast of the “highs and lows” of the organization to build inclusiveness and prompt employees to come up with solutions to the challenges identified.

Process Revamp

Creating an environment that enables innovation will require a review of your business practices to ensure that your processes support employees challenging the status quo and have the required support to innovate. Processes such as talent management process, employee engagement, reward, and recognition, etc. need to be tailored differently from that of other organizations such that building an innovative culture becomes intentional and known to all.

  • Talent Management
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Identify and Hire people with intrapreneurial spirit: Intrapreneurs are individuals that use entrepreneurial thinking to create change within existing organizations. People with an Intrapreneurial spirit can create revolutionary ideas without waiting to be prompted by their managers. They are also able to infuse the right energy into their colleagues thus propagating the innovative culture you want to encourage. Assess your workforce for employees with this trait and appoint them to champion most of your projects.

Challenge your employees: Relieve assignments, Acting Appointments, Projects are some ways you can help your employees develop their innovative spirit. Providing opportunities for employees to take ownership serves as an impetus for innovation.

  • Stakeholder Engagement

Sources of ideas: Great business ideas are mostly conceived by people who understand your organization, therefore constant engagement with your stakeholders particularly employees and customers is a major way of generating new ideas on internal processes, product improvements, and service improvements. These ideas can be generated through regular town hall meetings, team bonding exercises, employee & customer surveys, focus group discussions, and suggestion boxes/emails. The feedback from these sources should be reviewed and progress communicated in a timely manner to the stakeholders thus encouraging trust and innovation. Sourcing for ideas should be premised on a rule that there are no bad ideas and people will not be sanctioned or judged for their ideas.

Create Innovation hubs: Form interdepartmental innovation groups and assign time, and other resources to them so they can brainstorm on specific areas of the business or future business. Giving people time out from their day-to-day tasks to collaborate and develop solutions to problems, not only births innovation but increases team bonding. Provide spaces, technology, and other resources for people to innovate. Creating a budget for this purpose communicates the organization’s commitment to the cause thus encouraging employees to begin to think outside the box and see the innovation-driven culture as the new normal.

  • Reward & Recognition
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Motivate your employees to encourage innovation. While it is important to reward employees with revolutionary ideas, it is equally important to recognize/reward employees who birthed good ideas which would not be implemented by the organization. This practice helps reinforce the culture and encourages employees to keep generating ideas that will improve the organization.

Make it safe to explore and take risks by ensuring employees are not castigated for ideas that go wrong rather make the team see it as a learning curve. Remember the popular phrase “No risk, no reward”.

In conclusion, successfully creating an environment that encourages innovation is not a feat that can be achieved overnight. It requires hard work and consistent reinforcement of the innovation enablers, particularly the ability of your organization to invest time and resources into the process, bearing in mind that birthing great ideas also comes with a high possibility of failure.  Begin your journey with the ideas I have shared, and slowly build up until your company is at its peak of innovation.

I am rooting for you!

YourHRlady

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