Consultant Culture Consultancy
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Engaging your people in the innovation journey

19th May 2016
Innovative team

There are many roads to building a culture of innovation within an organisation and one of the key tasks for the leadership team is to identify and scope the transition matrix which optimises results for their own business.

Some may opt for a business wide transition, whilst others may prefer to smooth the way via a dual operating system or through a gradual rollout across divisions.

But whatever the pathway chosen, make no mistake that a true culture of innovation is not simply for top table or the chosen few. By the time that an organisation can truly claim to have embraced a culture of innovation, the innovation ideal will have spread across every department and every division and every employee.

Naturally the initial design phase rests with the leadership and in the previous articles in this series I looked at building innovation leadership and aptitudes in the top team and in the i-agents who have the responsibility for rolling innovation out across the organisation. But a business is only as successful as its people and in this article I’m going to examine the importance of engaging employees in innovation.

The employee engagement imperative

You probably don’t need me to tell you that across the globe, survey after survey is revealing worryingly low levels of employee engagement. This has a knock-on effect in every area of business including productivity, customer service, profitability and even organisational reputation.

In a traditional, hierarchical, target driven organisation a low level of employee engagement is an ongoing drain on the business. In organisations which seek to build a culture of innovation, poor employee engagement means that the innovation ambition will never be realised.

72% of employees have no understanding of what innovation means to their employers

With this in mind it may be worth highlighting one statistic from the Wazoku Everyday Innovation Report which revealed that 72% of employees have no understanding of what innovation means to their employers! That’s one statistic which an organisation setting off on the innovation pathway needs to blow apart if it is to have any chance of success.

In my earlier articles I highlighted the importance of communication in spreading the innovation message. But simply making people aware of innovation and innovation methodologies won’t result in them instantly assimilating new beliefs, outlooks and patterns of behaviour into their daily routine.

And whilst the daily example set by the leadership team and i-agents may help people to believe that the organisation is serious about change; that is still a far cry from true engagement.

An innovative approach to engagement

So in an organisation which is set on building a culture of innovation at every level, how do you go about engaging people in the innovation ideal? Quite simply, you take an innovative approach.

Rather than building engagement to deliver innovation, you start by identifying how you would like your people to be within an innovation culture and then use those very same traits to build engagement.

For example, employees within an innovation culture:

  • are empowered to take responsibility and decisions,
  • are collaborative,
  • have a holistic view of the organisation and
  • are trained to enable them to devise innovative solutions rather than simply to carry out tasks.

With that in mind, rather than treating employee engagement as a top-down initiative the solution is to move towards a more self managed employee engagement programme which is driven by the employees themselves.

This doesn’t abrogate organisational responsibility; you still need to set people off on the engagement pathway using the 4Es of education, engagement, empowerment and enablement: but having set the parameters, the more that employees can lead the program, the more engaged they are likely to be.

When you empower you encourage your people to use their judgement

Even within the 4E framework, delivery can be optimised to draw out innovative behaviours. So when you educate, you take people on the journey rather than simply making a business case. When you engage people in the change, you take account of their observations concerns and experiences.

When you empower you encourage your people to use their judgement and to identify their own developmental requirements and when you enable you provide them with access to the tools and the skills which they need to become willing contributors to the innovation programme.

With the 4Es methodology in place, and with innovation very much in mind employee led engagement programs can quickly help people to not only develop their improvement pathway, they can also send out a strong signal about the sincerity of the organisation in moving towards an innovation methodology.

HR & training to the fore

However, with employees being encouraged to think for themselves, to work on their own initiative, to collaborate and to problem solve, this doesn’t mean that the HR and training departments are out of the loop.

On the contrary, employee led engagement actually requires HR and trainers to step up a gear, moving from formal process instruction to the delivery of a wide range of hard and soft skills. The latter may include communication and interpersonal skills, decision-making, time management and team working.

Moreover, with this new imperative blended learning comes very much to the fore delivering training in bite-size chunks as and when required.

Putting self-development and engagement in their hands sends out a strong message

There is no point in telling people that you trust them to act on their own initiative if you’re then going to insist that training and development needs are identified at annual appraisal and then scheduled to fit in with the training needs of others. So you have to develop a suite of resources including how to and what if guides, videos, quizzes and workshops; all of which can be delivered as and when required.

All the planning, all the scoping, all the work done in identifying the ideal innovation mix for your organisation is a complete waste of time unless your employees are engaged in identifying and delivering innovative solutions. Putting self-development and engagement in their hands sends out a strong message about the extent to which the organisation is determined to change.

One last thing, don’t expect change to happen overnight. You’ve spent years, decades even, in telling your employees that you expect them to behave in one way. Now you are expecting them to change their beliefs and behaviours, their attitudes and values, even the way they interact with others.

Leading by example and empowering them to manage their own change journey are key steps on the way to successfully building your culture of innovation.

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