In a survey of CFOs completed by Robert Half last fall, the main reasons why innovation is floundering comes down to three main points:
By this, we mean the long and convoluted process many companies use in order to process (although it sometimes feels like squash) innovative new ideas.
Think about your own organization – if one of your employees, no matter where they are in the organization, has an idea for a new product, service or process which can improve your revenues or reduce your expenses, how do they do about implementing it? Can they just go ahead and try it (or go ahead and do it) without running it past a large number of folks for “alignment”? Can they just “DoIt“, or does it need to go into a long and drawn out process, running through their manager, to their managers manager, a review panel, subject to development of a budget, business plan, market requirement document, technical requirements document, feasibility study, landscape analysis and I could go on and on.
One of the main reasons why ideas rarely get implemented is not external forces, like compliance and legality, but internal forces maintaining the status quo. Hey, as long as we are profitable, fat and happy, why rock the boat by coming up with new, untested products, services or processes? Unless that you can prove to me that its a billion dollar business right out of the gate, why should I care? We construct our own walls against innovation either through our own action (enforcing rigid processes and standards) or our inaction (not having any clear funnel for your employees to throw their ideas into) and then we wonder why we aren’t innovating. Ideas, in their initial state, are precious things that require nurturing and protection until they can be tested and grow strong. In too many organizations, there is no process to allow new ideas to flourish.
The second reason is time – many corporate employees report that they get stuck in the day-to-day mundane processes of running the business and neither have the time or inclination to spend extra time innovating – there are two solutions to that issue – like Google’s 20% time, give your employees time to work on other projects which have nothing to do with their regular jobs (if this means you need to hire more people then do it) or if that won’t work for you, drive up the passion level of your employee by initiating a very well promoted internal innovation program which will provide recognition and rewards for great new ideas. In too many organizations, the hierarchy has been used as a tool to discourage communications between the layers of the organizations – typically up.
Imagine the motivating power of your CEO reaching out to your employees, at any level of the organization, and asking for help, and pointing them at a clear path for their ideas. In our experience, every single one of your employees has an idea for improving your products, services, or the processes that they touch every day. Why not give them a clear place to drop those ideas? Over time, and with good feedback and communications, you can turn this into a powerful engine of innovation.
Lastly, one of the main reasons for a lack of innovation is ineffective leadership.
If you ask me, this is the core reason why the other two occur – if your leadership is uninterested in innovation, what do you think your innovative employees will do? Leave, ASAP.
I actually witnessed a live All Hands Q&A session with a recently reorganized firm we used to work with. A long-term employee stood up, grabbed the mike, and asked the CEO about the former innovation program, which was shut down during the reorganization in order to cut costs. To that, the CEO mentioned that there was a “lab” already working on innovative new products and services, so you don’t have to worry about that. I almost think that if the CEO was physically closer to the questioner that he would have patted the guy on the head. What kind of message is this to send your employees, the entire enterprise listening in? “Don’t bother innovating, we got this” – sure to be a motivating message right? Not much different from a company I used to work for who ended each all-hands meeting with “OK, you can go back to your naps”.
Like Tobias in Arrested Development, you sometimes wonder, do these people actually hear themselves speak? In one short statement, you basically dismissed the ideas of every employee listening in.
Don’t be these guys. Provide a safe space for your employees to innovate, encourage them all to, then reward them with recognition. Give them the time to innovate, and make sure that you have a rapid idea review and development process to ensure that the ideas don’t get caught up in your perceived internal bureaucracy. Before you know it, you’ll be a completely change organization.
You’ll be innovating.