Whether you are the CEO of a large company or an entrepreneur running your business single-handedly, innovation should be front and center in your strategy. Vigilant edginess not only enhances business growth and productivity, but it also results in personal development for everyone involved.
Leaders looking for innovative business solutions may feel stumped on how to discover avant-garde ways of thinking. Instead of looking for what to do next, consider what NOT to do instead. By avoiding known innovation killers, you and your company will soon reach peak performance.
Five Innovation Killers
1. Thinking It Can’t Be Done
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” — Henry Ford
Success starts with the right mindset. You must believe in yourself, your vision, and the employees you have hired to take part in the journey. Think you don’t have the intellectual resources required? Consider the following.
You don’t have to be a subject matter expert to provide solutions to business challenges and transformational ideas that send your business to a new level.
This fact has been proven repeatedly in public calls for collaboration such as open sourcing and crowdsourcing. Example: In 2009 NASA decided it needed a better way to forecast solar flares to protect astronauts and satellites in space but also to protect the power grids on Earth. The model it had been using the past 30 years predicted whether radiation from a solar flare would reach Earth with only a four-hour lead time and more than 50 percent accuracy.
Instead of framing the problem as finding a better way to predict solar flares; NASA pitched the issue as a data challenge. They called on people with analytic backgrounds to use one of the agency’s most significant asset–30 years of space weather data–to develop a forecasting model.
NASA’s solution was provided by a semi-retired radio-frequency engineer living in rural New Hampshire. Using the data provided, he developed predictive algorithms to build a forecasting model that provided an eight-hour lead time and 85% accuracy. He was awarded $30,000 for his solution.
Bottom line, you don’t have to be an expert to solve business challenges. You just need an opportunity to contribute your unique way of looking for solutions.
2. Lack of Trust
To be truly innovative requires the ability to let loose of what is and allow oneself to consider what could be. That involves operating outside of the established company culture. It cannot be done without trust.
Trust establishes a sense of emotional safety that people need before sharing a new idea or divergent opinion.Trust is not only about trusting others, but it’s also about trusting yourself. If you don’t have a company culture that is conducive to open sharing, this will become your first step.
Culture change is not an overnight fix, but you can begin the process by setting expectations and taking immediate action to eliminate roadblocks. Not sure where to start? Survey employees to measure how comfortable they feel sharing openly. When you see teams reporting discomfort in sharing their ideas, it’s time to dig deeper into the management and set new expectations.
Once employee surveys indicate adequate trust, consider creating an employee portal for problem-solving or product introductions. That might look like the internal version of Crowdsourcing where all employees are invited to contribute to and be recognized for solving business challenges. Or it could be a strategic group approach where innovation teams are assembled and then facilitated through a problem-solution scenario.
3. Resistance to Change
Organizations, like people, can get in a rut and be fearful of change, stubbornly holding on to old ways of doing business. This must be acknowledged before innovation can take hold. The world around us is changing so quickly that we must be flexible to change with it.
The most pivotal move in any case of change is to understand the “why” that creates resistance. Once you have the why, you can create a communications campaign to address the issues, all while emphasizing how the change will result in positive benefits to the organization.
How do you determine the why? Ask what and how. For example:
- What do you most worry about when it comes to this proposed change?
- What would it take for you to feel better about the upcoming change?
- How would you like to see this change implemented?
No matter what kind of resistance you are met with, strategic communications help employees understand business drivers for change. Keep the messaging focused and re-emphasize the message in every communication, whether in writing or speech. It’s important to be as transparent as possible to establish and maintain trust.
4. Lack of Rewards
Whether or not you like it, recognition incentivizes effort and prizes bring out the best in human curiosity and inventiveness. But rewards don’t have to be big. One of the best employee motivators I’ve leveraged has been CEO recognition. In a big company, it’s easy for employees to feel like they just a cog in the wheel. They need to know that the new strategy is not the next “program of the month” and that their contributions matter.
Other ways to incentivize employees for innovative contributions include an extra vacation day or VIP parking. Even better? Offer a list of rewards from which they can choose. That way, they are guaranteed to be pleased with the return on their extra effort.
5. Lack of Diversity
Having overcome the above challenges, an organization may seek to innovate but lack the diverse people resources to get there. Lack of diversity creates a like-minded organization and silos of thought. The diversity of thought includes obvious categories of race and gender but should go much deeper to move a company forward. For example, companies with three generations successfully contributing is a good sign of inclusion. The best way to test real diversity is to look who sits around the decision-making table. If everyone looks the same, chances are the company has a long way to go, no matter who they have outside the door.
However, diversifying the employee base is not enough. If the company doesn’t know how to work inclusively, then it doesn’t matter how many different perspectives you bring to the table. To be effective, the culture has to be willing to embrace a variety of factors that look and feel “different” than what they are accustomed. Not sure how to get there? Benchmark what other companies are doing across industries, not just in your space.
Now that you know what not to do when it comes to creating an innovative workplace, ensure your business strategy incorporates steps to create a working environment that easily lends itself to innovative thinking. And don’t forget to back it up with leading by example!
Sheila Callaham is a best-selling author and longtime communications and change management professional. Sheila leverages the power of words to influence stakeholders and shape perceptions.