Companies are facing an increasingly competitive environment, having to tackle smaller profit margins, more demanding customers and a growing international competition. For many, the only way to respond to this challenge is to innovate and re-create their business in order to grow. Even though most corporate leaders are aware of this, many are at loss when asked how to identify the next new innovation and business. By expensive market research? By meeting extensively with clients? By hiring third party consultants?
In truth the answer could lie much closer than you think. The greatest ideas can often come from within your own company, from the people that deliver value to your clients every day in an effort to differentiate your company from the rest. Look at your employees first.
Employees first when it comes to innovation
There is a reason why employees are such a useful source when it comes to innovation. They can play an integral role in bringing ideas and creative solutions to the workplace and also apply them in the work they do every day to enhance value and impact. Research indicates that, the more diverse ideas, cultures and levels of experience in the workforce are, the more positive their impact is on innovation. But how exactly can you harness the creativity and insights with your workforce?
Clearly, your approach to achieving innovation depends to a large extent on the nature of your company.
Your approach to leadership
Let’s start by looking at the leadership. This exists across all levels - and are people who influence others to achieve corporate goals and deliver the companies vision, and not necessarily in management positions. Leadership is expected to act as role models and offer a blue print for the future of the company. Whatever decisions or actions they take directly impact the workforce. Leaders therefore need to take ownership and demonstrate the benefits of knowledge sharing, collaboration and of creating synergies across groups. There are a number of ways in which they can achieve this.
Firstly, it is imperative for leaders to demonstrate a mindset in every employee, where peoples' intentions and actions are aligned to the beliefs and values.
Secondly, leaders need to assume accountability for diversity in the workforce mix and provide an inclusive environment. If formulated correctly, it can multiply the quality and quantity of transformational solutions that, in turn, foster economic growth across organisations as they evolve the way we work and live.
A third important point is recognising and rewarding people who demonstrate innovative behaviour. Tomorrow’s employee is looking for a workplace that provides high quality and purposeful work and recognises and maximises their unique value and encourages authenticity by building trust through transparency. Transparency in this case refers to giving employees a clear line of sight between employee contributions and business outcomes. Seeing how individual or group efforts directly influence the company’s profits reinforces the sense of purpose and motivation. This includes creating an environment by shaping and sponsoring programs, policies and processes that encourages innovation.
Creating a sense of inclusion
Alignment of these efforts ensures a sense of inclusion by strengthening the cohesiveness with which people understand the cultural architecture and creates a workplace that enhances the innovation workers bring to their work.
Enabling individuals to meet their aspirations also means leaders need to have a consistent understanding amongst the workforce that today’s challenges or opportunities cannot be addressed by yesterday’s solutions. New solutions will only emerge if each leader helps to create a workplace that enables employees to strive and perform as well as empower and engage the worker to have maximum impact on the organisation and its capabilities. The employees’ efforts need to be optimised in such a way that helps them to make the best use of their potential, proficiency and passion. Career, learning, performance, reward and talent management practices need to be refreshed and reinvented to deliver on this promise as these impact the employees’ experience with the organisation most directly. These processes enable an employee to introspect, transparently share feedback and leverage the organisational and external networks to perform better and take responsibility for their growth.
In summary, the leadership of any company is a group of people who should use their varied expertise and experiences to seed, nurture and harvest new ideas as they make these decisions and take actions. This inverts the organizational design from the ‘traditional pyramid’ and multiplies the impact of creativity and innovation in the workforce on the business strategy. Fostering innovation from Employee’s First is an equal responsibility between leaders and the workforce equally and I believe that where we see this happen is where we see organizations accelerating ahead from competition.