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Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires a company that actively fosters it in a hundred ways — from hiring new team members to making time for experimenting freely on fresh ideas in the workplace. Here are six foundational requirements for every company that wants to step up its innovation performance.
1. Curious Employees
Innovation doesn’t happen around incurious people. That’s why employers have, historically, favored job applicants with certain minimum education requirements. Years of higher education can foster open minds and creative spirits.
These days, though, even leading tech companies like Microsoft are taking another look at education as it applies to high-quality employees. We’re seeing a trend of hiring workers more for their soft skills than for their years at school. The point is to collect people based on their curiosity, their drive to learn more and their love of continually bettering themselves. These are the makings of an innovative company.
2. A Culture of Rewarding Failure
This one might sound strange at first, but the truth is this: Very few companies have achieved worldwide renown and continued success without first making themselves comfortable with the idea of failure.
There are lots of ways to celebrate failure in the workplace while honoring and investigating the creative avenues it can open up for you. Slinkies and Post-It notes were developed after their inventors’ initial applications for their concepts ended in failure. Innovative companies must work to create an atmosphere that encourages fearlessly creative thinking.
3. Managers and Leaders Who Inspire
Does your company hold its managers and leaders accountable for innovation? Some businesses even tie compensation to innovation-related performance metrics.
You don’t have to go that far, but you do have to choose leaders who can coach their teams on the value of unorthodox thinking and the joy of exploring new ways to do things. Your leaders are the ones who can most directly reward employees for failing intelligently, but they should also:
- Work toward the elimination of bureaucracy that stifles innovation
- Understand company tools and processes and be unafraid to try something new
- Have an unmistakable openness to new ideas and a spirit of non-judgment
- Make time for employees to engage in brainstorming and unstructured experimentation
Your company will only further compromise its potential for innovation if you hire or promote leaders who are fixated on the bottom line and little else. Innovative companies need leaders who can keep the business humming along while continually exploring new ideas.
4. An Employee Development Program
Several surveys and polls reveal that personal and professional development opportunities are at the top of the list for what employees want out of their jobs. If you desire team members who constantly work to better themselves, your company needs to build a collection of books, whitepapers and courses to broaden their horizons and knowledge. Tuition reimbursement programs make a great addition to in-house learning programs — and come with benefits for employer and employee alike.
Employees who don’t regularly explore new skills and don’t learn about their industry and how it’s changing aren’t in a good position to come up with ideas to meet those changes head-on.
5. Make Innovation a Prerequisite for Every Position
We need to build our very jobs around the concept of innovation. The creators of the aforementioned Post-It note hit upon that great idea because the company has always valued time spent on unstructured projects and trial and error. In fact, 3M allows its professionals to spend time every workday on projects they choose for themselves.
This is a perfect way to communicate the degree to which your company holds every team member responsible for innovative thinking — and that it always makes time for good ideas.
6. Strong Communication Skills
Human organizations are only as strong as their communication skills. Teams have to communicate and coordinate among themselves, leaders and CEOs have to communicate with those teams, and company representatives have to communicate with the outside world.
One big part of innovation we haven’t touched yet is the challenge of stressing the value of a truly innovative product. Your company could follow each of the steps we’ve looked at and come up with a world-class product — but if you don’t know how to talk about it, you could still lose out to a company that manages to communicate more effectively about an inferior product.
Everett Rogers laid out five requirements a product must achieve and which the company in question must know how to communicate effectively about. They are that product’s relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trial-ability and observability. What these factors tell us is that every innovative company needs to know how to whip up excitement and prove to people that what it offers will complement and improve customers’ lives in a significant way.
As one entrepreneur put it after reflecting on why his company failed: “It’s not about good ideas or bad ideas: It’s about ideas that make people talk.” With these six fundamentals, we can start moving in a more positive direction.
May 28, 2019 at 08:30AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs