Build Staff’s Innovation Skills

We know that innovation is important to our companies and to our economy. How to maximize the opportunity is the challenge. I’ve shared several insights in this blog, and the presentations and webinars that I deliver on how companies can increase staff’s commitment to use their creative energies and be innovative.

Recently, Mike Nolan, Vice Chair of Innovation Solutions for KPMG, noted four effective steps business leaders can use:

  • Champion diversity of thought. Diverse teams are more likely to conceive if creative ideas than teams with similar backgrounds, skills and outlooks. For instance, many companies seeking to improve on their algorithms, sponsor a contest to people – and allow outsiders to join in. Many times, I’ve noticed, that the winners are people who are not part of the sponsoring company and often have different professional backgrounds!
  • Shift the mindset. Thinking creatively doesn’t come naturally to some, so you need to use different techniques to spur them. One of the most successful ways is to incorporate into your culture activities and norms that encourage it, such as “innovation circles” that meet regularly and creating a “stock market of ideas”.
  • Invest your own time. As with everything important in a company, the CEO and other leaders must serve as role-models for two reasons. First, as Nolan notes, leaders can’t tackle innovation on their own. A KPMG US CEO survey found 85% of chief executives don’t believe they have enough time to strategize about responding to disruption with innovation. So clearly they need to encourage others to be active. Second, cultures start at the top. Indeed, one of the most important roles of a chief executive is be a role model and set the tone for the values, activities and norms that should define the company. That’s true for ethics and innovation.
  • Incentivize and reward people meaningfully. To get your employees to commit to thinking creatively and channeling the energies into innovative activities, you need to reinforce such behavior. That means rewarding them for taking the risky, extra behaviors that might lead to the innovation. Unfortunately, as another study reported, most people feel their companies only reward them when their efforts succeeded. Such behavior is counterproductive when it comes to building staff’s motivation and skills for innovation.

Finally, consider offering special events to demonstrate your company’s commitment to innovation. We often hear of technology companies who sponsor hackathons. However, this commitment can be offered virtually anywhere. Ned Johnson, former Chairman of Fidelity Investments created Fidelity Labs almost 20 years ago to focus on innovation. New CEO Abigail Johnson is also “very focused on innovation.” The lab periodically runs hackathons in which employees from around the world assemble for two days to develop new ideas, build prototypes and pitch them to their colleagues and executives.

What steps are you taking to build your staff’s innovation skills? Share with us.

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