The Magic Elixir of Innovation

2 Jun

New products and services are coming into the market in an increasingly faster rate. In every business segment companies must find ways to provide new, innovative approaches to meet the needs of a demanding customer base.

We often think of innovation as something done in a laboratory, where scientists toil to create a new and better widget, or perhaps a new elixir to cure all that ails us. This kind of innovation is certainly important, but is the “mad scientist” laboratory the only source of innovation?

In the course of studying companies that have been consistently seen as “Best-Places-to-Work” we’ve found another way to foster innovation: create a highly engaged workplace. In these environments much innovation comes from everyday workers who see an opportunity to do something better, to serve a customer more effectively, or to streamline a clunky process. In poring over comments of both high and low-scoring companies in the thousands of employee engagement surveys we analyzed, we came across several that reveal   how companies have built cultures that  support innovation. The first comment speaks about how the company has encouraged employees to offer their own ideas:

“Innovation is openly appreciated and genuinely valued; any individual in the company may provide their own ideas and, if viable, they are truly leveraged.”

Innovation can’t happen when employees don’t feel empowered. One employee remarks:

“I believe that allowing employees the freedom to manage their lives and work on their own time is the most important part of creating a productive environment. Also, giving everyone the freedom to express their opinions about company decisions gives us all a feeling of ownership and pride, and helps perpetuate constant innovation that makes everyone feel as if we are always moving forward.”

The following comment is from an employee who sees transparency in communication as a factor that supports the culture:

“They set the stage for innovation and welcome progressive thinking. They think outside the box and welcome new ideas.  They also have regular updates on new business and the current environment and give us the information that we need to know–that things are tough out there, but they have a commitment to the people that are working here now.    They have launched a program for employees to give new ideas to senior management directly.”

Finally, one employee reveals how customers react:

“It is a pleasure to be with a company so driven by innovation.  I leave meetings with clients and they are blown away with our capabilities that we have introduced to them.  I report to smart, warm professionals who are well respected.  Nice work if you can get it.”

Indeed, nice work if you can get it. Sadly, many employers have not created the kind of engaging cultures these employees have described. They work in environments where creativity is, even unwittingly, drown out.

“There is a very negative atmosphere in my department and the managers are not responding to employee feedback. Employees do not feel valued or appreciated. They are overworked and underpaid and feel they have no say in how to make improvements within the department. Numerous people have gone to HR and top leadership, but there have not been any positive changes.”

Can you imagine anything innovative coming out of this work group? Not likely. Or this workplace:

“Our services and support departments tend to be major speed bumps to innovation and general ‘getting-s&!t-done-ingness’.  If the resources are stretched as thin as we hear whenever a new feature or old bug is brought up, that needs to be where we’re focusing our spending.”

We’re not suggesting that innovative ideas can’t come from workplaces that are disengaged. They do. But we can’t imagine creative ideas flow as frequently and consistently in an environment where an employee is worried about, and we’re quoting here, “getting-s&!t-done-ingness”. We’ll give the edge to the workplaces that encourage open and honest communication, actively ask for a receive feedback from all employees, and create environments where good ideas are rewarded with other opportunities. That’s an elixir that will bring results.

Want to be more innovative? Engage, and re-engage, your employees.

We invite your comments!

(Photo from Flickr by bframe5)

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