4 Keys to Igniting Employee-driven Innovation

Innovation is the key to growth and profits. But, it doesn’t happen in isolation, in a lab or in the executive suite. It comes from the people who interact with your customers and fend off your competition every day.

In other words, your employees.

This is why the employee engagement epidemic is so dire, not only for company growth, but survival. 87% of employees worldwide are disengaged or indifferent at work, reports Gallup, one of the leading organizations that measure employee engagement globally. In the US alone, active disengagement costs companies $450-$550 billion a year. And that is minor compared to the organizations that die because of their inability to ignite employee-driven innovation.

There is hope. Employees intrinsically want to make an impact. Employees hold all the information and experience to explore new markets, create new solutions, and innovate from within, but it is up to leaders to unearth the creative and lucrative potential of their talent.

Here are 4 Keys to Igniting Employee-driven Innovation:

      1. Ditch the consultant. Because no one got fired for hiring a big consulting firm, consultants are one of the biggest obstructions to employee-driven innovation. How? In a word, confidence. Managers that hire consultants instead of nurturing ideas from within, send a big fat signal that they don’t believe in their employees. Plus, consultants aren’t interacting in your culture or with your customers’ every day. Sure they have expertise, usually industry-specific, but they aren’t on the front lines making the magic happen. They are looking at abstract data out of context. Quit killing your employee confidence and work from within to foster innovation that delivers.
      2. Create space. Daily operations are a must for a business to run, but that often leaves no time or energy for ideas, innovation or creativity. If you want to do something, you must focus on it. Just like learning to ride a bike, you must dedicate time to learn and practice to master the skill. The same goes for innovation. Employees must have dedicated time to think, collaborate and share with others to unearth the next BIG idea. Stop wasting all your talent’s energy on the day-to-day, instead dedicate some time to innovation; it’s the only way it will get done.
      3. Institute a consistent process. Process seems so counter to innovation. It’s controlled; it’s predictable; it’s repeatable and scalable. These are not inherent traits of creativity or innovation, right? Not for innovation itself, but you must have an intentional method to foster innovation. What kind of process works for internal innovation? First, you must clearly state the purpose or goal. It must be singular and measurable. This creates boundaries to focus. Then you must have a way to capture ideas, develop ideas and choose ideas worth pursuing. Finally, you must follow through. It shows impact for the organization and a proof point for everyone.Don’t forget the “consistent” part of this key. This process must be repeated. It must be predictable, i.e. it happens annually, quarterly or monthly. Employees need to rely on it. It channels random idea generation, curbs frustration and cynicism and allows a gentle refocus on daily operations the rest of the work time because of the promise of an established forum for innovation and creativity. This consistent process weaves innovation into the fabric of your organization’s culture without sacrificing the immediate operational needs of the business.
      4. Execute and promote success. This is the big AHA. The money shot. The key that drives culture, sustainability, and ultimately your organization’s competitive advantage. Once the process to discover internal innovation is complete, then it’s the execution of that BIG idea that matters. It’s what makes the uncomfortable, challenging part of innovation worth it. Success breads success. Once you deliver a successful, quantifiable employee-driven innovation within an organization, next you must promote it. It is the beacon that will drive the future. Showcase how the risk paid off. Tout how your employees made it happen. And then…wash and repeat.

That’s how you can overcome the disengagement dilemma. That’s how you can, not only create relevant innovation in your company, but also fast-track execution. That’s how you can ignite employee-driven innovation to thrive in this hypercompetitive, light speed environment of today. You have the raw materials for innovation already within your reach. Go ahead, tap it!

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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