When we ask people about innovation, they usually leap to radical breakthroughs like self-driving cars, alternative energy sources, or space colonies. While these things are innovative, the term innovation simply means a change to an established method or idea. Storing your forks closer to the dishwasher is innovation. In companies, incremental changes like optimizing a process, or solving a long-standing problem can be as necessary for success as introducing a new product or selling to a new market.
The reason that many organizations don’t continually innovate is that change is hard, especially in a culture that doesn’t allow for failure or accept ideas from outside of the C-suite. The problem isn’t hat people don’t have innovative ideas; they usually do. The problem is that internal roadblocks make speaking up difficult or not worth it.
That’s a huge mistake.
When leaders create an environment and culture where people are encouraged to be creative and take reasonable risks, the organization’s greatest resource is unleashed. They go from waiting for executives to recognize and solve every problem to crowdsourcing ideas for positive change. The lights come on.
Here are some practical ways to achieve that transformation.
Rethink the Meaning of Innovation
Step one is to change what people think about innovation and who should be doing it. People should throw out the old idea that innovation happens in the R&D department or the C-suite. Give the team examples of small changes that lead to significant results. Make it clear that everyone can contribute to incremental improvements that become game-changing.
Communicate the Strategy
When you crowdsource innovation, you get the best ideas if people understand the strategic goals and priorities of the organization. Better yet if people are involved in crafting the strategic and annual plans. When everyone is working toward the same ends, they can contribute ideas that move the needle in the right direction.
Work Toward Trust
The reason that crowdsourcing innovation requires intention is that most people don’t just offer up ideas without knowing that they are welcome and will be considered for action. Think about how your organization has handled failure in the past. Are people at risk if they try something new? Are employee ideas dismissed out of hand or ignored entirely? If so, you’re going to struggle to get people to engage. It’s time to turn over a new leaf and demonstrate positive responses to employee suggestions. Trust will develop over time.
Shake Things Up
If the same people are working on the same problem over days, months, and years, you aren’t likely to come up with any new answers. Asking people to think about processes they don’t own or ask questions about why something is done the way it is, can help folks get unstuck in the way they are approaching a problem. The less friction there is between functional areas, the better for finding ways to innovate. Any barriers to communication or collaboration between teams should be minimized.
Encourage Everyone to Challenge Assumptions
“That’s just how we’ve always done it,” isn’t a good reason to stick to the status quo at all. With few exceptions, there’s always more than one way to perform a process or operation. Encouraging people to ask questions is an excellent way to break out of the habit of just doing what’s always been done. We love the 5 Whys technique for identifying the root cause of problems and finding effective solutions.
We hope you’ll consider KaiNexus, but even if you don’t, crowdsourcing innovation requires a structure for capturing, assessing, and implementing employee ideas for improvement. Your team will be much more likely to engage if they can see how their ideas and those of their colleagues are making an impact on the business. Improvement software should make it possible for people to submit ideas from wherever they happen to be on any device. It should provide workflow functionality to notify people when new opportunities are added or when tasks are due.
Your improvement software solution should make it easy to calculate the impact of innovation and support your effort to create a culture of improvement by broadcasting success far and wide. People who contribute creative ideas should be recognized and rewarded. Even projects that don’t work out as expected should be applauded, and every effort should be made to learn from the experience.
The ancient Greeks probably never heard the term “crowdsourcing,” but the Greek statesman and general, Pericles understood the value of paying attention to what front line employees think. He said, “A man who has knowledge, but lacks power to express it clearly, is no better off than if he never had any ideas at all.” It would be a shame to put your employees in that position.
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