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How to use Social Innovation to Solve the Worst Problems

Posted by Nate Pruitt

Apr 14, 2014 11:00:00 AM


The Role of Employees in Solving Problems

company successLet’s face it, you’ve got problems.  Every organization does.  Don’t worry, it’s normal.  You should worry, however, if your company culture dictates that problems are solved from the executive suite with solutions handed down from those up high.  If this is the case, it means that only the biggest, most attention-grabbing problems get solved, and that lots of great employee ideas for resolving issues are wasted.  The antidote to this top-down approach is social innovation.

What is Social Innovation?

Social innovation is the practice of amassing all of the terrific ideas employees at every level have for solving business problems and then getting to work on solving them.  The key concepts are identifying opportunities for improvement, getting input from a broad section of the organization, acting to solve the problem, measuring success and recognizing and rewarding the people who achieved success.  At its heart is structured collaboration around tackling a company’s worst problems. 

What are the “Worst” Problems?

There are really two kinds of “worst” problems: the obvious and the less obvious.  The obvious are serious issues that are probably being discussed in the C-suite.  Falling sales, safety issues, lost customers, production failures - these are the obvious worst problems.  It’s probably someone’s job to figure out how to fix them.

The other kind of “worst” problem is process inefficiency.  It’s spending waste and redundancy.  It’s “We could service clients better if only…”  These are the worst problems because they tend to persist without rectification.  They’re not bad enough to get executive attention, and it’s no one’s job to fix them.  Life would be better if they went away, but they don’t.  People have ideas on how to fix them, yet they remain.  They fester incessantly or until they turn into really big problems.  Most people in your company can probably name four or five with very little prompting.

How Social Innovations Works

That’s just it, social innovation prompts the entire organization.   It’s like asking, “What would you fix if you were in charge?”  Once these opportunities for improvement are identified, someone is put in charge and change happens.  In addition to knowing what problems need to be addressed, chances are your staff has experience or data based solutions in mind.  Due to the hierarchal nature of companies, many people aren’t comfortable suggesting change to management.  They don’t want to be seen as complaining or uncompliant.  Perhaps they don’t think management cares about the little obstructions that plague them every day.  By asking them for ideas for innovation and rewarding their participation, you remove this barrier and unlock the power of a culture of collaboration for action and improvement.

There are software solutions that bring structure to social innovation and help measure and prove results.  However, the cultural willingness to embrace this cooperative and cross-functional approach is key to success.  If you’re game, be sure to apply it to all of your worst problems.  

Topics: Collaboration

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