The Darwinian truth about the most “adaptable” being the survivors is truer now, than it has ever been in the corporate history. The phrase “Innovate like a startup” is no more the management jargon it used to be. It has become a hard-to-execute reality for many of the companies in the mid-cap and large-cap segments. Despite that, companies like 3M have managed to expand and keep their innovational agility alive. The good news is, that your company can be one of those companies too. Here are four simple steps an organization could take to prevent killing its innovation capabilities:
CREATE an eco-system that empowers
Adam Pisoni, the CTO of Yammer, an enterprise social network service, once confided that the reason behind Yammer’s success is failure. “Failure is an option in Yammer. It allows our employees to take risks and admit mistakes” . Intelligent failures should be celebrated as much as successes, in an organization that is serious about innovation. However, even your most innovative employees can be rendered helpless without formal processes, policies and guidelines to encourage innovation. Take for example, Google, which routinely allows its employees to set aside some time to work on their “Garage” projects. Gmail is a product of one such venture.
Successful innovation often relies on obtaining a buy-in from all levels in your organization. You managers and your employees should feel empowered to take risks and to invest their time in new ideas.
FIND ways to work around the organizational structure
When you work at a bootstrap startup, all you have to do is peek over your cubicle wall, to share your latest brilliant brainwave with your executives. If they like it, it’s in. While this might be common practice for startups, it is practically unthinkable in most of the big organizations. Even if your boss likes it, you don’t know if it would reach the ears of real business owner who would benefit or sponsor it. There are many ways to solve this problem. Processes like skip levelmeetings,effective knowledge management solutions or collaboration tools can be helpful in breaking through the layers to reach the right people.
ENABLE faster collaboration of ideas
More often than not, your idea cannot be executed based on your efforts alone. It needs support from a few others in various departments and units. The challenge in bigger organizations is identifying the right expert who can help you. Wikis and knowledge management tools could come to your rescue. However, companies should be careful while choosing such tools. If the tool is difficult to learn, has limited capabilities, or produces irrelevant search results, it will typically have a low user adoption rate. Employees want accurate and comprehensive answers, and they want to be able to find them quickly. Therefore, we see many organizations implementing online communities and intuitive collaboration tools, in an attempt to provide this capability to employees.
INCENTIVIZE innovation and collaboration
The final and the most important step for the organization, is to inspire its employee to innovate. People think of brilliant ideas all the time, but they rarely act upon them or share them. The primary reason people chose not to share their ideas with others is “WIIFM” (What’s In It For Me). Consider aligning your company’s incentives structure to foster innovation. These incentives could be monetary (like a patent royalty sharing model), or non-monetary (like recognition, appraisal KPI, and gamification scores). Such rewards will encourage your employees to take the time to innovate and collaborate. The results of such program at Ford are impressive. Ford’s initiated an Employee Patent Incentive Award program at the beginning of the 2012, and the number of invention submissions are up by more than 30 percent .
As you can see, it is definitely possible to incentivize innovation. But how do you recognize collaboration? How do you identify those people who conceive the ideas behind the scene, or experts who help shape those ideas into working products? One way, is to leverage your knowledge management system.
Next-generation knowledge sharing and collaboration tools (like Senexx) have the ability to identify experts in the organization by allowing the innovator to rate the quality of responses the experts provide. Social Business communities empowered with gamification help managers understand the extent of engagement and quality of employees’ responses. You can then leverage the collaboration scores to reward employees for indirectly contributing to your company’s ability to innovate.
Following these four steps could let the much needed creative juices flow in your workplace, no matter what size is the organization.
 The Yamjam Conference 2012