Innovation Rules!

I have been thinking a lot about what constitutes a great place to work. It is not just salary or perks or colleagues. For a long time, at least since Robert Levering’s 1988 book A Great Place to Work: What Makes Some Employers Good – and Most So Bad, we have known that it’s more about trust, respect and the feeling you are doing useful work that gets recognised. Levering defines a great place to work around the three simple values of credibility, respect and fairness. And there is no arguing with any of those today nor with the title of his book: most employers are still ‘so bad’.

A great place to work is pretty much the exception rather than the rule and the old adage of ‘if you want the truth, just talk to your friends down the pub’ holds true. Once started it will be hard to stop them moaning about the injustices, unfairness and stupidity of their employer. Asked in a survey how many feel that they are working to their optimum, less than 50% felt that they were. Underused potential, unengaged interest in the customer, unshared ideas for improvements, the list goes on and on. This doesn’t need to be the case.

There is more and more information from those few, great employers about what can turn demotivated, demoralized and switched off staff into engaged and motivated powerhouses of innovation. Hardly any organisation keeps this stuff as a trade secret and most are more than happy to blow their own trumpet because it is great for morale and great for recruitment. None of it is magic or mystical, so why aren’t more organisations making changes to create innovative work places?

All companies want to be innovative or think that they are innovative and the value of innovation is clear: in the increasingly fast moving and complex work environment, top-down (we-don’t-pay-you-to-think) ideologies are beyond the pale and possibly a short step from oblivion. Great ideas solve problems, anticipate issues and keep organisations afloat. But the idea that achieving this goal as an individual, a team or an organisation can be delivered by diktat or strategy paper is old-school and certain to fail. And setting up an Innovation Department to drive innovation through the organisation is even more laughable and ineffective than ordering your workforce to be happy! So how do you make good workplaces hotbeds of innovation? What do we need to add to trust, respect and fairness that ignites the spark?

Here are ten ways of generating an innovative workplace:

1. Give staff the opportunity to explore the place they work for. Get them to move around and create cross disciplinary teams.

2. Encourage networking inside the company, but also outside. Find ways of bringing new ideas into the company.

3. Reward failure! Relabel it as experimentation.

4. Have small budgets allocated low down in the organisation to fund small, short term experiments that might scale.

5. Implement good ideas or even okay ideas. Ten small, not so wonderful ideas will yield one great one. Ignore the ten and the great one will never emerge.

6. Encourage people to share ideas and think about their world of work. Deliberately stimulate challenge and disruption.

7. Have processes for taking ideas and turning them into actions.

8. Stamp out behaviours that stamp on all the points above.

9. Reward ideas, reward innovative behaviour

10. Celebrate and reward creativity.

This is not a quick fix but the journey begins with the validation of ideas and challenge to the status quo. So where is the magic link between innovation and great places to work? No one I have ever met has been innovative in their workplace while being miserable. Make the workplace better and innovation will follow.

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