Don’t Let Innovation Kill Your Productivity

Innovation leads to the creation of new value for customers. It can also transform a company, and not always in a positive way. Many corporations are scared of the term; they shy away from innovation, and rightfully so.

Innovation possesses the power to harm productivity. When poorly practiced, innovation can lead to a loss of productivity that can not only damage an organization in the short term, but can be disastrous in the long run.

However, innovation doesn’t have to be a negative productivity killer. It is possible to consider innovation strategically, and to effectively introduce change into a stable business system to make it even stronger.

Intentional innovation

An organization that fails to consider innovation strategically will indeed lose productivity without any gain, but the organization that plans for – and incorporates – innovation in its existing business structure will reap innovation’s rewards. The first key to strategically incorporating innovation is to be clear on what your business is willing to sacrifice in order to achieve new goals.

Not everything can be business as usual. Some products or services may need to be given up in order to free the resources necessary to produce innovation. Examine each of the products and services your company provides, and consider which are performing poorly. Shed such hindrances, swapping them for ideas that will provide higher growth potential.

A team of innovators

Incorporating innovation will be hard work, requiring a team effort. But simply inviting employees to innovate, or setting aside time and demanding breakthroughs without first setting clear expectations, is not a means to strategic innovation.

Be clear about your desired outcome. Determine which challenges you want employees to focus on so they feel motivated and engaged in the innovation process.

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In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink notes that motivation is not extrinsic; you can’t make someone feel motivated. Keep these elements of motivation in mind when encouraging employees to be innovators:

  1. Autonomy: This is the sense of self-directed control employees like to have over their own work. Allow them to have this autonomy, but lay out clear expectations for measuring performance to guide their decision-making in a way that fits your overall innovation goals.
  2. Mastery: Mastery demands an understanding of how available resources might be used; it also provides time for the employee to discover his or her limits. Build mastery by budgeting for the time and space necessary to explore these limits.
  3. Purpose: The third component of motivation involves tying the first two elements together. Clearly express a unified purpose to which all your employees can attribute their contributions and performances. Each employee plays a specific role in determining how successful incorporating innovation will be; having a sense of affiliation will encourage each employee to deliver innovation.

When it comes time to expand the team and hire, look for candidates who will fit into your new innovation model and be motivated, rather than distracted, by it. Consider the “Three Cs”:

  1. Curiosity: What was the last thing the candidate learned? Why did he choose to learn it? Does he make a habit of continuously learning? Intellectual curiosity suggests that this candidate will be a good contributor to innovation.
  2. Creativity: Creativity here does not only mean discovering the solution to a long-felt problem, but also focusing on improving daily processes through the elimination of waste. A candidate who possesses the creativity to deliver both incremental innovations and performance improvement understands the need to tend to down-to-earth issues, while also shooting for the stars. He’s an asset who will aide innovation.
  3. Collaboration: How well someone collaborates is an indicator of an inventor versus a true innovator. Someone who works well with others leans more toward the innovator side; he or she can learn and share that learning with other employees in the pursuit of goals beyond his or her own.

Engage in innovation by word and deed

Building an innovation-capable culture doesn’t happen by accident. Innovation demands engagement by company leadership, clear thinking, and a deep understanding of the business context (that is, knowing where you are operationally and where you want to go strategically).

A half-hearted commitment will yield subpar returns and a high degree of internal frustration, but a true commitment will allow your business to experience growth. In making this commitment, remember to do the following:

  1. Budget for activities that support innovation across the enterprise.
  2. Make time and space for it—clear out unnecessary or poorly performing products/services.
  3. Communicate your innovation intent—set clear expectations for current employees to work toward, and seek employees who will thrive in this environment when hiring.
  4. Publicize the results of your innovation attempts (including failures).

Innovation isn’t a quick fix, nor is it an easy one. It is, however, the key to your business’s future success.

image source: whatisinnovation.com

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