At first glance, productivity and innovation don’t seem to have much in common. As philosophies, they’re fundamentally different: one is rooted in task management and efficiency, the other in expanded ideation and new perspectives. But research shows a distinct correlation between employee engagement and innovation, and productivity is also heavily affected by the investment of the overall workforce.

This month, we’re going to explore the complementary relationship between productivity and innovation in the enterprise, and how to take advantage of both for improved processes, returns, and relevance.

Enterprise Evolution

Said Rik Walters in a previous post, “The primary challenge for those organizations seeking to innovate is in overcoming the inertia of the old world, and the negative aspects of the modern. That can be much harder, complex and more political than it appears at a high level. Open up the innovation processes to the entire organization, and even outside the organization to empower, rather than stifle transformational productivity and growth. These hurdles must be cleared for your enterprise to evolve.”

This is an important point — when we look at companies that have successfully integrated innovation at all levels, they’re typically more forward-thinking, less hierarchal, and invested in internal cultural development and retention. This is a direct deviation from organizations that use traditional, top-down decision-making and communications, and that focus only on returns. Evolving from the inside-out makes a clear impact on progress and growth. And although changes in external strategies — like sales and customer relationships — are very important, they have little influence over employee behavior.

Questions to Ask

As we dig into this topic further, we’ll concentrate on the following six areas as they relate to productivity and innovation practices in enterprise organizations.

1. How adaptable or flexible must business strategies be to allow innovation to flourish while positively affecting overall productivity? Tactical adjustments should still be trackable and measurable.
2. Are current objectives supportive of both productivity and innovation efforts? Or, are they inadvertently disrupting one or the other?
3. Does the existing company culture promote collaboration, transparency, and ideation? How are ideas communicated? How do leaders and decision-makers glean ideas from throughout the organization, and how are they implemented and recognized?
4. Is the business adhering to agile practices? Is the notion of failure cause for panic, or an acknowledged possibility that does not staunch progress?
5. What is the company’s official position on innovation, and are there practices in place for managing ideas? Do current processes reflect the mission statement? How do employees perceive their own roles, actions, and contributions to innovation efforts?
6. Finally, are there tools, criteria, and structures in place that support sustainable innovation?

Smart organizations make it a priority to interpret the many unique ideas, perspectives, methodologies, agendas, and expertise its people have to offer and apply them to an overarching goal. This can be particularly difficult to manage at scale. Understanding the sometimes unexpected connections between disparate objectives — like productivity and innovation — can be critical to making successful choices, engaging employees, and staying not just afloat, but ahead.