It seems obvious enough: if you want people to participate in something, it needs to be engaging. Thought-provoking. And if that thing is a business program or platform, you might need to consider providing some kind of benefit or reward, even if that means a sense of accomplishment instead of a check.

Yet, employee engagement levels are at an all-time low, and with companies from every corner of the globe hyper-focused on driving innovation results, the conundrum exists: how can organizations create an effective pipeline for innovation while supporting engagement, efficiency, growth, and differentiation?

Outcomes, ROI, and Processes: The Holy Trinity of Engagement Killers

Ask any business leader what their primary goals are for their company, and you’ll likely be met with a narrative about “driving outcomes,” “boosting ROI,” and “streamlining processes.” These are not in the least bit uncommon or unimportant, but they are often the primary reason that employee engagement gets left behind. Instead of growth, organizations that push people too hard to hit the bottom line, do more with less, and do more faster with less — without placing any focus on tools, training, and support — breed negativity, burnout, apathy, and turnover. And it’s not enough to just be aware and wary. From an interview between Adrian Swinscoe and author Peter A. Hunter:

“During the interview, Peter shared a story of how he built an engaged team. The story revolved around his time in the Navy when he was put in charge of a team of very experienced people. On meeting them, he realised that there was no way he could take a ‘traditional’ approach to managing them, ie. telling them what to do, as they knew much more about the job in hand than he ever could. Rather, he worked out that the best way for him to ‘manage’ the team, and get the best out of them, was to find out what they needed to complete their work and then get it for them.”

The author goes on to offer three simple but critical questions that can help team leaders meet company expectations without allowing engagement to bottom-out:

  1. Is your team engaged?
  2. If yes, why do you think that?
  3. If no, what can you do to help them do their make their jobs easier?

As Hunter points out, “The culture we want to create already exists. We just need to let it happen.”

Using Innovation to Revive Immersion and Identify Great Ideas

Recently, Forbes covered AT&T’s internal innovation program, The Innovation Pipeline (TIP):

The Innovation Pipeline (TIP) is AT&T’s online crowd-sourcing innovation tool that allows any employee to submit, vote on, and discuss various innovative ideas. Participants use virtual currency to “invest” in the proposals they think will have the greatest impact. The top-ranked ideas get pitched by their “founders” to senior leadership, and any approved proposals then move on to other phases of incubation including Prototyping, Production, and Commercialization. Since its establishment in 2009, TIP has yielded the following results:

  • 130,000 active participants from all 50 states and 52 countries
  • More than 25,000 innovation ideas submitted
  • Numerous patents
  • Over $38 million invested by AT&T in viable innovation projects

Not too shabby for a globally disseminated organization — and more than that, it’s something that all companies can look to in order to better understand how to effectively balance business priorities with personnel needs.Ensuring this kind of predictability through a process like AT&T’s is an incredibly effective way of strengthening engagement, capturing emerging ideas, and of course, amplifying innovation efforts and processes across your entire company.