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How to Boost Innovation in the Workplace

Submitted by: Steffen Maier

Posted: Sep 09, 2016 – 06:00 AM EST

Tags: innovation, employee engagement, entrepreneurship

 
04_steffen

Today one of the key challenges most companies face is being able to scale rapidly while still keeping their innovative startup edge. Startups have less decision-makers making it easier to take the risks needed to remain as innovative as possible. As these companies start to grow, they often experience a downturn in innovation as management layers increase. In fact, many larger corporations are now attempting to harvest the success of startups by creating small internal companies. This begs the question do you have to stay small to be innovative?

According to the Economist’s study on organizational agility, the main obstacles to improved business responsiveness are slow decision-making, conflicting departmental goals and priorities, risk-averse cultures and silo-based information. This isn’t a problem that faces a select number of companies. A survey by McKinsey&Company found that 94% of managers are unhappy with their company’s innovation performance. The good news is that you don’t have to stay small to avoid these common growth pitfalls. Instead follow these three performance management must haves: 

Risk-taking 

Create a culture in which risk-taking is encouraged. Fear of failure is one of the most common inhibitors of innovation. Someone may have a great idea but concern for their job security may keep them from taking the risk to try something new or challenge traditional strategies. Top companies are now taking the opposite approach. Google X, the company’s secret innovation lab, allows googlers to explore game changing ideas consequence free. It’s here that the fantasy of self-driving cars became a reality and inventions such as hoverboards and smart contact lenses have been tested. The criteria is that these ideas actually have to be radical sci-fi sounding inventions which will help solve a global problem in the next 10 years.

To encourage employees to take risks, managers must give them more space and autonomy to develop early stage ideas. To make this work, a high degree of accountability is also needed. One of the toughest tasks for managers is learning how to keep up accountability within the team, without micromanaging. Creating a set of goals your employees can work towards on their own will allow you to be hands off but still check in from time to time and offer guidance. 

Increase learning agility

Exploring new ideas is not enough. The key to being truly innovative is taking risks, and then learning from your experiences. People with a high learning agility are able to take feedback and adjust strategies accordingly, without becoming discouraged. For businesses, having a highly agile workforce means employees can be re-skilled quickly to meet new company goals and strategies based on industry trends. A study on learning agility in the workforce concluded that companies with the highest amount of high-learning agile executives produced 25% higher profit margins than their rivals. A series of studies by BTM Corporation on business agility concluded that companies with highly mature business characteristics demonstrated:

  • 13% to 38% performance advantage in capital efficiency and value

  • 10% to 15% performance advantage in margins

  • Up to 5% performance advantage in revenue and earnings growth

Supporting continuous and disruptive learning centered on the competencies that characterize the company’s competitive nature will help managers ramp up their team’s performance. To create this type of work environment, managers must focus on metrics driven skill development and real-time learning. The more training and practice employees get in giving and receiving feedback effectively, the better they’ll become at tracking their own performance and integrating feedback into their development game plan. 

Creating cross-functional teams 

Often large companies will find that different departments begin to become silos of information, leading to a duplication of work and inter-departmental conflicts. A lack of communication and knowledge-sharing across the organization leads to a failure to utilize all resources available on a project, thereby significantly lengthening timelines.

As a result, many companies are now harnessing the benefits of cross-functional teams. These teams consist of members with different skill sets and are grouped together on an ad hoc basis to tackle particular projects. Organizing teams in this way creates a smaller pool of decision-makers and allows the team to benefit from cross-departmental knowledge. Combining the strengths of each person allows these teams to come up with more insightful and out of the box ideas.

The ability to quickly form cross-functional teams as needed can greatly increase organizational agility. However, managers need more accurate performance data to quickly identify the employees with the appropriate skills needed to meet the company’s shifting goals. At the same time, performance data also gives HR better insights into what’s missing so they can address skill gaps with more targeted training efforts. Over time, acquiring a growing library of data enables companies to more effectively deploy fast acting and effective teams.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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