Take me out to the wall and shoot me — but in many companies this is a major problem.
I used to frequent a bagel shop on the south side of Chicago. It wasn’t a chain. Just a small business with great tasting bagels in a good location. I popped in one day about 9:00 am for a raisin bagel with cream cheese and was a bit startled to find myself the only customer in the store. I remarked to the young lady behind the counter that it was pretty quiet for that time of day. She said, with no irony, “isn’t that great!”
I’ll skip the fake ‘I’m so shocked’ bit. This is very common. I blame it on uninvolved management. Leadership, ownership, and management were asleep at the bagel shop wheel.
You can’t run a business on automatic pilot — nor an innovation program.
Large organisation’s often run innovation programs on auto pilot. In theory, on the surface, everything looks in place. A process has been defined. A team is hired and ready. There’s an experienced manager. The team has adequate resources. Yet no magic. The team should be motivated to innovate — it’s their job — but the innovation produced is unexciting incremental improvement stuff. Not wrong, just not what that company needs to build a future that includes significant growth. Why does this happen so regularly? Six reasons…
Six Reasons Why Employees Shun Innovation
- No emotional engagement. When it’s your Dad who owns the bagel shop, you’re involved. You know that every dollar rung up at the register means the difference between peanut butter or steak. Organizations think it’s obvious why employees should get on board for an innovation initiative. It should be obvious, but too often individual employees have no real connection to ownership or any emotional tie to the companies success. Leaders need to get in the trenches with the working innovation team now and then, people need to see that you care.
- No significant reward or recognition. When an organization takes its people for granted and doesn’t recognize their efforts, people lose interest. A little recognition can go a long way to reassure. Fiscal rewards are not a panacea, but in this economy a bonus for a money-making innovation is welcome. Money is a sign of respect. Don’t let your people feel like Rodney Dangerfield. They’ll leave, or, worse, they’ll stay and won’t care.
- No communication. It’s as common as pigeons. An idea generation session is done (aka brainstorm) and hundreds of ideas are put up on Post-Its. Then employees hear Nothing about what’s been done with the ideas. This is tragic and stupid. Even if the message is: “there was nothing there we could use” people need to hear it. If they don’t hear it they’ll assume it was a waste of time (and they’d be right). Why not make idea rankings and usage visible and transparent? Why not pick a promising idea and say, Yes.
- No trust. People hold back when they don’t trust leadership. They hold back ideas they think they might leverage for a new job. Or, they actively or unconsciously sabotage innovation efforts to “get even.” What breaks trust? Bottom line: lies. Honest leadership may not always be liked, but will at least be trusted to do what they say they’ll do. It’s so fundamental it ought to be number one on this list.
- No time. People need time to work on new things. It doesn’t always have to be a lot of time, but leadership needs to find ways to put innovation tasks into every day work. If they don’t Innovation simply won’t happen.
- No positive vibes. This is really a holistic measure that includes all the above, but also something more. Good vibes happen when there is good value for everyone involved in an enterprise. Good bagels right? If the product or service is of genuine value, you can build good vibes up from there.
These six reasons have a lot to do with innovation culture, or lack thereof eh? Get the culture right and you’ve got a chance. If you are failing one or more of the six reasons above, you’ve got work to do.