How to Drive Innovation at Work

I’m often asked about innovation in the workplace – about its importance and how to effectively drive innovation as a leader. As leading management expert Gary Hamel observes, “Most of us understand that innovation is enormously important. It’s the only guarantee of long-term customer loyalty.” But as leaders, how do we drive innovation in the workplace?

I believe first-rate innovation comes when the individual and their environment are in symphonic harmony, when team members are provided with the proper tools and encouraged, and when leaders are genuinely involved in the innovation process.

Innovation comes with a relentless focus on experience and not being satisfied by “just getting it out.” You must take time to create a complete experience by taking your innovative idea and ruthlessly concentrating on how to reduce it to its essence. It’s not just about the cool, new feature. It’s more about how you can simplify it to a compelling solution.

At HP, sustainable innovation is in our DNA and drives not only how we create, but also how we think, manage and collaborate. From my experience, here are five tips that will help in creating an innovative culture at your workplace:

1. Engage and empower the entire team. While specific team members should be tasked with innovating, make sure you actively solicit input from all team members. Innovation is not owned by a single organization or assigned to a specific leader. It is something that should be woven into the culture of a corporation. Everyone in your organization should feel empowered to unleash his or her entrepreneurial spirit.

Everyone, from engineers to human resources managers, has to the ability to innovate. For example, the sales department brings a unique perspective customer needs, desires and behavior; and they also know the competition.

2. Suspend judgment. In order to make sure everyone feels comfortable sharing his or her ideas, it’s imperative to suspend judgment and identify “the good” in an idea instead. When team members first share their ideas, save the “buts” for a later date. If you have doubts about resources, time or anything else that needs to be addressed right away, phrase them as constructive questions.

Team members must also know that they have permission to fail. It may sound counterproductive, but hear me out on this one. I was talking with my colleague Eric Monsef, the innovative leader of the HP Sprout team, about innovation and he said something that stuck with me. “Fail big, but fail soon.” In order to compete in our ever-changing industry, you must move quickly and you can’t always play it safe. Granting employees who innovate permission to fail, allows for an environment where your employees can take chances without risking their career.

3. Set a good example. As a leader, remember that you must be involved in the innovation process alongside the rest of the team. Innovation must come from the top and be owned by all leaders across all functions.

No matter what role you take in the process, make sure your innovation efforts are sincere and not just lip service. Take time to connect, mentor and develop your team members. Inspire them to create, look for new approaches and think outside the box. It’s vital that the leader contributes to the innovation process in a meaningful way so that the team members see innovation as a significant part of the company’s process.

In meetings, set aside time for updates on innovation. Celebrate successes and failures and what the team can learn from them. As a leader, it is important to set an example and make sure the team knows innovation is an important part of the company’s values.

4. Pay attention to the details. Throughout the innovation process, designate specific goals, projects, times and expectations. These types of details ensure the innovation process doesn’t turn into a time suck. This also guarantees the team is provided with the information and structure, so they can focus on developing new ideas or approaches.

To promote organizational innovation, I believe it’s important to track meaningful metrics. For example, what percent of revenue from products introduced within a specific period of time and the amount of time dedicated to innovation including discovering, prototyping and testing.

5. Don’t forget about the physical environment. Space matters when it comes to creating and collaborating. The physical environment people are in can influence how they feel, think and interact—which in turn can impact the quality and quantity in the innovation process.

Ask yourself, are people able to easily communicate and work together in your office? Can they find a space to collaborate and look at their prototypes? If not, consider enhancing the physical space to create a workspace that enables innovation.

What are your best tips for driving innovation at work?

teaminnovation March 18, 2015 2:42 am

Nice post Shane –addressing especially some of some challenges of “intrapreneurship” while so many are writing on innovation in startups.

My tip: Find the best way to communicate your big idea at each stage.

The tip addresses your question “are people able to easily communicate and work together in your office?” I find it’s a big challenge. For example, we want a diverse range of people to engage with innovation – but many have big “day jobs”. Realistically, each person may need (or have time for) only a slice of all you have to say about your project.

The critical messages will often change as your programme progresses – we need to find the right way to deliver that message and get feedback. Early on we need to show there is a problem or opportunity, while later we may need to emphasise how our supply chain may need to respond to the innovation or to alert a sales team for a new product.

Don’t just reach for the slide deck – design a poster, build a cardboard model, print T-shirts, get a teaser campaign into the CEOs blog ? Then find an appropriate way to gather feedback from your message.

To work out “what we need to get across”, I’m a fan of Roadmapping. Especially when it’s built-in facilitated sessions – building a Roadmap this way helps the team learn to work together (encouraging your tip “Suspend judgment”). It also contributes to your program plan and timeline and finds how to explain key ideas on the route; revealing which ideas matter and which are hard to grasp. A Roadmap can serve as a valuable communication media – a visual representation of where we are and where we are going to – how about that!

HP CTO & Global Head HPLabs. Technology futurist, passionate leader focused on 3dprinting, cybersecurity, drones, travel, and FriendsNational.

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