Got Innovation?

Innovation. I can honestly say I don’t know of a single business that isn’t chasing after it like medieval knights after the Holy Grail. And very few are actually attaining it.

Why is that? In my experience, there’s certainly no shortage of creative, talented people around. So where is the disconnect?

In pondering this question, I’m reminded of a conversation with a friend who recently left a corporate marketing job to start her own business. When I asked her what was, in her opinion, the best part of entrepreneurship, she immediately responded, “Freedom to innovate. I can wake up in the morning with an idea and implement it before lunchtime.”

When I asked her what the “innovation culture” was like in her old job, she laughed. “They certainly talked the innovation talk,” she recalled, “but there was zero cultural support. Time and time again, someone on my team would come up with a great idea, only to receive a perfunctory pat on the head from management and be sent back to the cubicle farm. Eventually, everyone with any innovative spirit whatsoever left the organization to seek greener pastures.”

And that is how, innovation-wise, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When organizations that give mere lip service to innovation get their hands on true innovators, these gifted souls often wind up leaving out of pure frustration. And when they find the supportive environment they need to thrive, they never want to leave.

When’s the last time you looked at the innovation culture in your own organization? I’d be willing to bet that the words “looking for people with great ideas” appear somewhere in your job postings … but are you giving those innovators an environment where they can grow and thrive to the benefit of your business?

Here are a few questions you might want to consider:

  • Do all employees understand that we value their ideas?
  • Have we created a safe environment where employees can submit ideas with confidence, knowing that we will listen with respect and respond in a supportive manner?
  • Do we have a system for ideas to make their way up the chain of command?
  • How are we following up with employees who have submitted ideas?
  • How are we rewarding those who submit ideas that wind up benefiting the organization?

I have no doubt that when you go looking for employees, an innovative spirit is one of the top qualities on your wish list. If you’re lucky enough to hire a true innovator, fostering an innovative culture can ensure a mutually beneficial relationship with these employees for a long, long time.

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