Start Innovating Now !!
“Ideas are like Rabbits..You get a couple & learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen” – John Steinbeck.
Osborn is a frustrated CEO of a large energy company. His company has good creative people and he has seen them come up with brilliant ideas in response to competitor threats. What is frustrating him is the lack of enthusiasm at the weekly operations meeting. The meeting has low involvement, especially from his front line folks. People sit there listening to Laura, their manager, taking notes and nodding acknowledgement to their boss. Osborn wants more discussion and passion. He wants new innovative ideas. When Osborn walked the plant floor, employees gave him lots of that, so he knew it was there. Osborn asked himself “how do I get innovative ideas from the meeting ? “.
The Perfect Team :
What upset Osborn even more was he had recently observed the perfect team. At an industry event he toured a top performing, innovative company. Osborn saw a thing of beauty. He observed a meeting were front line employees presented new ideas in an open, self assured manner without fear of rejection. What these folks were doing was innovating, and they didn’t call it innovating. When Osborn pulled aside their guide and complimented her on how the teams ability to innovate she gave him a “what are talking about” look. The team was creating new ideas without any obvious process or system.
Common Occurrence :
As performance consultants we observe this often. Senior leaders frustrated at the lack of innovation in their company. In particular senior leaders see a lack of involvement and passion from their front line folks. Employees are the ones who generate new ideas as they are contact the customers and build products and services to meet their customers needs. Clients want to get involvement and innovative ideas from their front line people.
How do we help them increase innovation ? :
First we suggest keeping innovation simple. You don’t need complicated processes. If innovation follows a complicated path it will be unsustainable and unnatural. The most important thing for innovation to occur is an accepting environment.
What is an accepting environment ? :
An accepting environment exists when teams listen, record, act and evaluate ideas. The mood is supportive, natural and unforced.
When this environment exists companies excel. They excel because they are innovating new ideas, large and small, that provide better products and services for their clients at lower costs.
Examples we have seen are the redesign of pipe cutting that saved a steel mill $200 million, an energy company redesigning how they approve work saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. An accident in a lab, keeping an oven on to long, creating a new super desiccant. At the time of innovation these ideas were insignificant, or mistakes. Later analysis of the innovative ideas results reveals they are amazing. These innovations were not created through force of process. They were pulled from front line employees working in an accepting environment.
If having a natural innovative environment is so great, how do you create it in your firm ?? Here are some ideas…
Power of Silence – The number one thing we teach leaders is to use the “power of silence”. Stay quiet and listen to what is going on in meetings.
Open Questions – Ask open questions to probe deeper.
Example – Let me provide an example. You, as the senior leader, walk into your performance meeting. At this meeting the senior leader is in control, its their meeting and everyone knows it. Great leaders prevent this. How? She may have someone, other than herself, chair the meeting. These senior leaders become silent observers, but staying quiet is difficult. Business schools and societies teach leaders that they should know all the answers. The problem is senior leaders are no longer at the front line and do not know the answers. Leaders can only ask good questions. Exceptional leaders stay quiet and, when appropriate, ask open questions like, “great idea, tell me more about what you said around it reducing time in the annealing department.” The other thing these leaders do is keep the meeting discussion positive. He never says “but” or “can’t” or “that’s stupid”. They say “great idea, tell me more.”
Up to Senior Leaders – An accepting environment is the main ingredient for innovation to occur and its up to senior leaders to make it happen.
Process is Necessary Too – Process helps to sustain accepting environments. It is the easy part of the equation and here are some tips.
Track – Track the ideas on an action item or idea list stating who is doing what by when. Don’t get fancy with it. Record those three things and examine the list every time you meet. This is a living list that will change every meeting. Make it public so anyone on your team can view it.
Review – Review those actions every time you meet to track progress on the ideas. Your job as a senior leader is to release those ideas, ask what is holding them up, and provide the resources to accomplish them.
Metrics – Determine the affect the new innovative ideas will have on your business by measuring appropriate metrics. Will the new idea reduce costs, improve revenue, both? Whatever it is, measure to determine if what you are doing is getting the results you expect.
Recognition – Finally, celebrate your actions. Identify to the team, and the entire company, that you have come up with 10 new ideas this month, 35 for the year, and it has resulted in $35 million in savings. When employees hear this message it becomes infectious. Companies doing things motivate employees. They are part of it and enjoy contributing to getting better every day.
What did we learn ? –
To create innovation from the Bottom-up, it is up to you, as the senior leader, to create that environment by:
- Holding a regular team meeting
- Keeping quiet
- Asking open questions
- Recording Ideas & Actions
- Measuring results
- Celebrating Successes
If you have not already done so, start Now…