Tapping Into “Employee-Driven” Innovation

April 11, 2017
| ByMike Ryan

Fast Company recently published its list of The 50 most Innovative Companies. Did you make the cut? Congrats if you did. Fear not if you didn’t. You can still gain an innovative edge by encouraging and recognizing employees who bring fresh ideas to the table. In fact, tapping into “employee-driven” innovation is really one of the best ways to gain a competitive advantage in business.

What do I mean by that? To be truly competitive, the dimensions of innovation a company has must go beyond what’s happening within their research and development labs. It must extend to all facets of its operation including the individual innovations people develop on their own.

Granted, traditional innovation will always be measured by patent filings and/or the commercialization of new products. But good ideas don’t just come from R&D teams. In fact, some of the most actionable come from employees who have found a better way to serve a customer, solve an issue or get the most out of an existing process or procedure.

If you are looking to get the most out of your business (and who isn’t?), isn’t it a bit myopic to ignore the individual insights employees bring to their work every day? Of course it is!

So, how do you promote, identify and capture employee-driven innovation? You start by laying the "building blocks" for an innovative culture. You cultivate employee commitment, you share their fresh thinking and you create systems that celebrate and support the process for doing so. In other words, you leverage your recognition program.

Cultivating employee commitment

When a company cultivates the engagement of its employees, it is, by definition, building higher levels of commitment and enthusiasm toward the company and the work being done there. Fifty nine percent of engaged employees say that their jobs bring out their most creative ideas. Remember, most employees today are considered knowledge workers. They hold occupations that demand critical thinking and creativity. They apply creative problem solving to the type of unpredicted, complex challenges that can surface on a daily basis. Their individual attitudes toward their job can be the difference between acting in an innovative manner or an indifferent one.

Share their fresh thinking

Enthusiastic employees don’t just think of more productive ways to work, they also embrace the creative ideas offered by others. Executives know the value of emulating best practices; they copy and modify great ideas from other companies all the time. So why don’t they set up systems that do just that across their own employee groups? Now they can.

Social recognition can help propagate employee ideas. By recognizing an employee who has found a better way, you will not only be encouraging others to think outside the box, you will be sharing that “personal patent” for others to copy. Simply stated, social recognition helps businesses spread the value of innovation, as much as it celebrates its creation.

Supporting the process

An overwhelming majority of executives believe that the long-term success of their business is directly tied to their ability to develop new ideas. As a result, CEOs are looking for their HR teams to tune up their talent engines in an effort to drive innovation. They want their HR leaders to align employees toward an innovative vision and are demanding ecosystems that promote front-line innovation. They want to knock down any barriers that would prevent worthwhile ideas from being put into practice.

Employee-driven innovation occurs when organizations acknowledge new or improved ways of working and then communicate them across company lines. Social recognition can help you do just that.

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