If Your Employees Can't -- or Won't -- Innovate, It's Time to Let Them Go
Every organization has what I call innovational potential. They have the capability to innovate, but they don't realize it. They have the capacity for innovation but don't know how to unlock it. They think innovation is some mysterious alchemy that is beyond their reach. It is not. There are eight steps any company can use to become an innovative powerhouse.
1. Unlock the company’s innovational potential.
As the CEO, you must put a stake in the ground that no matter what, you are going to devote the time and resources to unlock the company's innovational potential. Gather the troops together and lay out your plan and your vision. Be very clear that this is not an optional program. Full participation is mandatory.
2. Find out how creative your employees currently are.
Engage a creativity expert to conduct a company-wide survey to measure this. The survey will reveal some gaps between where your employees are on a creativity scale, and where they need to be. Fear not. That is normal. Study after study debunks the myth that all creative people are born that way. Not so. Creativity can be learned at any age. If your employees are not that creative, they can learn.
Review the gaps in the survey results with your employees. Tell them how you plan to fill the gaps with creativity training. Teach everyone the principles of creativity starting with basic brainstorming techniques. Brainstorming is where you start because you can’t implement an idea you never had.
3. Provide the time to innovate.
If you don't mandate this, people will only do it after "the real work" gets done. The fact is the "real" and innovative work must both get done. At my company, we expect people to spend 20 percent of their time innovating. We hire more people than we need for production so they can achieve this.
4. Provide the space and the environment to innovate.
I built a high-tech innovation space in the middle of my factory. It is a Google-like campus designed to facilitate innovation, creativity and collaboration. And it does. A million small improvements and a few large creative products came out of that space.
5. Weed out employees that want to leave their brains at the door.
Now comes the hard part. Asking people to be creative may sound like an appealing idea to most people, but it’s not. Many employees have been trained to “check their brains at the door.” That is a happy place. No accountability. The only thing they have to think about is their bowling score. People like this can’t re-engage their minds. Coach them and encourage them. But, if they don’t get with the program, they have to get another job.
6. Support employees that want to help.
At the beginning of this sea change, people will be afraid that they won't have any ideas. Tell people you will give them lots of help in this area. I hired the ex-chief creativity officer from the QVC network to teach brainstorming to all employees and to ride shotgun with them for the better part of a year until they got the hang of it.
7. Hire high-tech talent.
This process will result in new products and services outside of your core competence. These will be very different from your traditional products, so it will take a different skill set than you currently have. Be prepared to bring in new talent to support the new products.
8. Recognize, reward and reinforce.
Every time my team comes up with a creative idea, I bring the entire company together to celebrate. A professional photographer takes the team's picture for a full-page advertisement in the city newspaper. You wouldn’t believe the motivational power of this.
But, like my Uncle Jim used to say, "If money isn't No. 1, I don't know what No. 2 is." You can talk intrinsic rewards until you're blue in the face, but without the money side, you're only giving people half the equation. I always give each member of the team a crisp $100 bill.
Super-charged employees fuel innovative powerhouses. Give your employees a reason to get supercharged. Create what I call a Cirque du Soleil-type culture. A culture where employees cannot wait to get to work so they can do better today than they did yesterday. A culture with foundational values that people can feel good about and get behind. Values that serve employees, shareholders and customers equally. Values that people are so proud of that they brag to their neighbors. If you do this first, you will be amazed at how your innovational potential effort will soar!