Start Small: The Manager's Guide to Corporate Innovation

Boosting innovation at the workplace is crucial for organizations to stay competitive and future-oriented.

learn more about Dipika Mallya

By Dipika Mallya • Nov 11, 2017 Originally published Nov 11, 2017

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Boosting innovation at the workplace is crucial for organizations to stay competitive and future-oriented. With the launch of Area 2071, building creative capabilities has been made a priority by the UAE government for both the private and public sectors. The past few years have also seen the launch of multiple innovation labs in the region.

While this is a great start, research also shows that 8 in 10 employees in the UAE report being bored at work, representing one of the lowest rates of job satisfaction worldwide. Corporate innovation and employee engagement are known to be linked to one another, so influencing one could have a significant positive impact on the other.

So, what can you, the mid-level manager, do about this?

While the onus of innovation and culture change is often pushed on higher management or a board of directors, the power of the individual cannot be underestimated. Here are six strategies that can help you boost innovation and creativity at work. "Start small" with these simple measures to create a change in your organization.

1. Develop a customer-centric mindset

As with most endeavors, corporate change often starts from within. Encourage employees across business functions to develop a mindset that focuses on customer needs, goals and pain points. With the current state of rapid social and technological change, employees should be focused on identifying new trends and drivers, and adapting products to address these needs. Use this free empathy mapping tool to start discussions when working on company projects to bring the customer perspective to the forefront.

2. Set aside time for brainstorming

Stuck in the day-to-day hustle, it can often be hard to set quality time aside to discuss new ideas, plans or developments. However, making a concerted effort to have a strategy or brainstorming session can be an effective way to start an innovation process. It's important to facilitate these sessions correctly to get useful outcomes; use structured ideation techniques to boost creativity and unique ideas. Furthermore, software applications such as Mural allow participants record ideas in real time and collaborate with others to build on these ideas afterwards. Conduct a structured brainstorming session once a month; be sure to capture and build ideas on Mural.

3. Keep an eye out for process improvements

Innovation doesn't necessarily have to do with a product, service or business model. Changes to business processes can have a significant impact on productivity, quality and the financial bottom-line. As a manager, keep a watch on the way business gets done, and map the processes with your team to discover problem areas and potential solutions. Solicit regular feedback from supervisors to see what changes are working. Create a flowchart of key business processes at your organization; keep it visible and handy.

4. Look for value-based partnerships

Partnering with a cause, mission or organization that complements your company's values could be a great way to foster change and innovation. Try incorporating values such as sustainability, education, technology and social impact into your company's product and service offerings to bring added benefits to your customers and stakeholders. Use the building partnerships map to build and sustain new relationships.

5. Encourage cross-functional teams

"Silo" is a frequently-maligned term used to describe the lack of communication and understanding between departments at larger corporations. Fight back against this phenomenon by fostering a sense of collaboration and solidarity. While this is easier said than done, a helpful strategy is to develop initiatives that require employees to understand the responsibilities and value-add characteristics of the other. Ask employees to partner with their colleagues to identify their top friction areas and co-create solutions.

6. Suggest an official innovation process

While it might not always be possible for corporations to invest in dedicated innovation labs, it can be beneficial to have a streamlined process to generate, select and prototype ideas. This can help with employee engagement and boost morale, in addition to harnessing the innovation potential within the organization. Adobe Kickbox is a great example of a structured process that yielded positive results.

So, how do you start small?

Try the six initiatives mentioned above and document the results; then build a case for higher management to invest in a formal process.

Related: Eureka! Four Ideation Techniques To Get Your Team Thinking

Dipika Mallya

Founder, Ideation Labs

Dipika Mallya is the founder of Ideation Labs, a non-profit initiative to bring design thinking mindsets and tools to educational institutions, corporations, and community organizations. She has worked for leading entities in the region, including the UAE Ministry of Education, The Al-Futtaim Group, and Cleartrip Middle East. She holds a master’s degree in advertising from The University of Texas at Austin, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her areas of interest include educational design, innovation policy, and social entrepreneurship. 

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