Is your business innovation strategy outdated?
Innovation is key to scaling up a business of any size, but how do you approach it if your business already employs hundreds of people? The real question is, how don’t you. Despite what many people think, go-to methods like suggestion boxes, employee surveys, intranets and brainstorming sessions are actually more likely to damage your business than continue building it.
The Suggestion Box
This box is where you go to store ideas, not act on them. As one of the oldest and most basic forms of market research, the suggestion box is flawed for one key reason: anonymity.
The obscurity of the suggestion box was first invented to make employees feel safe in giving their bosses honest, unfettered feedback. Sadly, this whole concept undermines itself pretty quickly. With management unable to know who came up with which ideas, not only do the ideas sitting inside this box exist completely without context (leaving a lot of leeway for misinterpretation), it’s also impossible for employees to get any feedback in return. Staff members won’t know whether or not their ideas will ever actually get used, so why bother? Employee engagement ends up suffering and, unsurprisingly, so does the business.
The Employee Survey
You don’t have to do much research to discover that surveys can actually hinder innovation as opposed to nurture it. They fail, simply because they don’t support employees.
Nobody wants to feel like their ideas don’t matter, yet this is precisely what the employee survey does. By having to spend 30 minutes filling out a form for someone in HR who you might never have even met, this approach to corporate innovation only perpetuates the divide between employers and their staff. Employees are often afraid that their opinions will just be shelved or worse; if they have any criticisms, instead of trying to resolve them for fear of having to pay for their honesty later, they’ll just lie and give overly positive reviews — just to be on the safe side.
Intranets sounds great in theory, but down the line they often become more trouble than they’re worth. One word: consolidation.
Ideally, all of your employees will use the intranet for every aspect of their work (time logging, live chatting and media consumption to name a few), but more often than not everybody’s sharing and collaborating on many different platforms through other applications, drives and CRMs for instance. This undercuts the whole point of having an intranet and means that any data gleaned from it is, unfortunately, incomplete. Intranet systems can be pretty overwhelming too. With so much information swimming around in there, it’s near impossible to manage everything effectively and in realtime. Content is left drifting around the infrastructure with little or no organisation. Nobody wants to wade through all that information and the likelihood is: they won’t.
The Brainstorming Session
This approach to idea management can in fact be detrimental to employee engagement. The key problem lies in its very structure: the group dynamic.
In group settings, innovation tends to boil down to a battle of personalities, not ideas. Most often it’s the employees with the loudest voices who steal focus, but their ideas aren’t necessarily the best ones in the room. Tenacity does not equal innovation, and in fact research has shown that the majority of people actually work best — and most actively — outside of groups, using their own time to reflect and improve on ideas. While the big personalities are taking over the meeting, it’s likely that their colleagues will take a back-seat rather than have to battle to have their ideas heard. During innovation meetings like these, the number of ideas per person actually declines, and in fact employees are each more likely to generate a higher number of original ideas when they’re alone.
To innovate, it’s crucial that employees feel safe and secure. Fostering this environment is crucial and employers need to be prepared to receive constructive criticism in order to continue growing their companies.
Consolidation is key. Without it, employee engagement will inevitably decrease. It’s best to use an idea management system that is controllable in the long-run and that won’t turn into a mere dumping ground.
Alone time matters too. To nurture innovation you need to cater to all personality types and have certain processes and tools in place that allows employees develop ideas when and where it suits them.