4 ways to foster innovation in an organization
“Innovation” has become a word that can be universally attached to new ideas, technologies and ways of working to give them some shine. But that shine can quickly tarnish after repeated use.
In recent years, we’ve seen numerous companies launch trendy consumer-like technology into their organizations. We call this the “consumerization of IT.” And there’s nothing wrong with that so long as we don’t lose sight of the human element; that practice of offering employees technologies that help them to accomplish their work efficiently, seamlessly and easily.
HR leaders, whose job it is to try to sense, understand and serve the needs of employees, have a unique opportunity to be change agents by re-evaluating counterproductive practices and technologies. They can then support the implementation of meaningful, relevant innovations that assist the work effort.
Fostering innovative new approaches and tools can be a bridge to achieving smarter processes, better technology and happier people. Organizations can accomplish this by trying these four approaches:
Start with people. No idea, no matter how good, will ever survive if it’s not supported by the people it’s meant to help. Cultivating an authentic workplace culture is key for ensuring that employees remain engaged in the future of their companies. A 2017 State of the American Workplace report conducted by Gallup found that only 30% of employees are engaged at their jobs. This is perhaps because a firm yet flexible culture has yet to be established by many companies. In order to drive change and innovation, employees need to be united under a common mission and culture. HR leaders can foster this by helping to identify natural leaders who will define culture and drive progress simply through their day-to-day actions.
Use technology that has a purpose. It should go without saying, but technology should make life and work easier, not harder. Before investing in new technology, companies should first decide whether that technology fits business and project goals, or serves to bring more efficiencies to the way people work. For instance, two technologies that do this are predictive analytics and collaboration tools. Predictive analytics can perform routine tasks automatically and push information to employees only when they need to take action, which frees employees to focus on more critical and creative tasks. Collaboration and performance management technology can bring out the best in employees and managers. For example, a performance management solution could track employee engagement daily, and provide important insights to managers on how to naturally find opportunities for engagement with specific employees.
Don’t forget training. Not everyone is prepared to adopt technology immediately and try new ways of working. Some people are more intimidated by new tools and approaches than others. You may want to consider offering training that helps people understand your motivation for innovation. That way, they may feel more prepared to cope with the eventuality of a changing workplace. The reason for this is simple: Change is coming. A 2016 State of Digital Transformation report published by Altimeter found that for 81% of business executives, digital transformation is at the top of their agenda, and that 46% of companies have formally launched an innovation center to help modernize IT. What business leaders should try to remember is that strategy — not the technology itself — drives digital transformation. If you want your whole team to buy into an idea, you need to bring it to them with a structured plan so they understand why investing in it is worth their time and energy.
Bridge technology and people with processes. Be careful: Process for process’s sake is just as dangerous as technology for technology’s sake. As an HR leader, if you find yourself justifying a practice by saying “this is just how we do things,” that’s a red flag. HR leaders should study, listen to, and learn what employees are doing each day and identify the best practices for improving productivity, performance and engagement. Technology also can be a lighter lift if it’s integrated with the programs and practices employees already naturally use and enjoy.
Innovation is a constantly moving target — that will never change. What can change is how organizations strategically evaluate the technology they employ so that employees are open to new ideas and collectively support the momentum innovation can deliver.