"You can eat your cake and have it too when you're counting on your chickens to hatch."
There are great rewards for the company that encourages its employees to be innovative. In this fractured analogy, your cake is your profits, the chickens are your employees, and their eggs are the new ideas you need to have profits.
In the past a company could count its chickens but not make them hatch, and most companies didn't even care if their chickens hatched any new ideas as long as they were in the coop scratching away at their jobs. Today, companies must have the ideas and insights of their employees. And when you have involved everyone in the quest for new ideas, then go ahead and eat your cake, that is, use some of your profits on their ideas, because only in that way will you have more cake, more profits.
Here are some ways to involve your staff in the quest to be innovative. First, explain why it is so important. In a highly competitive marketplace, innovation is crucial to survival. Next, set a goal such as, "We will come up with three new services this year," or "We will improve our products in a certain measurable way by year end." Encourage employees to get close to customers or in some cases, to meet with other employees for cross-functional idea sharing. Ask for their ideas on what might improve their jobs or what projects they would like to work on to facilitate innovation. Invite an expert on creativity training to your firm. Many large corporations have realized significant benefits from such seminars. Plan with employees how to carry out their vision. Have contests and give rewards for great ideas.
In Peter Drucker's book, Managing for the Future, he discusses how the Japanese organize to innovate. Every major industrial group in Japan now has its own research institute whose main function is not technical research but research into knowledge, that is, to bring to the group awareness of any important new knowledge in technology, management and organization, marketing, finance, training, developed anyplace in the world. These think tank groups have emerged from the Japanese belief that leadership throughout the developed world no longer rests on financial control but on who knows the most.
Why couldn't your organization have a research institute? Why not stage a monthly meeting where people come together to share their discoveries, with each one responsible for an area such as technology, marketing and so on. Just by compiling the reports and taking minutes on the discussion that would ensue, new ideas would be generated from which innovations would emerge.
Another way to organize to innovate is through the Inquiry Center. This is an idea introduced by Gerald Zaltman and Vincent Barabba in their book, Hearing the Voice of the Market. The concept is to have a group of people within your firm whose job is to listen to or do research to discover what customers want and what they are willing to pay for. This group then makes known their findings to the various departments, and is also responsible to understand the voice of the company and to reconcile these two voices.
How would you implement an Inquiry Center? Very loosely, say Zaltman and Barabba. 1. Find the right people who are good inquirers and change agents. 2. Give them broad goals. 3. Let them go. 4. Figure out what they did. 5. Institutionalize it.
Make your chickens hatch so you can eat your cake and still have it!
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