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Management consultant and guru Peter Drucker once said:

The enterprise that does not innovate inevitably ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present…the decline will be fast.

I have to agree – regardless of the type of industry you are in and your size – innovation is critical to corporate survival. This is the reason why many companies set up R&D departments decades ago with IBM being the pioneer in global R&D as far back as the 1950s.

But innovation has been reinvented over the last 10 years and today a growing number of businesses have realised that in the interconnected reality we live in, innovation can’t be confined to a department. So we’ve moved from closed, internal innovation efforts to open innovation, looking for ideas from outside.

Not only has innovation become open, over the last decade, it has also become more inclusive. A growing number of businesses have almost made it a part of the job description of their employees to contribute with ideas. At the same time, they look for inspiration in customer thoughts and insights.

We can see that those that have managed to leverage the innovative potential of their employees and customers have been doing quite well. Just to name a few: Google, Intel, Virgin, 3M, Apple, etc.

So how do you create a company culture of innovation and boost intrapreneurship?

I’ve been asked this question time and again. And while every company is unique and there’s no one-size- fits- all approach to it, I’ve given you some pointers below which will lay the ground rules:

Make innovation a thing

If you ask any business owner whether innovation is important to their business, most of them will say “Yes”. At the same time, if you look at their daily operations, their agenda and internal conversations, you will see that there rarely is, if ever, any mention of innovation. So naturally if they never hear about it, employees will never think about it. And if you want to foster a culture of innovation your first job is to get people to understand that innovation is important and to get them excited and motivated to contribute. So put aside a little bit of time in your strategic meetings to discuss innovative ideas, give people regular updates on the development of new ideas and use every chance to remind them that ideas are welcome. In other words, find ways to make innovation a part of the daily conversation and make it visible (i.e. put up an ideas board in your office). As long as innovation is just an abstract concept that you never touch, employees won’t care about it.

Create an outlet for innovation

Encouraging the contribution of innovative ideas won’t mean anything if there is not a structure in place that people can use to submit ideas and see them developed. Some companies such as Nestle, Citibank, Allianz, Volkswagen, Colgate, etc. use online platforms where employees and outsiders can send in ideas and collaborate. Some of these platforms include for example Nosco, Qmarkets, Spigit, etc. Clearly, this is more suitable for large organisations. If your organisation is smaller and employees and management can communicate directly, make sure that employees know who to talk to about their ideas. But also that there is a process in place for dealing with ideas, testing them and developing them further. Otherwise, employees will be quickly discouraged.

Allow the time for innovation

One of the greatest enemies to innovation and creativity is being too busy. How many times does, what seems like a great idea, cross your mind as you sit in the car but once you get to work you get carried away with daily and urgent tasks and never think about this again? It’s the same with employees. Sometimes a client may mention something, they may read an article or hear something on the radio that triggers their creativity but during working hours they are occupied with the mundane. Allow some time for creativity. Set aside a few hours a week and create the physical space, whether a lounge area or just a nice, relaxing room where employees can escape from the mundane tasks to go and think about, research and work on their ideas. In the past Google has allowed as much as 20{0a9463dd5d4589bc22078a0575812aa6d7b64d4e0237e15e1f554f304251d1e0} of the working hours for their employees to innovate. Gmail and Google News, among other Google offerings, are products of these 20{0a9463dd5d4589bc22078a0575812aa6d7b64d4e0237e15e1f554f304251d1e0} innovation time. Creating the time and space for innovation further reinforces the importance of innovation within your organisation.

Provide knowledge and tools

Some people seem to come up with ideas all the time while others need to make more of an effort. Regardless, we all come up with ideas every now and then and some may be brilliant. To encourage people to think innovation it may be a good idea to provide in-house courses that will teach people how to structure their ideas and develop them. These are also valuable because they teach people what sources there are for inspiration, i.e. difficulties they encounter in work processes, customer complains, enquiries, etc. This in turn helps them spot places that need improvement and gets their creative juices flowing. Take a look at Stanford Design School’s Boot Camp Bootleg which provides you with a framework and help you systemarise your ideas. Jeanne Liedtka is also a great resource on Design thinking. Point your emplyees in this direction and provide them with the tools and resources that will not only facilitate idea generation but show them how seriously your take innovation.

Give recognition

Make sure you recognise the contribution of innovative ideas and solutions of employees by showing gratitude. And not just you as a manager or CEO but employees among themselves too. There are various ways to do that and it doesn’t need to be the regular “Thank you” and pat on the back, you can be creative in making people feel special and valued. The Colgate-Palmolive Global R&D, for example, created a tradition where employees distribute wooden nickels to those who have made significant contributions to their projects. It increases morale and is another motivation.

Based on my experience as a business consultant and interaction with companies of all sizes, I’ve come to realise that many neglect the importance of innovation. And especially the SMEs which assume that innovation is something reserved for the big players or that novelties have to be radical to be called innovation. This thinking leads them to fail even trying to innovate.

The truth is, innovation could happen everywhere and could be just a simple service or improvement that you offer. Sainsbury was the pioneer in offering a one-hour delivery just last year which has proven to be quite popular.

If you want to be the one leading the way in your industry, innovation is a must. All you need to do is create the time and space for innovation to happen and accept that failure is a part of the process.

If you want to know more about driving innovation, improving employee business and leadership skills, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, Margaret Considine.