Cartoon, two people laughing about innovation

Are You Being Taken Seriously?

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

The greatest danger to any corporate innovation initiative and the team in charge is not being taken seriously by colleagues and especially management. After all, the innovation manager in charge of the initiative is typically working hard to get the initiative up and running, struggling to motivate overworked colleagues to participate and determined to present good results (and ideally impressive results) to top management. So, if her efforts are not taken seriously, it is demotivating to her, her team and it is detrimental t the initiative itself. Nevertheless, this happens too often.

In my experience, there are a few reasons why colleagues may begin to take your initiative less than seriously.

Uncommunicative Suggestion Schemes

Although less common than a few years ago, a number of organisations run suggestion scheme tools that capture ideas, but do not report progress of ideas. Employees make a suggestion with bright eyes and optimism that they will get, at the very least, recognition of their suggestion and, ideally, an appreciative hug from the CEO who is grateful for the brilliant idea. So, when the idea submitter hears nothing after a few weeks, she becomes disillusioned and decides that management is not taking employee ideas very seriously.

Fortunately, more and more suggestion software and idea management software includes reporting to idea submitters. Though these messages are typically automated emails, they at least indicate that ideas are being reviewed and pushed forward. If you have some kind of suggestion scheme running, be sure it includes automatic notifications to idea submitters. If your software was hacked together by your own IT team, ask them to install an email notification system -- this is relatively easy to do from a technical perspective.

If you are planning to purchase such software, check the notification options before signing the agreement.

Not Reviewing Suggestions

Many organisations set up idea management software without thinking through the necessary workload and, in particular, fail to realise or budget for idea reviewing. This is too bad, reviewing ideas tends to be the biggest resource demand in any idea generation initiative, whether suggestion scheme, brainstorm or ideas campaign.

When ideas are not reviewed, they stagnate in the idea management software, effectively telling their owners: "no one is taking your ideas seriously enough to even look at them." And when people feel their ideas are not being taken seriously, they no longer take the innovation initiative seriously.

The solution here is relatively straightforward: set up an efficient system to process ideas. This will be time consuming, but it will make a difference. If you cannot do this, stop collecting ideas. Really. Collecting ideas and ignoring them is worse than not having a software to collect ideas.

Too Many Ideas Not Enough Implementation

As I have written in the past (so often, apparently, I am beginning to irritate a number of innovation consultants who have complained to me about this), the biggest problem plaguing many innovation initiatives is that they are good at capturing ideas, especially incremental improvement ideas, but poor on pushing those ideas through to implementation.

While most employees realise that things happen slowly in large organisations -- especially bureaucratic ones -- they eventually see that their ideas are not being realised. Even when ideas are complimented by management, voted highly by colleagues and rewarded by innovation reward schemes, ideas are not being implemented

When this realisation occurs, colleagues begin to feel that submitting ideas to suggestion schemes, contributing to ideas campaigns and participating in brainstorms is a waste of time because their ideas will never go beyond the databases and spreadsheets that contain them.

This points to a conceptually simple solution: work out an implementation process before you ask for ideas! Fortunately, many ideation activities focus ideation on specific issues -- such as a transcendental situation in anticonventional thinking (ACT), a problem statement in brainstorming or a challenge in an idea management software -- making it easy to devise an evaluation and implementation process before you ask for ideas. Moreover, if you plan implementation in advance, you can also be clear about evaluation criteria for idea selection and approval which, in turn, makes it easier for people to submit relevant ideas. All of this makes it much more likely that ideas will be implemented. And that makes it much, much more likely that your innovation initiative will be taken seriously.

Unfortunately, pure suggestion schemes invite all kinds of ideas. As a result, a large number of submitted ideas are irrelevant, making it more difficult to plan implementation in advance, all of which reduces the likelihood that any given idea will be implemented. Here, I recommend you focus idea submission on specific themes that align with corporate needs. If the software you use does not allow this, prepare a communications campaign to focus ideation on key issues but, as I have said, be sure to have an implementation process in mind first!

Also, bear in mind that ideas submitted to suggestion schemes and brainstorms are almost inevitably small improvement ideas and not breakthrough innovation suggestions. With this in mind, design a process that funnels ideas to relevant managers, enables fast approval and enables idea submitters or their teams to implement their own ideas. Moreover, reward for implementation rather than for suggesting an idea. Importantly, reward even if the implementation does not succeed. If people know there is room for failure, they will be more creative in their suggestions.

Too Much Innovation Talk

The word "innovation" is way over-used these days. The press talks about innovation. Political leaders talk about innovation. Your CEO talks about innovation. You talk about innovation. Indeed, your colleagues might understandably come to think that your company manufactures innovation -- or, at least, tries to do so. More likely, however, people begin to feel that "innovation" is a meaningless buzzword and a pointless fad that will soon go away. So, when they are asked to be innovative, asked to participate in innovation activities and begged to make innovative suggestions, but given no understanding of what this innovation thing is all about, it is not surprising that many people stop taking innovation seriously.

The truth is, they are correct! The word innovation is way over-used and has become meaningless in many organisations, but hopefully not yours!

Your customers do not buy your products because you are innovative. In fact, they really do not care about your innovation. Instead, they care about the results of your innovation. No one buys Apple products because Apple is an innovative company. Rather, they buy Apple products, because the company has used innovation as a tool in the design and development of sleek, beautiful and well engineered devices.

Here, the solution is remarkably simple. Use the word "innovation" less. Indeed, use it as little as possible. Instead focus your communications on the results you want from innovation. Is your company focused on producing the world's highest tech kettles? Then do not talk about innovation, talk about great kettles.

Conclusion - Get Results

The simplest way to ensure your innovation initiative is taken seriously is to get results, in other words implement ideas that align with strategic vision and communicate that you are doing so. If ideas are implemented and talk of innovation focuses on end results rather than on the word "innovation", colleagues will quickly understand that innovation is something your company takes seriously and so should they.



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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




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