As the manager of a company in an industry in constant flux, it is important that I keep my employees consistent in one area: innovation. And I guess I’m not alone; 61% of CEOs say innovation is a primary focus of their business.
The Harvard Business Review published a feature in January based on work by Luma Institute that identified 36 methods for innovation. The methods fall under 3 overarching principles:
- 1. Looking
- 2. Understanding
- 3. Making
While innovation is often spontaneous, chaotic, and unexpected, you can create an environment to cultivate ideas, and you need to have a process to implement them, which is what we’ve tried to create at OrangeSoda.
You have to be looking at human behavior in a natural setting to discover areas that need improvement or new solutions. You can observe in a variety of ways (direct conversation, shadowing, surveys), but your people need to feel relaxed enough to conduct business in their usual way, so you get accurate results.
The best ideas will come from your employees working closest to the customer. They know the pain points and where you need to improve. Create an environment that enables your biggest assets—your employees—to innovate. You need to have a process in place, so great ideas can rise to the top.
Our employees are discouraged to sit in meetings 8 hours of the workday. This type of schedule leaves little room for people to explore what is working and what isn’t in their specific position. Nobody has time to innovate if they are sitting in meetings!
OrangeSoda employees enjoy peaceful, productive mornings with our 2-Hour Energy strategy. Every morning for two hours, everyone is (at least is supposed to be) at their desks working on projects and tasks—no internal meetings, social media, or interruptions allowed. These focused hours present our employees with the opportunity to look for and identify processes that need improvement.
Luma Institute’s understanding category includes components of people, systems, patterns, priorities, and possible problems.
It’s okay to have big ideas, but you have to be willing to analyze and test them, make sure they are scalable, and evaluate how they fall into your company’s priorities. You might even have to prepare for failure. Encourage your employees to innovate by taking risks. It is okay to fail, as long as you fail fast.
When your employees come up with an idea, they need to know who to talk to about it. We have a structured system for submitting, discussing, testing, and implementing ideas. There are different systems in place depending on the type of improvement.
For products, it’s The Lab: a meeting at the same time and same place every week. People with ideas for new products can present them to the team and then we create a plan to test them. We also have a platform for submitting improvement ideas for internal process and fulfillment strategies and, quite appropriately, it’s called BrightIdea.
Having a system in place ensures that when the light-bulb moment happens, it won’t get missed, because your employees have an immediate outlet to share their idea.
The final category encompasses “envisioning future possibilities.”
Whatever your company’s goals are for 2014 (you have some, right?), surely you have a vision of where your company will be next year or the year after. I would ask, do your employees see this vision as well?
Be a guide on the side. Explain your vision for the company in meetings and gatherings. Create an outline of the picture and then have your team fill in the missing concepts and work together to paint the actual picture.
It is often difficult, especially in a large company, for lower-level employees to feel connected to the executives and high-level management if they don’t “see,” or believe in, the goal (or bigger picture if we are using the above analogy). Sometimes the goal isn’t related to someone’s position, so they don’t see the value. And sometimes the goal seems too outlandish, so people give up. There are many innovation methods that can help with this.
Your employees need to understand their role in the company and need to know how they play into the vision. If employees can catch just a glimpse of the overall picture, they will want to participate in change.
At OrangeSoda, there isn’t just one person in charge of innovating. It is a collective effort within the teams of the company, within the group of executives, and within each individual position. Everyone is held to some sort of standard of making processes more efficient or work better for their everyday ‘Soda world. Leverage your best assets and empower your people to use a variety of innovative methods.