By Ben Middleton
Continuous improvement is good for business, so it stands to reason that intentional innovation turns the dial up a notch by seeking out and introducing new concepts to add untapped value.
When I advise leaders who want to instill an innovation mindset within their teams, I focus on a method to support individual innovation initiatives and clear the path for others to follow. This idea and approach reminds me of honeybee colonies, which I tended as a hobby for a few years. Like an industrious and swelling beehive, companies that embrace innovation experience greater success by capitalizing on new opportunities to fuel growth.
The innovation mindset includes three key actions:
- Enlisting sponsors
- Inviting and supporting early adopters
- Communicating to others to reinforce behavior
Sponsors are the queen bees of innovation. They leverage their authority within the colony to make it safe, and even expected, for worker bees to take action and overcome challenges. As with managing a successful change in the workplace, innovation introduces new qualities that may be unfamiliar to employees or customers. Because of this uncertainty, leadership endorsement in the form of an executive sponsor is critical to nurturing an innovation mindset.
Inviting and supporting early adopters
With the stalwart voice of a sponsor in place, early adopters are encouraged to apply innovative thinking to specific problems. Early adopters are the scout bees of the colony, flying far afield and cross-pollinating whatever they touch. From their position on the front line, such adopters know the problem well and are comfortable taking some risks to improve their position with customers. For example, good early adopter candidates often come from teams who need to win new business. They innovate out of necessity and are often optimistic and adept at using evidence-based, real-life examples to make choices less subjective.
Notably, the early adopters work best when supported with training and resources that encourage new perspectives on problem solving. An experienced facilitator can quickly enable early adopters to build design thinking fluency.
In facilitating innovation sessions myself, I’ve found design thinking tools provide much needed structure. I guide teams through the unfamiliar territory of using tools like the empathy map, peer observing, brainwriting and “I like, I wish, I wonder” feedback. Plus, a facilitator’s outside perspective can empower the team to clarify insights and more actively participate in idea generation. The more these tools are used to prototype solutions, the more confident teams become in leveraging them.
Communicating to reinforce behavior
Scout bees will travel miles from home because the colony’s honey supply depends on the pollen sources collected. Like returning scout bees who dance to show others where to locate pollen sources, effective communication provides a roadmap for innovation. And, in highlighting successful innovation, communication about the results positively reinforces what early adopters are doing to give others the confidence to innovate, too.
Internal case studies are an excellent way to summarize the situation and solution created by the team. As a bonus, the process from one team’s successes can be easily adapted for use by others in creating their own breakthroughs. Telling these stories inspires the innovation mindset among other teams, empowering others to repeat the process for their own unique challenges.
Sharing the honey-sweet rewards of innovation with the hive calls for an open mind and open ears. Listening to feedback frequently and acting on what is learned will keep innovators on track and not lost in the weeds. In this way, innovation projects evolve and improve with repeated cycles of evaluation and consistent listening to the voice of the user to set the company apart from less-motivated competitors.
So, let’s talk … What’s worked in your organization to promote innovation? If you’re interested in continuing the conversation or finding out about how our facilitation support can ignite innovation within your team, give us a buzz.