March 19, 2018

How to Empower Your Company's Internal Innovators

Disruption has turned our modern-day business world on its head. Agile startups continue to leverage digital technologies to bring down legacy brands--and it's putting entire industries on edge. No one wants to be the next Blockbuster or Kodak, but if you're going to remain competitive in the Digital Age, you need to embrace change and innovation.

But where can you find the next big idea or ground-breaking product? How do you know which technology to leverage or where your business might be missing the mark? In many cases, you can find the answers you need within the walls of your own company.

What is an internal innovator?

An internal innovator is an employee who questions the status quo. They see opportunities where others see dead ends. They are both realists and optimists--knowing the glass is half-empty and half-full, and that refills are always an option. These are the employees that need to be empowered. Why? Because all too often companies can get stuck doing things because that's the way it's always been done. But this mindset makes your company vulnerable to disruption.

Coming at problems from a different angle can provide fresh new ways to compete in a hyper-competitive market.

So, if you're looking for the next big idea that might send shockwaves through your industry, it's time to go within. Here are a few ways to empower your internal innovators:

Provide a safe platform to voice feedback or ideas

If you want to encourage internal innovators, then you need to provide a way for them to share their ideas.

And keep in mind that not every forward-thinking employee is also an extrovert. Many companies will create innovation programs where an employee needs to create a presentation and pitch their idea. This option might discourage introverts with great ideas from wanting to share. Instead, seek a balance. Find ways to allow all personality types to feel comfortable voicing ideas.

An alternative idea is to allow employees to meet with senior management privately for "think tank" type sessions once per quarter. This smaller group setting might make employees feel more comfortable expressing their concepts.

Promote an innovative culture

A traditional-based business with siloed departments is not the best environment for new ideas to flourish. Instead, try to ingrain innovative thinking into the DNA of your company culture. Ensure that every level of management is open to creative thoughts and suggestions. Every manager should be championing potential great ideas and diplomatically encouraging and supporting employees' suggestions.

Remove roadblocks

Change is usually met with resistance--especially in more traditional businesses. If an internal innovator has a ground-breaking idea and executive buy-in, then it's important to make sure that any potential roadblocks are removed. These roadblocks could be resistance from other departments, red tape, office politics, or even outdated technology.

An innovator can only create change when these roadblocks are removed--and this needs to happen from the top down.

Leverage digital technologies

The right technology can help your internal innovators move mountains. In a recent interview I conducted with Rodger Goldman, he shared that Delta is leveraging their in-flight team's mobile devices to vastly improve the company's customer service. There are many ways you might be able to use today's digital technologies to power your employee's ideas--don't be afraid to use them.

Maintain balance

When it comes to innovation, balance is necessary. While it would be great to lead a company where employees are constantly thinking up new and creative ideas, innovation should only take up a fraction of your employees' time. The wheels need to stay on--sales still need to be made, and routine work still needs to get done. However, the goal is to create an environment that is open to the possibility of trying something new--but doing so in a way that won't disrupt your company from the inside out.

Final word

As the pace of change continues to speed up, companies need to offer innovative solutions to remain ahead of the competition. But before your company starts looking for big ideas outside the organization, you might be surprised to find the next game-changing idea might be sitting in the cubicle next to you.

Create a culture that promotes innovation and empower your employees to come forward when they have an idea--the right concept could bring your company untold success and disrupt your competitors before they have a chance to disrupt you.

Get smart about digital