Creating a Culture of Innovation

Innovation iceburg

Icebergs and Innovation

Involving your team in innovation and improvements.

I’ve talked many a time about the importance of listening and tuning in to your team. However, today’s article is also about listening, but this time with a view to involving them, making continuous improvement & creating a culture of innovation.

Sparked by a webinar I attended recently on the topic, here I share my own perspective on this.

Where does the iceberg come in?

The ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’ is a term Sidney Yoshida used, based on an earlier study in the 1980s which stated that “only four per cent of a company’s problems are known to top managers”. This is represented by the part of the iceberg which is visible.

The theory is that only 9% of problems are known to middle management

74% of problems are known to supervisors

100% of an organisation’s problems are known to front-line employees, i.e. collectively, employees know about all of the problems.)

Now, although the study was based on mid-sized organisations, and within your business the gap between front line employees and senior management may be much smaller, the message is still the same. If you don’t consult with your front line you are probably missing a wealth of information that impacts the success of your business.

My own experience of this was back in the late 1990s when I was still in the corporate world, and our then CEO took part in the popular TV show “Back to the Floor”. Because he was working ‘under cover’ he got to hear of a multitude of issues, bottle necks in the system and some brilliant ideas that could be brought back to the business.

As a trainer and facilitator, I also get to hear of all sorts of issues that stand in the way of team members being as effective as they might be – sometimes through irritating glitches which are often (admittedly not always) really easy to fix. The sad thing is, very often these issues could have so easily been rectified if only they’d been asked for their feedback.

Quite apart from the obvious benefit of being made aware of problems, let’s consider why else it’s a good thing to involve your team, and what can you do to apply these principles in your business, or within your own department.

5 reasons why Creating a culture of Innovation is a good thing

  1. Involving your team in making continuous incremental improvements, helps you evolve and stay fresh, on an ongoing basis. Whether it’s a cost saving, something to improve the customer experience or simply making their lives a little easier – shaving a few minutes off a task in one area, may free up a few extra minutes to devote to customers. Those incremental improvements all add up over time. **
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  2. One of the questions I am frequently asked is how to engage your team; involving them in innovation can drive employee engagement; if employees are involved with creating new ideas they are emotionally connected to the ideas, so will want to see them succeed.
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  3. The more opportunities and encouragement they get to be involved with generating or sharing new ideas, the more they feel a connection to the business which helps drive engagement & performance.
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  4. Your team are often closer to your customers than you are so will often spot potential problems before you do, and see potential solutions to those problems.
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  5. When you ask them for their ideas, and encourage them to think outside the box to solve existing problems they will and come up with ways you’d probably have never thought of to move the business forward or improve your customers’ experience.

7 principles to make Innovation work

  1. Your team need to understand your purpose and what you are aiming to deliver to your customers. It’s difficult to recognise opportunities for improvement or come up with ideas if they don’t know what you – as a business – are trying to achieve.
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  2. Create a safe and conducive environment for people to come forward with ideas; where they are not seen as a criticism of the business or systems, but as a positive contribution.
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  3. Involve your team in the development and deployment of possible solutions to problems not just come to you with the problem.
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  4. Many new managers are afraid of asking for ideas in case they fail. Failure and risk are part of the process. If something doesn’t work ask for ideas on how to improve.
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  5. Be open to quirky or off the wall ideas – they may not be the ideal solution, but may be a starting point to asking, “what can we do the build on that idea?” Even if you’ve tried something before, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. If you quash suggestions people will be reluctant to come forward with ideas in future; instead ask “how can we make that work this time?”
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  6. Don’t go in search of radical revelations, all those small incremental changes add up over time.
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  7. If your team haven’t been actively involved in putting forward ideas or if those ideas have fallen on deaf ears in the past, recognise it takes time for employees to feel comfortable or willing to do this. It takes time to create a culture of innovation.

Take action

If you only do one thing: Next time you want to make a saving or find a better way of doing something, don’t sit in an ‘ivory tower’ and try to solve it alone – ask your team.

p.s. a starting point for flushing out issues and ideas is through anonymous surveys such as Engagement Multiplier. If you’d like a test drive to see what it could do for your business, request it here directly with Engagement Multiplier who will be happy to arrange this.

** Waitrose are reported to have saved £460,000 in till roll paper as a result of one small change following a suggestion from a staff member’s idea.


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