Ways to unlock innovation, the key to economic growth

Make it safe to fail - top-performing teams always try alternative ideas and if they fail, the team owns the outcome and learns from it. Photo / Thinkstock
Make it safe to fail - top-performing teams always try alternative ideas and if they fail, the team owns the outcome and learns from it. Photo / Thinkstock

As competitors evolve and customer needs change overnight, innovation has become a basic requirement for organisations to survive. Beyond mere survival, it is also one of the biggest factors in unlocking exponential organisational success, such as increased revenue growth or larger market share.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in its 2012 Building Innovation report: "Innovation and science need to play a bigger role in achieving stronger economic growth for New Zealand. The proportion of businesses reporting innovation activity has remained at 46 per cent for the last five years. New Zealand has many innovative firms, but at a lower proportion than in other countries." Clearly innovation is vital, but how do we accelerate it in order to generate a leap in economic growth and social wellbeing in New Zealand?

A variety of factors affect innovation, including education, government policy and funding or organisational innovation initiatives.

Arguably, organisation is the easiest and quickest of these to directly influence the pace of innovation and from an organisational perspective, it starts with leadership. For leaders who really want to increase organisational performance through innovation, here are a few simple steps to get started:

Encourage new ideas - create a culture where the status quo is openly and constructively challenged and new ideas are welcomed and collectively evaluated, and this starts from the top. For example, Provoke Solutions, one of the 2012 Best Workplaces finalists, encourages innovation through an online Wishing Well with submissions reviewed once a month. All submissions are responded to so employees know they have been heard. CEO Mason Pratt says: "People are encouraged and almost expected to have a contribution or an opinion on anything and everything that affects what they do when they're in the office."

Reduce red tape - most great ideas die in the bottom few layers of company hierarchy. Employees at the front line have the clearest view of opportunities to increase customer service or adapt products, and it's from here that the smartest ideas often originate. Encouraging teams to collaborate earlier and work together to build a business case can help to bypass delays due to unnecessary process. This type of environment ensures ideas sparked by passion are not dropped into the too-hard basket and has the added benefit of fostering a collaborative team environment.

Make it safe to fail - this is perhaps the biggest cultural barrier to acting on innovation. Managers and leaders bee-line down the path to achieving their specific goals, and anything that risks jeopardising that is shunned. By contrast, top-performing teams always try alternative ideas and if they fail, the team owns the outcome and learns from it.

Innovation is key for organisational success in today's fast-paced world. Creativity is largely born out of our employees being in the right environment and supported by leadership which not only cultivates their ideas but also drives innovation and action.


• For more information, please contact Andrew Brock at nz-info@kenexa.com. The Kenexa Best Workplaces Survey runs from May 1 to August 30 and registrations are now open at bestworkplaces.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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