“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” – Theodore Levitt According to Gallup, a whopping 87 percent of the world’s employees are not engaged at work. Not only that, but most employees who have been at a company for 10 years or more – the time it typically takes to become a top performer – are usually the least engaged. There’s a lot of talk about intrapreneurship, the process by which a large organization’s resources are leveraged for entrepreneurial purposes. But the vast majority of companies aren’t set up for this model. It’s too dangerous. Most organizations just want employees to keep their heads down and do their jobs. Executives have no interest in encouraging people to stir the pot. The reality is, if we don’t want our people to leave our businesses to work for a competitor or start their own, then we must enable them to develop processes, products and services that make a difference and move operations forward. The best way to do that is to ingrain the values of innovation and experimentation within our cultures. “It is by acts and not by ideas that people live.” – Anatole France Management guru Peter Drucker said: “All organizations need one core competency: innovation.” Every credit union wants to stand out, to be ahead of the curve. But many operate on the misconception that being innovative means being an innovation machine. Innovation is much more than generating ideas. In order to build an innovative company, you have to create a culture of innovation – an environment that encourages creative ideas and execution on an ongoing basis. To be an innovative credit union, you have to establish innovation as a strategic imperative. How Do You Define It? Defining innovation is the first step. Are you looking for insights to improve your service model? Are you trying to come up with ideas on how to break into new markets? Do you want to move more members into the mobile space? Idea generation needs guidance. If you don’t help your people understand what your organization needs, you may get a stream of ideas that don’t align with your strategic goals. When innovation is a core strategy throughout your credit union, you create a sense of common direction, ensuring that innovation doesn’t become a directionless path. To make sure that your time and resources are effectively invested, you need to lay a foundation for a culture of innovation. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London Start by examining your leadership style:
- As a leader, your behavior can make or break innovation. Don’t forget: a recent survey revealed that only 43 percent of employees think their boss is open to unique ideas and opinions. Is your daily leadership style blocking innovation?
- Clarity conquers confusion. Conflicting messages – such as asking people to come up with new ideas, while at the same time pushing them to focus on short-term objectives – generally leads to confusion. This confusion can breed inaction. Very soon, employees stop developing new ideas. Do you allow employees to have some unstructured time? Do you give people space to tinker with innovation?
- Check your climate. The climate in your credit union consists of the prevalent values, norms, attitudes, behaviors and feelings of the people in your organization. In short, climate dictates how things are done here.
- Fear: Do you help to eradicate fear, the biggest innovation crippler? Do people feel safe to propose novel ideas that aren’t ridiculed, no matter how crazy?
- Bottom-up innovation: Do you solicit ideas for improvements in every facet of your business? Do you invite everyone to contribute?
- Autonomy and freedom: Do you give people the freedom to decide how they’ll do their jobs? Are you more interested in the result than the process? Freedom is a key component to encouraging independent thinking and behaviors. Remove the innovation shackles, such as cumbersome processes and unnecessary policies and procedures.
- Test Your Talent Pool. Diversity is a key driver for innovation. A diversity of backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints is essential for generating new ideas. Is innovation part of your performance review process? Do you have benchmarks to gauge the success of your innovation initiatives?