This is the year that corporations will raise the bar on workforce innovation with “homegrown” entrepreneurship leading the way, but also where homegrown will increasingly include companies outside the U.S.
What is helping to drive this entrepreneurial shift in the global workplace?
- Wider adoption of social software and collaborative tools
- Competition for talent - attraction and retention
- Demographic and generational dynamics
Business leaders must foster enterprise innovation at a faster clip if they expect to maintain their competitive advantage while also keeping costs down. How well they manage these three dynamics will determine success beyond 2008.
This feature article offers three areas where organizations can leverage these disruptive opportunities.
- Homegrown innovation
- Collective intelligence
- Career reinvention
Homegrown innovation requires a landscape of rich soil and healthy plants.
What does your external environment, or outer game, look like from the perspective of your employees, customers, and partners? A values-based culture feeds and nurtures innovation through a balance of rewards and accountability where the playing field is level and the rules fair and accessible to all.
How entrepreneurial are your business leaders and managers? Are they comfortable dealing with ambiguity, fast-paced workplace developments, and changing marketplace dynamics? Do your organizational decision-makers possess the collaborative skills needed to “flatten decision-making” with internal constituents, partners, suppliers, and customers in order to bring innovative products to market faster?
Workplace innovation doesn’t happen by accident, but with intention by an organization’s leaders and its grassroots change agents.
The inner game of innovation focuses on the entrepreneurial capacity of your workforce. Before people can contribute innovative ideas, they need to have laid claim to their creative voice. This requires a culture where disparate voices are not squelched, but encouraged, and disruptive ideas aren't labeled troublemaking, but entrepreneurial.
Innovation in the workplace increasingly requires professionals who can adapt successfully to changing conditions and possess the self-discipline to manage setbacks and learning situations. Knowledge workers must have the capacity for relationship building across a wide spectrum of styles, ethnicities and cultures, and increasingly across generations, which require both solid communication and negotiation skills.
Key differentiators include understanding finance and budget operations and learning how to manage risk responsibly by first taking the fear out of it. Possessing the emotional maturity and social intelligence to grow and manage intercultural teams and virtual staffs fosters innovation from the inside out.
What corporations do best is collect data. Lots of it. What IT departments struggle with is storing and managing data on behalf of their constituents.
Some of the IT professionals I know are twitching at the idea of having to manage social networking, collaboration tools, on top of the emerging Green IT movement. Their fears, however, won’t stop the social media wave from washing up on their shores. Plenty of opportunities exist for IT departments to raise the innovation bar by helping their organizations effectively tap and manage this collective knowledge.
The collective knowledge of your workforce carries the golden nuggets of competitive advantage. The key to unlocking your company’s collective intelligence and powering up your workplace engine comes in the form of Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and videos.
How will you motivate your knowledge professionals to use social media in ways that benefit their careers and the enterprise? Why would someone want to spend time writing an internal blog and contributing to wikis if they must leave it all behind should they change jobs.
Companies will need to loosen the IP reins for social media-related content that is non-confidential in nature, but promotes innovative ways that departments and individuals are using these tools. What better way to attract innovative thinkers to join your ranks if not by sharing the excitement of what you’re doing to raise the bar in your field.
Motivating across the board use of social and collaborative tools will need to address individual needs, as well. The use of social software by older workers slow to adopt new tools that require building trust and credibility in new ways may stymie businesses hoping to capture and leverage this deep experience and knowledge before the Boomer generation exits the enterprise. Encouraging the use of social media with five generations working under “one roof” will itself require outside the box thinking!
Social adaptability combines enterprise experience with Web 2.0 and collaboration tools to rediscover the value of missed opportunities. Missed opportunities can occur for a myriad of reasons – lack of funding, mismanagement, company politics, wrong timing – to name only a few, but which often have little to do with the actual soundness of an idea.
Repurposing ideas with promise and using social media and collaboration tools as a fast-track means to producing “innovation on demand”, will increasingly differentiate business leaders and knowledge workers from those less agile in their approach.
An example of what this might look like would be to pair a Project Manager and IT specialist tasked with uncovering missed opportunities that meet certain criteria (timeframe, business focus, etc.). An executive sponsor is assigned to support them in locating funds for repurposed ideas that make the final cut.
Introducing a blog (or two) to “draw out talent” across the organization and attract subject matter experts (SME) who could help identify ideas with legs, the project partners could setup a process for SMEs and blog visitors to vote on projects deserving of a “second chance”. Voting could even include nominating best in class team members qualified to bring an idea to market— faster, better, and at less cost—and could help business leaders home in on knowledge workers with specialized experience and skills who often work along the fringes of most large corporations.
Leveraging the value of experience and collective intelligence could become the new jewels in the enterprise crown.
Career reinvention is the “Green” in talent management. Employees improve their marketability and increase their value to the organization when they’re able to connect-the-dots of experience, skill sets, and knowledge, and then distill and adapt them to current business demands and future marketplace opportunities.
The enterprise that encourages its workforce to reinvent themselves and their careers at regular intervals reduces the risk of complacency in thought and action. I shudder when I hear about professionals remaining in their same role, or position, for two years or more, doing the same-o, same-o and bored out of their wits.
As a matter of habit, we can all become stale in our thinking and actions.
The buddy system is an excellent way to introduce homegrown entrepreneurship, while at the same time harnessing the experience and resilience of senior professionals with that of younger generations using social media and collaboration tools. This pairing of generations in creative mentoring programs can serve as both knowledge sharing and rejuvenation for the individuals involved.
Homegrown innovation is a partnership powered by a company’s entrepreneurial environment and the capacity of its workforce to become grassroots corporate entrepreneurs.
Opportunities and challenges exist for executives and business leaders focused on driving innovation from inside their organizations. Tapping the entrepreneurial community spirit from inside “four walls” means investing in your workforce in new ways.
Career reinvention, workplace adaptability, continuous learning, and ongoing skill development becomes critical for employers hoping to attract professional talent interested in keeping their competencies competitive. However, it is just as important for professionals to assume personal ownership for keeping their skills fresh in an ever-changing job market.