Contemporarily, organizations value their employees better than they did a few decades ago as it has dawned on them that employees are the greatest asset at the disposal of any organization. One of the factors that have led to this paradigm shift is the increase in popularity of concepts such as innovation and innovative ideas can only originate from individual employees of an organization. In the recent past, it has become clear for organizations across the globe that a culture of innovation can be created and be maintained (Huizingh, 2011). This realization has been confirmed by major organizations that perform extremely well due to their constant innovativeness.
However, this culture can only be born and nurtured in a favorable environment. Organizations that seek to go the innovation way are thus faced with a fundamental question, viz. how does one set up an enabling environment that stimulates innovative thoughts and nurtures innovative ideas that spring from the workforce to successful implementation? In an attempt to address this question, this paper explores the measures that an organization can take to build an environment that can stimulate, nurture, and actualize innovative ideas in a real-world context.
Competition continues to heighten every passing day in the business realm. This development has seen organizations enhance their standards to offer excellent products and services to the market. This move seems to be the only viable option left for any organization that expects to compete fairly on the global market scene. Unfortunately, resource endowment and distribution across the globe is not uniform.
This aspect implies that many organizations will find themselves in a disadvantaged position by their geographical location. Apart from the resource disadvantage, some organizations reel under a plethora of operational inefficiencies, which also place them in a disadvantaged position despite being established in resource-abundant locations. Another breed of organizations is in pursuit of excellence and it is forced to find ways of doing better every day.
All organizations are thus constantly under pressure to do better with or without additional resources and the best way to achieve this feat is to become innovative (Huizingh, 2011). Unfortunately, despite there being evidence that innovation is the current panacea to organizations’ business woes, many organizations have trouble in handling the concept of innovation. Some organizations have seen their employees advance very good innovative ideas, but due to lack of established support systems and environment, the ideas die somewhere along the development process (Daft, 2011). This aspect is an indication that much needs to be done to ensure that within the organizational context, an innovative idea can be born and guided to successful implementation.
Innovative Management Idea
The concept of innovation has received a fair share of attention from scholars and researchers in the last few decades. The main purpose of this attention has been to discount any ambiguities surrounding the concept to bring out a clear understanding of the concept. It is important to understand the concept for only then can one be in a position to make use of it or suggest any meaningful improvements to the concept.
According to O’Sullivan and Dooley (2008), “innovation is the process of making changes to something established by introducing something new that adds value to customers” (p.4). Other approaches give a different definition of the concept, but the bottom line is that something that already exists always needs to be improved and during the improvement process, there is value addition. In a bid to achieve this goal, employees are required to think creatively to come up with viable ideas while the management provides resources for exploiting the ideas (O’Sullivan & Dooley, 2008). Innovation is thus creativity and exploitation of creative ideas.
As aforementioned, for any organization to be innovative, there is a need for an enabling environment and culture. This assertion implies that the management has to play a pivotal role in initiating and running innovativeness within an organization. In the process of performing its day-to-day activities, such an organization has to commit to ensuring that each day it aligns its functions to support creative thinking among employees and avail the resources necessary to exploit innovative ideas (Lepsinger & DeRosa, 2010).
Concisely, the management has to develop a culture of openness to change as an innovative idea may be born at any time and if it is good, an organization should implement it. At times, good innovative ideas stem from unplanned processes (Bailey & Horvitz, 2010), which is a call on organizations to stay ready for these ideas whenever they are advanced.
According to O’Sullivan and Dooley (2008), innovation can be radical or incremental. However, no matter the form it takes, organizations use several well-known methods to foster a spirit of innovation among its employees. Bailey and Horvitz (2010) posit that existing avenues through which organizations can espouse innovation include the establishment of research and development labs, establishing internal incubation teams, and giving room for employees to pursue side projects of interest to them.
However, it should be noted that for the employees’ side projects to be supported within the structure of the organization, they have to be relevant to the operations of the organization as such projects are aimed at providing solutions to existing organizational challenges. In a bid to achieve this goal, the management should embrace an open approach, which allows it to expose the existing business challenges to the workforce and encourage them to seek creative solutions that can be of help in overcoming the challenges.
Apart from the three ideas that have been highlighted, an organization can use another method to ensure that it taps into the creative abilities of its entire workforce. The idea is to establish a grassroots innovation pipeline. According to Bailey and Horvitz (2010), in this type of arrangement, innovative ideas flow in a bottom-up manner. This aspect implies that an idea can stem from the least ranking member of the workforce, but be guided objectively to successful implementation and consequent benefit of the entire organization (Huizingh, 2011).
The principle behind this arrangement is that the people at the bottom are sometimes in a position to perceive issues that affect an organization from a viewpoint that is completely different from the people at the top. Mostly, the people at the bottom viewpoints are ignored yet some of them have the potential to change an organization dramatically for the better (Daft, 2011). Therefore, this arrangement advocate for equal treatment of ideas in an organization, their origin notwithstanding.
The grassroots innovation pipeline is relatively new on the scene, but it has certainly grown popular. Large corporations such as Dell, Microsoft, Whirlpool, IBM, and UBS among others have subscribed to this principle and they are using it to nurture a spirit of innovation among their employees (Bailey & Horvitz, 2010). This popularity is attributable to its all-inclusive approach, which in addition to fostering innovation among employees also makes them feel valued by the organization. This way, employees develop a sense of belonging, which culminates in loyalty to the organization. The grassroots innovation pipeline is a concept that every well-meaning organization may want to integrate into its operational framework.
The success of this arrangement depends on several fundamental factors such as the establishment of an idea management system. This system facilitates the submission, discussion, scoring, and dissemination of ideas (Bailey & Horvitz, 2010). This process takes place in four distinct phases viz. presenting the corporate community with a challenging business problem, encouraging the formulation of ideas, scoring the ideas to select the best, and finally integrating the ideas into the appropriate process (Bailey & Horvitz, 2010).
In a bid to achieve this goal, the management of an organization sometimes has to be keen, as resistance is a common phenomenon during this process (Satell, 2013). The resistance stems from the idea that while it may be intriguing to try out new ways of carrying out organizational business, new ideas always tend to move an organization towards the unfamiliar territory.
However, despite the resistance and uncertainty associated with innovation-instigated change, the process promises many benefits that encourage organizations to make innovation an intrinsic part of their operational structures. This realization begins with establishing a distinct innovation support program, which revolves around the generation and the management of generated ideas. This kind of framework serves to ensure that any time an employee comes up with an idea; it is examined objectively to determine if it is good for the organization. Modern technology is well equipped to support this kind of framework no matter the size of an organization or the number of its employees.
For instance, one out of every thirty ideas generated by the Ericsson workforce is implemented. This aspect means that with a good framework in place, an organization is ready for the stimulation and nurturing of innovative ideas (Lepsinger & DeRosa, 2010).
Action Plans for an Innovation Framework
Any organization that chooses to make a sacrifice and invest in the integration of an innovation support system within its overall operational framework stands to draw many benefits. Innovation can take place at all levels and when this happens, an organization’s performance is bound to skyrocket (Huizingh, 2011), if the spirit of innovation is maintained and encouraged. Many organizations that perform well in the world today are almost synonymous with innovation. Industry leaders across the world today are also leaders in innovation, for example, Apple, Google, and Netflix among many others (Satell, 2013). This observation is clear proof that innovation is the driver of organizational performance and growth in the current business arena.
Organizational managers should thus embrace the lessons, which organizations that espouse innovation over and above all other concepts have to offer. For instance, Microsoft offers an innovation framework to several organizations, and from its interaction with the organizations, it offers several lessons for any organization that is willing to learn. Through its interaction with Ericsson on the implementation of an idea generation platform called Ideaboxes, it emerged that it appeals to employees to contribute to the development of an organization through ideas for which they are recognized (Microsoft Corporation, 2013).
This aspect implies that for an innovative framework such as the grassroots innovation pipeline to succeed, the management should ensure that the originator of an idea is acknowledged no matter how junior he/she is in the company. Through recognizing their contributions, employees are somehow motivated to continue contributing good ideas that can make it through the filtering process. This assertion implies that there will be a tendency to move from mediocre ideas to substantial ones that can propel an organization forward.
Additionally, since the grassroots innovation pipeline is a platform that provides equal opportunity to all employees of an organization, in setting it up, managers should ensure that it allows other employees to offer their comments on ideas that have been advanced by their fellow employees (Microsoft Corporation, 2013). This lesson was obtained from Microsoft’s interaction with other organizations that it shares innovation support systems within the pursuit of innovativeness.
An individual may conceive an idea, but after bringing it forth, there are chances of another person contributing very constructively towards the improvement of the already proposed idea. In so doing, when an idea is finally implemented, it captures the views of many such that the chances of it being entirely unpopular are greatly minimized.
Whether innovation is here to stay or it is just another management fad, is yet to be established. What is important now is that while it remains the driver for organizational change, performance, and growth, organizations should embrace it and draw its benefits as some are already doing. Innovation is on the management agenda of many organizations today (Satell, 2013); however, having it on the agenda and managing the process properly are two different things. Therefore, frameworks that facilitate the proper management of innovation should be the primary concern of organizations that seek to enjoy the benefits of an innovative workforce.
Innovation is the current driver of organizational change and growth. Organizations that choose to make it part of their agenda should do it at levels that encourage their full exploitation. The key lesson that emerges from this paper is that in setting up a framework that supports innovation, organizations should embrace all-inclusive arrangements such as the grassroots innovation pipeline as it helps in fetching ideas from all corners of an organization. This assertion holds for it is never known where a superb idea can spring from within the workforce. The least ranking employees sometimes have the greatest ideas. This realization is a key point that managers should always keep in mind whenever they set up an innovation-enabling environment in an organization.
Bailey, B., & Horvitz, E. (2010). What’s Your Idea? A case study of a grassroots innovation pipeline within a large software company. Atlanta, GA: Association for Computing Machinery.
Daft, R. (2011). Management (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Huizingh, E. (2011). Open innovation: state of the art and future perspectives. Technovation, 31(1), 2-9.
Lepsinger, R., DeRosa, D. (2010). Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance. New York, NY: Jossey Bass.
Microsoft Corporation: Best practices for innovation: Microsoft’s Innovation Management Framework. (2013). Washington, D.C: Microsoft Corporation.
O’Sullivan, D., & Dooley, L. (2008). Applied innovation management. London, UK: Sage.
Satell, G. (2013). How to Manage Innovation. Web.