Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Innovators, innovation teams and the innovation process 3 – identifying, developing and supporting the individual innovator 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 12, 2013

This is my third installment in a series on innovators and the process of innovation (see Part 1: an organizational and functional story and Part 2: identifying, developing and supporting the individual innovator 1.)

• I began a discussion of working with individual innovators in Part 2, primarily considering there how innovator employees fit into and contribute to a business in keeping it competitive.
• And I sketched out very briefly how innovation and the work activities of innovators can be disruptive and how this can provoke pushback.
• But even as a business’ leavening of creativity and the push for new disrupts and creates new costs and risks, these employees also create that business’ long-term future too.

I finished that posting with recognition of what can be considered the first of a series of, and even a gauntlet of challenges that the innovative business faces:

• How do you as a business owner or manager identify creative and innovative potential in perspective new hires and in employees already in place?
• And beyond that, how do you best cultivate their potential?

I would argue that there are no set, absolute, universally applicable answers to either of those questions, and that point can be considered the first and perhaps most important part of my responses to both of them. Don’t just think in terms of rote standardization. Even if you do need to standardize your business and its operations, and for most businesses that is a necessity – always leave room for wild card variability and flexibility in identifying and managing innovation potential too, and approach innovation and innovators with an open mind. That said, I offer some general principles that I have found to work.

• Value and look for the novel perspective and for people who can view the issues and circumstances that they work with from unexpected directions.
• Particularly look, in this regard for people who can bring their perspective and understanding into sharable focus so others can see and understand it too. In this, a great idea that cannot be coherently developed and explained is not likely to go anywhere even if its creator is given full and active support. An idea or understanding that can be cogently and intelligibly conveyed, holds potential for being developed into practical and marketable products or services, or into functionally valuable new supporting business practices or approaches.
• Look for a balance of being able to communicate with and work with others, coupled with an ability and a willingness – and even a drive to seek out next possible steps and steps forward in unexpected directions.
• This places some very real demands on managers and at all levels, that they be willing to listen and with a more open mind. Managers who can only do things or allow things “by the book” and with no variations or deviations from standard and tried and true, do not work well in an innovative environment, and creatively innovative employees do not tend to work comfortably or creatively with them either.
• So finding and bringing in and supporting and cultivating creative and innovative employees, calls for a matching effort in finding and bringing in and supporting and cultivating managers who can create a more open and innovative work environment.
• Functionally, this is all driven by how both these hands-on employees and their managers are performance reviewed, and how this insight in turn is used in determining and allocating raises and bonuses, and promotions and other benefits.
• Even if every employee in a business is required to meet certain standard types of performance goals as a core performance objective and even if everyone at a business has a list of goals and stretch goals to work towards that fit into the business’ ongoing here-and-now, creative and innovative contributions that are made outside of that framework should always be rewarded too.
• And when these contributions make a clear and demonstrably monetizable contribution to the business, the reward shared from that with that innovator should be proportionate to the new and novel value created.
• At the same time, it is also important to remember that an innovative proposal does not always work out. They can die early in initial attempted development. They can appear promising at the bench testing and initial develop stage but fail to prove cost-effective or even fully functional at a more formal prototyping stage, or they might not be cost-effectively scalable to full production or implementation.
• Be quick to reward success but be much slower to penalize failure and particularly when the development and testing efforts employed were well thought out and well documented so this effort at least offered a real learning curve opportunity.
• And remember that innovators can be difficult to work with but so can your more rote-process and unimaginative employees too. Support and encourage open mindedness and creativity but require that everyone meet at least minimal and I add significant standards of civility and cooperativeness, and when working with in-house colleagues or with outside participants such as vendors and suppliers, or customers.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will return to the two questions at the top of this installment, but from a different direction. There, as a foretaste of that next installment I note here that some employees might best work as full time innovators and inventors, but that every employee is at least occasionally a valuable source of innovative insight and effort. Both ends of this innovative spectrum should be supported, and all points in-between. Making that work in a fundamentally lean and agile business context is the topic for my next installment.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and also at Business Strategy and Operations and at its continuation page: Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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