Cultivating Innovation

Greetings and Salutations,

It seems to me that (as a generality) business units and IT shops in particular have been focused on three things over the last few years:

  1. Cutting Costs
  2. Reducing Costs
  3. Minimising Costs

An unfortunate casualty of this form of two-dimensional thinking is that the most important aspects of your unit (the people) are going to suffer.

Now, I’m not talking about layoffs. I’m talking about motivation and morale.

Too often, managers forget the mindset of the IT worker. Generically speaking, IT professionals are problem-solvers, so beating a challenge is fun. New technology breeds new processes, methods and measurements that allows them to be more . and to adapt and improve.

I’ve found that when business units go on a cost-cutting-spree, they tend to remove items seen as superfluous to the business needs. Items such as training and development labs are usually the first to go. Yet, these are essential to keep the minds of your technical staff keen and motivated.

Many studies will show that staff retention is higher (even in roles with lower than market rates) where employee training and career development is focused upon in the organisation.

Funnily enough, these also help to breed an environment of innovation. So. assuming you’ve kept an environment where these aspects are important, and thus morale is kept at a reasonable level (i.e. there isn’t a distinct feeling of the rats leaving the ship) then you are in a position to put in a system that can milk the untapped innovation in your team that can be turned into distinct business and strategic advantages?

How? By utilising some basic technology.

First, implement a WIKI based ideas platform and open it up to your employees. Allow them to throw open entries for ideas, development concepts, system changes and projects that they think are a good idea.

As a wiki, other employees can add and enhance the concepts presented, perhaps expanding or narrowing the scope, offering technical knowledge, providing key arguments for and against the entry, etc.

After a while, it will become obvious which projects have caught the attention of your staff and which will have business cases being built around them. So, now it’s time to promote these “mature ideas” into phase two.

Set up an ideas share market.

A what now? Set up a system, similar in functionality to a stock market, where every employee is given a set value of points or “dollars” to invest in ideas they believe will give them their return. The completed ideas from the previous system are entered into the “market” and “trading” is opened to the members.

Depending on the value of points given to each staff member and the weighting given to the points from different departments, you can develop an overall view of the confidence level of the department in it’s worth and success, even be able to see where the support is coming from and (more importantly)why.

It would be a great tool to allow not only the innovative juices of your department to develop and flow freely, but assist in choosing those projects that can be justified to business, as well as which to consider culling come those cost-saving bouts.

TTFN!

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