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Developing an Innovative Workforce

Every company needs an Innovation Leader – a master, guru or champion to drive innovation agenda within the organisation.

Many, many years before running our own innovation consultancy, I worked for a large aircraft manufacturer (no prizes for guessing if you’ve seen my LinkedIn profile!). Part of the company were extremely forward thinking in terms of innovation, but there was one major challenge – the innovation capacity was pretty much isolated, in that there were pockets of activity, but not a culture of innovation that ran through the organisation. I really realised this when I was called into my managers office for a chat, where I was told that I should really think about getting a “real” role –  such as an analyst or designer – as innovation wasn’t really going to take me anywhere in the company. To this day, I’m happy that I’m so stubborn and chose to disagree.

Roll on 15 years and what’s changed? For me, I have – I’ve taken this experience along with every other and studied it well in order to determine what makes a company’s workforce prepared for innovation. Our conclusion is encapsulated in our new series of courses, and provides the two foundation points for supporting innovation in businesses that have the drive and desire to grow. Ultimately, this is all about developing a culture of innovation that helps your business improve – continually.

The first thing that every company needs is an anchor point – a master, guru, champion or as we like to call them, an “Innovation Leader” who drives the innovation agenda within the organisation. Typically this will be an existing manager / leader who communicates well with the senior management team but also has a good rapport with the wider workforce. Ultimately, this person is going to want to get the entire company involved in wider activities, and turn this into a way of life within the business.

With the scope of activites you’re going to want to manage, there’s no way that your Innovation Leader can do this alone, so they’re going to need support. This comes in the form of Innovation Practitioners that are distributed throughout the organisation. Your Innovation Practitioners are able to draw diverse groups of people together, identify problems and opportunities, develop solutions and manage their implementation.

Imagine the viral effect that this has – a series of practitioners running innovation projects throughout your organisation, from product and service development to HR, all directed by your Innovation Leader who ensures that all activity is aligned with the corporate strategy. Sound organised? Few people realise, but that’s what Innovation is all about. It’s not about pulling something out of the cupboard when you need a new idea, and it’s not something that resides in the realm of academia and inventors. Innovation is actually a structured process, with rules, which when applied correctly leads to significant benefit.

It would be naive to think that the entire workforce will buy into this philosophy immediately. It would be equally incorrect to think that everyone needs to be creative every step of the way. Innovation, at it’s best, requires a range of skills, approaches and attitudes. Creativity is nothing without exploitation! The balance of innovation changes with the relevant position of the organisation and each department within – there are times when “all hands on deck” are required to meet a specific client need. However, in the background someone should be thinking “can we do this better, faster or cheaper so next time it’s more profitable, productive or introduces new revenue streams?”. This is where your Innovation Leader conducts your proverbial commercial orchestra.

The best thing about innovation is that it’s fun, particularly when facilitated by a good leader. What could be better than energising and empowering your workforce which results in a culture of continuous growth through Innovation? If you’re not innovating, the first question you should be asking yourself is “why”.

Richard Harrison