Build employee engagement through a culture of innovation

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Building a culture of innovation is the hot topic at the moment and alongside how to drive growth is the stuff that’s keeping CEO’s up at night.

Getting the strategic execution right for these business essential components is imperative but they are often looked at as mutually exclusive. Having a culture of innovation is finally being seen as a fundamental imperative to success and a key contributor to market differentiation and growth. No longer can organisations rely on the traditional forms of competitive advantage, as there is no exclusivity of access to materials, technology, manufacturing etc. Meaning anything an organisation does its competitors can copy. However, the last sacred asset any organisation has is its culture. Your culture cannot be copied. It is unique!

I think next generation competitive advantage is now being driven not by 'what' an organisation does but by 'HOW' it does it. For me that means becoming absolutely exceptional at things like strategy, innovation, engagement and leadership regardless of what you sell or do so here's a few thoughts on how to mix things up a little!

Innovation is still the buzzword de jour but again traditional leaps forward branded as 'game-changing' innovations are rare for most organisations. Gone are the days when genuine innovation was around every corner. However, I think this is a blessing in disguise. This has watered down the criteria by which something is branded innovative and for me that means it's become more accessible to a wider audience. If smaller things, changes and tweaks are now deemed 'innovations' then I say fantastic! Why, because now 'innovation' is within the grasp and of every employee. Innovation is everyone's responsibility is a message every growth-hungry organisation has been trying to get across for some time.

This means we can now finally use 'innovation' as a form of engagement. We can use it to align people to the strategic direction and vision of an organisation in order to drive growth.

Changing organisations in order to maintain sustainability or to push forward is crucial but the transformation is often done as a fait accompli and without a purpose employees can relate to. With innovation now having a lower barrier to entry I suggest using it as the catalyst for changing your organisation. The quest to become more innovative gives organizational change a theme, a purpose beyond just having to change. When there is purpose, people can rationalise the need and the fear of the unknown is reduced. Reducing that fear is imperative if you want people to suggest ideas and/or take risk, a fundamental part of innovation.

Also, when there is a purpose to something it's far easier to engage people in the process and when you're building a culture, organisation-wide engagement is crucial. One of the other tips I have for engaging people through innovation is using emotion to help create the type of culture you want. I talk to organisations about my three main emotions of business, LOVE, DESIRE and ENVY. The first emotion, LOVE should focus internally on your people. They need to absolutely love what your organization does and 'HOW' you do it. Emotion number two, DESIRE should focus on your customers. Concentrate on building a brand and more importantly an experience, which becomes the 'no-brainer' choice in the market. Finally, ENVY. You and your people will gain enormous satisfaction knowing that your competitors are constantly scratching their heads trying to figure out 'HOW' the hell you do what you do!

The combination of all these factors is something I call 'Differentiated Innovation' as its about 'HOW' your organisation performs not your specific product or service. Don't get me wrong, this is no substitute for an inferior product or service because your competition is matching your products/services like for like and they'll never stop so you've got to be different.

Finally the trick to making this stick is this. Don't do the same old same old! Seek out a fresh approach to organisational change and mix it with the key drivers of engagement. Then add in the components for sustainable performance and stir gently because these are the ingredients for the 'holistic' cocktail required to make innovation part of 'HOW' you do what you do!

Cris Beswick (pictured), is a speaker on leadership and motivation

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