Using innovation to engage employees
In March we ran a couple of discussion circles with L&D professionals and innovation specialists in the insurance space. We got together to discuss the topics of innovation and innovation training as a means to increase employee engagement. In the conversation we focused on two key questions:
- What is the connection between innovative culture and employee engagement and how do we activate it?
- How can we raise the profile of training in relation to the more standard building blocks?
In this blog we wanted to share a few key takeaways that the participants voiced.
What is the connection between innovative culture and employee engagement and how do we activate it?
- Many of the participants to the discussion have seen first-hand the increase in engagement when it comes to organizing innovation days, hackathons, idea challenges, etc. Employees are often very excited and eager to share; the problem usually happens after that exciting day, when we got people motivated and enthusiastic about their ideas, and then nothing happens with them. People are often disillusioned in this situation and we achieve the opposite outcome to what we were looking for. The key to these types of events is actually being able to show the engaged teams that their work is valued, their ideas are considered and can be taken forward to evaluation.
- It’s also often about sharing some basics with the team to help them see what the organization defines as innovation. Many employees have the impression that unless innovation is in their job title they cannot contribute. Every organization will approach this differently and will have varying cultures but for those who want to create a culture of inclusivity for innovation, the key is communicating that everyone can do it and everyone can contribute. It’s about giving people in various teams and various roles the mandate to innovate; on a different scale, of course, but to help people understand that simplifying a time-consuming process (incremental innovation) is equally important as the big horizon three ideas. Allowing everyone to have a voice makes creating an innovation culture much easier.
- Sharing stories about innovation is also really important and can get many employees motivated and engaged. When an organization celebrates a new and different way of doing things, people start thinking about how they can get involved too. Of course, the bigger stories make it across the organization more often, but celebrating small successes is equally important. One participant mentioned that when some of the success stories were shared in his organization, it inspired people from other areas to get involved, prompted them to ask if they could deploy something similar in their part of the business and hence supported a much wider adaptation of the new proposition. At Ninety, we also think that sharing failure stories and learnings are equally important. Often many organizations find it hard to make failure in innovation acceptable. We all know it is inevitable that some ideas will fail, so sharing these stories too is crucial to make the behaviour acceptable. This practice can be challenging depending on an organization’s culture, for example, some Asian cultures make failing unacceptable whereas in North America and Europe accepting failed experiments might be easier to embed in a company’s innovation culture.
- Our panel also identified some skills and resources that would help to empower and engage employees and support creating a more innovative culture. A few key areas were: encouraging curiosity; providing people with a roadmap of how and what they could do if they have an idea, like sharing details of reputable innovation processes and methodology that teams can follow; and enabling diversity of backgrounds and experiences in discussions.
- Communication and creating a platform for employees to contribute was also mentioned as a key factor. Some interesting suggestions in this space were to engage groups that show an interest in innovation in a ‘lunch and learn’ type of event (not necessarily at lunchtime) which gives people a chance to meet, discuss, deepen their knowledge and get inspired. Some other options included things like suggestion boxes or an applications process to help people voice their problem-solutions.
How can we raise the profile of training in relation to the more standard building blocks of innovation?
In Ninety’s Innovation Blueprint report, we asked innovation executives in insurance to score how successful different innovation activities were. We discovered that innovation training was scored as one of the most successful by those who have actually done it, but it is almost at the end of the most used tools, showing that it is significantly undervalued compared to other activities, for example, having a dedicated innovation team or VC fund.
- When looking at innovation training, it is important to know who we are trying to convince and make sure we speak their language and understand their business metrics. Some people will think only about ROI and that is something difficult to measure straightaway. What we can measure, to some extent, is adoption of new skills by observing and following up with teams after the course. Also, if we look at other KPIs, for example, the scores employees give in terms of their engagement.
- We also need to ensure that we reflect on the skills we were taught. Some of the ways to do that include going back to the managers in the teams trained and discussing whether the team has incorporated a new way of thinking, new tools and how that has been demonstrated. Sometimes you might need some additional further action if the adoption was not as good as you would have liked or anticipated. These teams could perhaps benefit from some form of coaching to ensure the learnings are further incorporated.
- Maximising the outcome of newly gained skills can also lie in the way people are managed and their BAU is assessed. If some teams undergo training but the new skills are not reflected in the way they are getting assessed and rewarded, they have limited incentive to really implement them. Treating this in a more holistic way would help with showing how useful these skills are.
We hope that you have found our key discussion areas helpful. We are continuing this series of L&D circles with the next event taking place on May 6th on the topic of “Cultivating a customer-first mindset” for the USA session and the topic of “Defining innovation to drive engagement” for the UK/EU session. Sign up for a UK/EU session here and the USA session here.