Future of Work

How to drive innovation at work

Shane Wall
Chief Technology Officer, Hewlett-Packard
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I’m often asked about innovation in the workplace – about its importance and how to effectively drive innovation as a leader. As leading management expert Gary Hamelobserves, “Most of us understand that innovation is enormously important. It’s the only guarantee of long-term customer loyalty.” But as leaders, how do we drive innovation in the workplace?

I believe first-rate innovation comes when the individual and their environment are in symphonic harmony, when team members are provided with the proper tools and encouraged, and when leaders are genuinely involved in the innovation process.

Innovation comes with a relentless focus on experience and not being satisfied by “just getting it out.” You must take time to create a complete experience by taking your innovative idea and ruthlessly concentrating on how to reduce it to its essence. It’s not just about the cool, new feature. It’s more about how you can simplify it to a compelling solution.

At HP, sustainable innovation is in our DNA and drives not only how we create, but also how we think, manage and collaborate. From my experience, here are five tips that will help in creating an innovative culture at your workplace:

1. Engage and empower the entire team. While specific team members should be tasked with innovating, make sure you actively solicit input from all team members. Innovation is not owned by a single organization or assigned to a specific leader. It is something that should be woven into the culture of a corporation. Everyone in your organization should feel empowered to unleash his or her entrepreneurial spirit.

Everyone, from engineers to human resources managers, has to the ability to innovate. For example, the sales department brings a unique perspective customer needs, desires and behavior; and they also know the competition.

2. Suspend judgment. In order to make sure everyone feels comfortable sharing his or her ideas, it’s imperative to suspend judgment and identify “the good” in an idea instead. When team members first share their ideas, save the “buts” for a later date. If you have doubts about resources, time or anything else that needs to be addressed right away, phrase them as constructive questions.

Team members must also know that they have permission to fail. It may sound counterproductive, but hear me out on this one. I was talking with my colleague Eric Monsef, the innovative leader of the HP Sprout team, about innovation and he said something that stuck with me. “Fail big, but fail soon.” In order to compete in our ever-changing industry, you must move quickly and you can’t always play it safe. Granting employees who innovate permission to fail, allows for an environment where your employees can take chances without risking their career.

3. Set a good example. As a leader, remember that you must be involved in the innovation process alongside the rest of the team. Innovation must come from the top and be owned by all leaders across all functions.

No matter what role you take in the process, make sure your innovation efforts are sincere and not just lip service. Take time to connect, mentor and develop your team members. Inspire them to create, look for new approaches and think outside the box. It’s vital that the leader contributes to the innovation process in a meaningful way so that the team members see innovation as a significant part of the company’s process.

In meetings, set aside time for updates on innovation. Celebrate successes andfailures and what the team can learn from them. As a leader, it is important to set an example and make sure the team knows innovation is an important part of the company’s values.

4. Pay attention to the details. Throughout the innovation process, designate specific goals, projects, times and expectations. These types of details ensure the innovation process doesn’t turn into a time suck. This also guarantees the team is provided with the information and structure, so they can focus on developing new ideas or approaches.

To promote organizational innovation, I believe it’s important to track meaningful metrics. For example, what percent of revenue from products introduced within a specific period of time and the amount of time dedicated to innovation including discovering, prototyping and testing.

5. Don’t forget about the physical environment. Space matters when it comes to creating and collaborating. The physical environment people are in can influence how they feel, think and interact—which in turn can impact the quality and quantity in the innovation process.

Ask yourself, are people able to easily communicate and work together in your office? Can they find a space to collaborate and look at their prototypes? If not, consider enhancing the physical space to create a workspace that enables innovation.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Shane Wall is a Chief Technology Officer at Hewlett-Packard.

Image: Cogs slotted together by 2 people are silhouetted against a blue sky. REUTERS. 


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