I read this post yesterday from Chris Ponder II over at Performance I Create that got me thinking about innovation — I think we’re losing sight of what it means and how to get there because “innovation” is such a buzzword these days.
Here’s my short list of things to remember if we want to drive innovation in our teams:
#1 – If you’re going to define a goal or competency solely around “innovation,” do so carefully.
Innovation can’t be defined up front. If you could, it wouldn’t be innovative. It’s not necessarily a bad approach — but it’s no good if you define all the particulars upfront because you’ll cut the space to be creative. You’re only going to get true innovation if you’re willing to listen and provide coaching to employees who take the initiative to be creative and come to you with new ideas.
#2 – Innovation isn’t more of whatever “meets expectation” looks like in their goal setting or performance management process.
Often, I see managers defining “exceeds expectation” as more of whatever “meets expectations” is, but then expecting innovation to happen somewhere in between. Innovation is something different. It might lead to more, but it’s the idea generation and execution that’s valuable. If you reserve “exceeds expectation” for true innovation, you’re engaging and empowering them to do something more — innovative ways to add significant value. Brainstorm with the employee about the types of things that could add value but don’t spoon feed them ideas.
#3 – It doesn’t have to mean fewer donuts get made.
Folks can get so caught up with trying to innovate that they lose sight of where the real value lies that they let their performance slip in other areas to pursue their new ideas. As a manager, you want innovation that adds value — which often means the donuts get made faster or better — that means being committed to coaching and brainstorming with the employee about their ideas.
#4 – Innovation isn’t for everyone.
We know that not everyone will be a star employee. Not everyone wants to innovate, which is fine. We need those people in our organizations too — otherwise we’ll constantly wrestle with excessive turnover. Managers should encourage and empower their employees to be creative (and exceed expectations), but if its not a necessity of the role, not innovating isn’t a bad thing. Reserving “exceeds expectation” for innovation and creativity is a great way to encourage the potential innovators on your team to get off the fence and go for it.
You don’t have to cure cancer, go on Shark Tank, be in tech, or work for a trendy Startup firm to innovate. The good news is that there is space for all of us to innovate in whatever our speciality. You don’t have to revolutionize your field or the world. Its about being open to new possibilities, trying new things, and ultimately finding a solution that adds value to someone. For managers, it means being intentional in coaching conversations, goal setting, and performance management.