To make innovation sustainable, it must be supported at every level of your organization. Leadership needs to celebrate both innovation success and failure — like the Tata Group does through its Dare to Try award, which is bestowed annually on the team with the best idea…that fell short.
It also means that employees aren’t just expected to innovate — they’re given time for it. The 20 Percent Time program at Google is an example of commitment in action: engineers and project managers are actually granted 20% of their day to work on projects unrelated to their job duties.
If your people aren’t treating innovation as a top priority, gather leadership for an exercise called Commit to Innovation. It’s designed to prompt action upon discussion of the following three questions.
1. What three activities can you start doing today to be more innovative?
Sample activities could be:
- “I’ll collaborate with X department or Y person to encourage better idea-building."
- “I’ll establish and help manage an idea-submission portal.”
- “I’ll seek out one new perspective a week by engaging in dialogue with a different person, employee, or external resource.”
2. As an influencer in the organization, what three daily actions will you take to encourage innovative behavior from other employees?
These types of actions might include:
- “I can share my own works-in-progress with other business units for input and expertise.”
- “I can vocally support smart risk-taking — and encourage people to make time for it.”
- “I can continually communicate innovation updates across the org.”
3. What three innovation accomplishments will you help the organization achieve a year from now?
Examples of specific achievements are things like:
- “We’ll announce and dedicate X amount of resources to innovation.”
- “We’ll complete X project or Y initiative.”
- “We’ll approach X company or Y university for partnerships.”
- “We’ll establish and monitor innovation metrics and milestones.”
Give participants 15 minutes to brainstorm individual answers to the three questions and then direct them to share these and discuss with the larger group. To encourage accountability beyond this session, consider adding a data point in performance reviews that measures employees’ innovative behavior or output. Or ask employees to submit quarterly updates on their innovation activities.
Commit to Innovation helps leaders identify how they can contribute to innovation on the daily. It also provides a forum for them to make a public commitment to innovation — and lead by example.