The most influential employees in all departments can help promote your innovation program, helping you reach your predefined innovation goals.
You’ve received leadership buy-in for an innovation program. You’ve clearly identified the desired outcomes for the program and set aside a set amount of budget and time to reach your goals. You’ve drafted your first challenge statement, and you’re ready to take it live.
And then, silence.
Your challenge receives little to no engagement. Whether it’s department-targeted or organization-inclusive—and even if it’s directly based on insight employees had previously shared—you see no engagement and assume little interest.
It may not be a matter of disengaged employees, as even engaged employees may not feel totally comfortable openly sharing their ideas and suggestions. It may not be a culture problem either, as even companies with engaging cultures don’t experience 100% employee engagement.
How, then, do you ensure a high engagement rate for your innovation program and, of course, a positive ROI?
If you have a culture of employee innovation in place, the most effective route would be to have the employees with the most influence help promote your program.
Follow these steps to find the influencers in your organization, in every department, and receive large-scale buy-in from employees.
Step #1: Find the employees who have been in a department or role the longest
It’s simple: Employees who have been working in a specific department or even particular role for a while years the minutiae of their job and how they fit into the organization’s overall goals.
They also know how to share their knowledge with their co-workers without often realizing it, earning their respect as a result—a necessary component to overall employee creativity and engagement.
A 2009 study conducted by the University of Florida found that employees who felt they lacked respect, as through experiencing rudeness by an authority figure, saw a dramatic decrease in overall creativity. Authority figures, including mid-level managers, should recognize employees’ expertise and encourage them to exercise their creativity and share their ideas.
Long-working employees often already know which of their co-workers have ideas they want to share. They just need leadership to recognize their influence so they can effectively communicate between their department and management.
Step #2: Ask about pain points
As mentioned above, the highest-ranking or longest-working employees often get the most respect from others in their department. Whether or not their title suggests leadership, others might see them as such because of their experience.
Their position allows them to ask their peers what their specific pain points are—as well share them themselves, as they know those pain points intimately.
Oftentimes, the issues leaders try to assuage are more immediate, and long-term (and long-time) challenges are markedly more complex—especially if leaders don’t have a clear picture on what those challenges are.
Long-term employees can act as intermediaries between leadership and frontline employees, even (and especially) if they themselves are a frontline employee. They have a close rapport with their peers by simply doing the same or similar work, and they can easily convey to both parties what needs to be accomplished.
Step #3: Assign employees department ownership over their idea(s)
After identifying pain points and how to address them by hearing out frontline employees’ expertise, leadership should allow employees the space and time to find solutions themselves. After all, who knows those issues and how to address them best?
Studies show that including employees in decision-making processes and allowing them to perform the work involved in those decisions are more engaged than those who are excluded. Highly engaged employees turn in higher-quality work: If that work is done to solve an issue, then that issue will be solved.
Allowing employees to test, validate, and pilot their ideas improves five areas your organization likely defined when first investing in an innovation program:
• Employee engagement in the short-term;
• Employee engagement in the long-term;
• The severity of their current issues;
• The severity of future potential issues; and
Your employees have the insight to drive innovation in your organization—allow them to address and solve the challenges they know too well.