“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have… It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”
The Innovation Myth
I have just finished yet another article on innovation in the workplace. I find it interesting that companies, so very focused on “innovation” of new ideas and problem-solving, have not taken a moment to sit back and see that their new “initiative” to be creative and think-out-of-the-box is so intricately tied to one of the biggest problems they are trying to solve: retention and recruiting.
I can put the article trends side-by-side and an interesting pattern emerges. Leaders in companies want to grow their businesses in new ways, but they are burdened with a workforce that is divided. Older workers who are burnt out and younger ones that don’t want to stay. Making our workplace more innovative is indeed the process for change, but the problem may lie not in the workers, but in the leaders trying to “solve” the problem.
We have a new generation of workers who want something different from their lives and careers. Just like every new generation. But this new group is forcing change. They don’t buy into the “Climb The Ladder” model that anyone over 35 was spoon fed from their parents, teachers, and TV shows. Climbing the ladder means that you are always looking above for guidance, and looking behindyou to see who is catching up. It worked for many years keeping us all in line, nicely ordered and managed by a whole team of “middle-management” professionals who got paid nice sums of money to manage the managers.
Then 2008 cut that entire “middle-manager” layer out of the workforce. If you were lucky enough to keep your job you lived in fear of being discovered that you were not really “managing” anything, or anyone for that matter. Work became a battle to keep what “you had” so our 40-hour weeks turned into 50+ without any overtime, and then vacation days started rolling over or were lost entirely, and the executives, who were struggling to figure out why productivity and sales were stagnant, began discussing methods of innovating business and workflow.
Innovation is New Thinking
It all made sense, but innovation is not a solution when being led by people who are still climbing the ladder. Looking up is not an advantage when all the people below are moving on (and out) fast and furiously. There are companies who do not understand why someone would leave two weeks into a job. And there are stacks of articles complaining about millennials workers who were coming into the workplace asking for “perks” and “favors” before the ink was even dry on their application. And loyalty? Well, most companies just “assume” it is a problem with their generation.
Millennial Worker Demands:
- They want a culture of collaboration and inclusion.
- They want continual training and development programs.
- They want their lives and their careers to have an impact and purpose.
- They expect to be given what is necessary to do their job.
- And they want feedback from their bosses and their peers.
So is that such a horrible list?
Hell no! Isn’t that what we all want?
And take a closer look at that list. Are these not the outlined results of all those mind mappings exercises that are included in the leadership workshops?
How can we operate in the workplace when the management is busy climbing their career ladder while the workers are circling their desks trying to share ideas?
- Your entire team wants to be given the opportunity to share creative, “innovative” ideas with you and without fear of being shunned. When people are heard they feel valued and then they work harder to contribute even more creative ideas.
- Your entire team wants to feel they like they know what they are doing and that the “what” is being done correctly. How do you expect them to do their jobs to the company standards when you are not offering any training? (and I am not talking about the department budget for “extra” outside training) Every company needs to train their employees about the mission, the purpose, and the process of the job. “Sink or swim” is not a training method!
- Your team (and the world) want to feel their work has a purpose other than your next promotion or bonus check. Put your company or department behind a local cause and let the people on your team work to support it and you will see a change in the way your department runs….yes, even if that means you have to pay them to do a few hours of volunteer work outside of the office.
- And who doesn’t expect to be given all the tools necessary to do their job? Think about it–how do expect your team to operate when they don’t have everything they need? Budgets are not an excuse. If you do not have the tools to provide your team to do their jobs effectively then maybe there are people on that ladder whose salaries and bonuses should be reviewed and reinvested into the budget.
- Feedback, really? Doesn’t your entire team deserve feedback and acknowledgment for their efforts by you whenever possible? And not in an annual review from a survey written in 1988, but through regular meetings with goal setting—do you honestly think that your team doesn’t notice that you never notice?
I repeat the quote from above
Innovation is easy. It’s removing the outdated ideas that are the problem!
It is hard to change.
Hard to see the forest from the trees. But something really dynamic is happening in the workplace today. Driven by this “problem generation” we now have possibilities to make real, innovative solutions. It just takes an ability to see things from a different perspective. Get down off that ladder and actually have a conversation with your team. Think about how you felt at the same stage. You wanted to be included. You wanted to be heard. You wanted to make contributions bigger than yourself. You would have loved a high-five once in awhile, right?
Every parent comes to the realization that they were once young and idealistic. And it is usually on that day that things begin to change. When we put on the shoes of those around us, our journey becomes more important; because for the first time, it is shared.
Maria Bereket is a Marketing & Social Media Consultant. Her work is focused on bridging the gap in the digital divide, and her passion is working with small business and entrepreneurs because she feels that their work is going to change the world making it a better place to live. Follow @mbear88 or email