HR Leads Business

Sep 16, 2020 | Susan Richards, SPHR, CEO of Sapient Insights

Preventing Innovation Fatigue

Innovation is perhaps the buzzword of this century. An overwhelming majority of business leaders (93%) view innovation as critical to spurring growth and generating revenue. Consumers also like and expect innovation — 63% of consumers report liking it when companies offer new products.

It seems that everyone is scrambling to innovate all the time, yet we’re rarely successful. One common reason: The more time we spend talking about innovation, the less likely we will succeed. Instead, we succumb to innovation fatigue. Our creativity and mental energy plummet, suppressing our odds of generating good ideas. The counterintuitive results: We see less innovation.

So what can employers do to stay competitive without inviting boredom and burnout?  Here are three ways to cultivate sustainable innovation in your organization. 

Think Small

We tend to think of innovation with a capital “I,” a massive transformation or radical new idea. But beware of conflating big ideas with innovative ones. 

Leaders tend to associate innovation with hype. Flashy, big ideas get leadership buy-in but may not lead to real results. Approach innovation with the same critical eye as you do all elements of your business and make sure you’re not just buying into the hype of an exciting idea. 

Take a pragmatic approach to innovation. Small changes to operations or business functions can lead to significant gains. It might not result in winning the Malcolm Baldrige Award, but it could lead to substantial savings or increased profits. And as a bonus, these small, incremental innovations over time can result in those kinds of large, transformative shifts even while they build the organization’s overall capacity for innovation. 

Create the Right Culture

For innovation to happen, employees have to feel like the culture is conducive to risk-taking. If employees worry they will be penalized for trying new ideas or approaches, they may be reluctant to share creative or innovative ideas. Lower the stakes for failure. When team members pursue large-scale innovation, it represents a significant investment in time and resources. But what if the new product or service is not successful? If the stakes for failure are too high, it can discourage employees from pursuing new ideas and suppress innovation.

It’s also important to recognize that innovation can come from anywhere in the organization, not just from the C-Suite or from leaders. Democratizing your approach to innovation can avoid it feeling like a top-down directive and increase buy-in from employees. Your goal should be to embed a genuinely innovative culture into your organization at every level, from frontline workers to new hires to organizational veterans. You want them to feel empowered to share ideas with their leaders, rather than taking them to a competitor or even starting their own company.

Incentivize Innovation

What gets rewarded gets done. If you reward your people for being innovative, especially when it comes to operations and business functions, you will encourage innovation across your organization.

Celebrate the small wins and reward people for trying a new innovative approach or idea, even if it fails. Focus on doing things better, not just performing well. Embedding innovation in performance evaluations can help incentivize employees to find ways to innovate in their roles. Spot bonuses and rewards pegged specifically to innovative ideas can also encourage employees to take creative approaches to their jobs. 

But you can also reward people for approaching innovation critically. Employees in each role are the best positioned to apply a critical eye to the operations surrounding them and, therefore, can identify opportunities for improvement. Be open to these ideas and reward employees who come forward.

About the Author

Susan Richards, SPHR, is CEO of Sapient Insights. Richards has been leading change management, HR technology, strategy, organizational effectiveness, and transformation engagements for more than 20 years. Previously, she founded SteelBridge and worked at Mercer, Buck Consultants, Deloitte and IBM. She earned an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BA from Maryville College.