Innovation leaders are pulling people into the innovation process at the front end rather than simply pushing innovation out to them at the back end. They’re casting a broad net while they’re at it, seeking experience-honed insights from frontline employees, customers, partners, suppliers and more.
Human experience and insights of all kinds help shape and deliver new ideas, solutions, products and services that ultimately bring value to markets and businesses. That’s why innovation teams today seek input from across a variety of disciplines, rather than relying disproportionately on technology-driven skills and insights.
Soft skills like experience-honed intuition and judgment are clearly valued by the executives we surveyed, who say their employees are their most important partners in innovation, above technology partners. Even if they don’t sit on a company’s core innovation team, employees can be valuable co-strategists early in the process, functioning as more than just personnel to whom innovations are pushed out for execution purposes.
As Eddie Copeland, director of government innovation at Nesta, notes, failure to listen to frontline workers can be a major obstacle to innovation, since those employees often see problems and solutions more clearly than their cost-conscious managers.
Building an organization with a culture that fosters the right temperament, skills, and creativity in its people is essential to successful innovation. Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Technology Ventures, says she’ll “take amazing talent and a mediocre idea any day over an amazing idea and mediocre talent, because innovation is more about the who than the what.”
Simi is not alone. Roughly two-thirds of innovating companies say that bringing in employees with fresh thinking and establishing innovative behaviors and culture are the most critical success factors for innovation, well above other criteria.
But not all companies are sure their workforce measures up. Thirty-two percent of the businesses we surveyed say that finding employees with the right skills is their biggest people-related innovation challenge. This challenge is topped only by the need to establish a leadership culture conducive to innovation, cited by 37% of companies.
Part of the problem might simply be a matter of mindset. Innovation is often associated with startups and agencies but hardly needs to be limited to them. “Well, why not us?” asks Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures. “Why not be able to experiment within the corporate realm? I think part of our responsibility is to be bold and do just that.”
“When you’re trying to design and implement a new way of working, you really need a feedback loop. And that feedback needs to come from all the people involved, and not just what senior management thinks is the right thing to do. This helps to foster a culture of innovation.”
Director, Global Lead for Innovation Benchmark, PwC US