To many, it comes as no surprise that great workplaces often are also great innovators. When we consider the likes of Google, Microsoft, W.L. Gore, Intel, and the other 96 companies on our 100 Best Companies to Work For list, it seems like these companies are just better at everything.
At Great Place to Work®, we were interested in understanding if there is a real link between being a great workplace and a great innovator. Our research into the Best Companies to Work For revealed three distinct areas where great workplaces put extraordinary focus that helps sustain a culture where innovation can thrive: Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration.
One of the reasons so many great workplaces are also great innovators is that their employees are intimately connected to the company’s business objectives, mission, and goals, and regularly receive candid and detailed updates on where the business is and where it is headed. When people understand where the company is going, they can help get there. In an innovation culture, communication reflects these beliefs and behaviors:
Even good workplaces and great leaders struggle with establishing the right level of transparency in their internal communications. Closely guarding information about the state of the business diminishes trust, where honestly and authentically sharing information about the state of the company enhances employee trust in management and keeps employees connected with company goals.
While semi-annual town halls are great opportunities to hear about the state of the business from executive leaders, it may not be enough to keep people connected with business goals throughout their day-to-day operations. Regularly cascade business information through departments to line managers who should be accountable for keeping teams alerted to successes, threats, and new opportunities.
At Great Place to Work®, we see more and more companies inviting employees to participate in the goal- and strategy-setting process through surveys and committees. Not only does this increase engagement, but it accelerates buy-in of company goals and facilitates big-picture thinking among frontline employees.
Communication in innovation cultures invites employees to act and think like stakeholders. When employees can see beyond their job roles and departmental functions, they can begin to contemplate where and how their ideas can contribute to the company’s overall goals.
Great workplaces do not just hire great talent and sit back to wait for the innovation to occur. Rather, they enable innovation by coordinating innovation efforts throughout the organization. For many companies, this means developing and maintaining specific programs and mechanisms that will facilitate innovative thinking by creating the time and space for that thinking to occur. These coordinated efforts may take these forms:
Many companies offer the designers, developers, and engineers behind their products designated time to work on approved projects – of the employees’ own creation – that don’t serve current product or profit goals. This sanctioned freedom to experiment engages employees and also creates a pipeline of fresh ideas that ultimately will lead to new products, projects, or enhancements.
Innovation has gone social at many companies, with online forums that ask employees to contribute fresh ideas and invite colleagues to vote and comment on the ideas they are most enthusiastic about. When ideas hit a critical mass, they are lobbed to a cross-functional innovation committee that vets the ideas for implementation.
In an innovation culture, great ideas aren’t seen as random or fortuitous developments, but rather as opportunities that are consciously encouraged and vetted. With an innovative approach to innovation, organizations can develop the innovation capabilities of all employees.
Cultures of innovation recognize the inherent (if at times latent) abilities of all employees to contribute to the ideas, disruptions, and enhancements that will drive the business forward. A culture of innovation fundamentally differs in approach – innovation is believed to be the result of inclusivity, engagement, and collaboration, and not the purview of a select few. When every employee is thought of and treated as a potential innovator, organizations structure ways for employees to collaborate.
Great workplaces take a team approach to innovation, whether it is through an inherently collaborative work environment or a specifically developed initiative such as an innovation team. Ideas take on new life and more rapidly transition to the point of implementation when a diversity and breadth of thinking are brought to the table.
To ensure that people continue to contribute to innovation efforts, it’s important that a discarded idea is always accompanied by a “why.” Companies with particularly evolved innovation cultures place a lot of emphasis on this area. Doing so validates the employee contribution, invites them to continue their contributions, and cultivates a better eye for developing an idea that better feeds business objectives.
The belief that every employee is valuable and that every idea gets better when a diversity of opinions is expressed resides at the core of innovation cultures. If innovation is an area of opportunity for your company, let the three Cs guide you toward a more inclusive, collaborative approach to idea generation.
Leslie drives key conversations with leaders interested in building or sustaining great workplaces and believes Great Place to Work® is the best place for her.
Since 2006 she has served as Events Manager, Marketing Manager, and Communications Director. She thirsts for knowledge (and wine) and loves reading about workplace dynamics, attributes of leaders, the power of intention, and Native cultures of the American Southwest. With an MA and BA in history from Brown and Vassar respectively, she’s grateful to have a “real” job. For more information on Leslie and Great Place to Work®, go to: http://www.greatplacetowork.com.