Innovation… it is a magic word. Every company must innovate, to meet the ever increasing customer demands. If you do not innovate, you will be out of business in only a few years. But where does innovation really come from?
The R&D department
The bigger companies ususally have an R&D department. A bunch of clever people, who research and develop new products. But in a world where most things are already invented, they don’t have much work anymore. Unless it is of course a huge invention that can change the world. Still, the R&D department keeps existing. As an entity of its own. That should change. Because they don’t innovate anymore.
I think that the most important innovations are made on “the floor”. Because innovation is very different from invention. Innovation is improvement. What can you do to enhance the added value? Or improve the production process? Or improve the feeling your customer gets? Who knows better what’s missing or can be improved than those who work with it, or use it daily?
Be supporting, not leading
An R&D department doesn’t need to be necessarily revoked. However, to act as an independent department, is in my opinion not the right way. When you are working with innovations and new ideas all the time, one can loose the knowledge of what the people in the real world want or need. And that is the danger of the department; losing the connection with the real world. The company must have a more than fantastic marketing department to make sure that the new product or service is selling good.
In all other cases, the department should be supporting to the employees, who work daily with the product and know what can be improved. That means that the employees in this department, the smart boys and girls, should humble themselves. They must learn how to be supportive to the company. And they must learn that the company should be leading, not them. That might cause a lot of pain for some people. A real lot of pain.
Change in company policy
The employees need to be encouraged to innovate. For the good of the company. In order to achieve that, the company policy must change. When employees have a good idea, it should not be shooed off like a bad idea. They should be encouraged to write an action plan and – if the innovation is achievable – a colleague of the R&D department should be attached to it, in order to assist in working out the innovation plan. The employee should be provided with time and money in order to innovate*. That takes a change in company policy. Leave the idea of the Taylorian organisation model. When that is not possible, let go of the idea that “ordinary employees” are not capable of innovating. Because they are.
Where to get the money from? I am sure that there are a lot of overhead departments are overcrowded. I am sure that a lot of top managers receive bonusses they do not need in order to make a proper living. I am sure that a lot of money can be saved by looking deep into the number of external consultants who are hired. So there is money to be spared for real innovation. If only people are willing take decisions which are really good for the company, instead of themselves. And practice what they preach. No reduction “on the floor” only, also the higher segments of the company should be taken into account.
Your employees can be your treasure
They are – or should be – your greatest treasure. Carbon can be turned into diamond, when there is enough time and enough pressure. Your employees can be of high value. So value them.
*I think there are some companies who have this already, like Toyota. As this company has grown from scrap to one of the best selling car manufacturers, that must say something.