The (Non)Sense of Employee-Focused Innovation Training

A lot has been written about Innovation Training in the recent past. At Culturevate, we clearly see the sense of such training, but there are some important conditions that needs to be met for these efforts to generate long-term impact for an organization. Not all companies understand these conditions, which often leads to mediocre results and missed opportunities. One extra difficulty is that a good Innovation Training should be driven by and aligned with several functional parts of a large corporate organization.

An innovation training effort should be an integral part of any corporate innovation program/strategy. A concrete training effort gives a clear message that innovation should be taken seriously and supports your employees who may not know how or where to begin.

However, just launching an innovation training effort independently, without context to a company’s strategy or culture, will create confusion and generate low output at best. We prefer a model that makes use of the momentum of a training effort to explain (and reinforce) the organization’s innovation program and strategy throughout the curriculum. This way, you achieve the additional advantage that a big picture strategy is much better understood by the community and that the training fits in the big picture strategy of the company.

Every good innovation training should at least cover 2 important aspects

Managers need to be trained and coached to support their newly empowered employees.

The first one is focused on improving the innovation skills of your employees. These skills can change according to the needs of specific employee audiences. For example, corporate executives may be looking at how an innovative world is changing the way that businesses compete, grow and create value. For more junior employees the training may be focused on:

  • questioning or observation skills that allows innovators to challenge the status quo
  • networking, which helps them gain new experience through communicating with others
  • experimenting, which prompts employees to try new experiences and test out new ideas, and
  • association thinking, which includes drawing connections among different questions, problems, or ideas; build key messaging and develop an approach to execute ideas linked with the company’s idea-to-launch process.

The second aspect to consider relates to changing the behavior of employees and managers. Companies want their employees to behave much more like intrapreneurs and an effective training (and continuous coaching) program is needed. Also, managers need to be trained and coached to support their newly empowered employees. They need to learn to let go of their command and control behavior and to coach innovative behavior with their people and form innovative teams/cultures.

In order to support a training effort, it is beneficial to first create a strategic framework, that helps lay out an approach to identifying who, how, and when your employees should be engaged around training efforts. Further, this effort should consider how the training efforts support and overlay with other training program activities. Mapping such a framework will make employee training efforts much more tailored to individual or group needs, scalable where required and overall more effective. Further, this framework will identify and align overall objectives of these efforts.

A key goal of any innovation training and engagement framework is to efficiently allocate limited training resources where they are likely to have the most impact. While it may be tempting to focus purely on the “to be improved” employees, it is often more effective to focus your efforts on increasing the skills of those who already buy in to innovative thinking, because this will engage them and will also enhance their long-term behavior.

If an employee feels like they are being invested in, they will invest in their work and see more benefit to engaging with the goals of the organization in innovative ways.

Today, there is more competition than ever for top talent. They are looking for opportunities to grow and gain more responsibility. Employees will feel more valued when companies spend time and money to invest in them, especially if that investment aligns with their intrinsic goals and career objectives. All companies identified in the recent “Great Place to Work” report have a voluntary turnover rate half that of industry peers. Many factors influence that turnover, but an effective and efficient approach to learning and development is sighted as a crucial factor. In other words, if an employee feels like they are being invested in, they will invest in their work and see more benefit to engaging with the goals of the organization in innovative ways.

When effectively structured and positioned, innovation training efforts can create great value for organizations. In addition to people enhancing their innovative thinking approaches and creative problem-solving skills, create an environment that is safe for great ideas, and all the while people enjoy their work and their work teams more. On top of that, if this effort includes elements that engaged employees within the organization’s overall Innovation Strategy & Program, you can make the link between that Strategy and the daily job of every employee.

By Frank Dethier

About the Author

Frank is a Strategic Innovation Consultant @Culturevate, empowering client’s employees to execute ideas and inspire innovative cultures. The organization offers innovation training (developed in association with some of the world’s leading universities); a SAAS-based portal of innovation materials, tools and templates; along with consulting focused on engaging employees around innovation. Frank has more than 15 years experience in empowering organizations to be much more innovative such as AB Inbev, Medtronic, Huntsman and Philips. He strongly believes in a holistic approach combing hard elements (Strategy, Process and Organization) and soft elements (People and Culture). He has a Master of Engineering from the KU Leuven, Belgium.

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