An example (absence of) innovation culture & how process can help – Why employees don’t share ideas?

posted by Ravi Arora March 13, 2017

In the previous two posts, we discussed about how absence of an innovation culture bothers top leaders but unfortunately they aren’t able to do much about it. We also discussed how cultures are shaped (cultured) by following processes over a longer period of time. All this may sound theory & concepts and hence in this post I am providing one example of how processes can help overcoming the cultural stumbling blocks.

Cultural elements required to nurture innovations differ from the time when an idea strikes in the mind of an individual all the way until the organisation gets the return from the innovation. The examples below are from the following situation – ‘Moment when the idea takes birth in an individual’s mind to the moment the person shares it with relevant people in the organisation.’ Only if this transition happens, the innovation can happen. Sharing of idea with relevant people is necessary if the execution of idea or the outcomes of the idea is beyond the control/influence of the ideator. The relevant people in such situations are usually senior management but could also be peers.

This first step that triggers the journey of innovation seems straight forward but is shrouded with problems which we all think are cultural issues. There are several forces that stop or discourage a person from sharing his/her idea. I call these forces as drags and business leaders often refer to them as cultural roadblocks! Let us look at a few drags that discourage a person from sharing his/her ideas:

  • Drag #1: Will I be called stupid?
  • Drag #2: Do I want to work on the idea?
  • Drag #3: What happened last time when I gave an idea?
  • Drag #4: Is my company willing and capable of executing my idea?

I discussed the first two drags in my previous post wherein I gave some examples of processes that could remove these roadblocks. I would discuss the latter two drags now.

Drag #3: What happened last time when I gave an idea?

If the employee is able to overcome the first two drags, it is not enough for him to share the idea. He thinks about the idea that he shared last time – Did relevant people take decision on the idea? Was the decision communicated to him? If the idea was selected, was he given a chance to be part of the implementation team? Is he updated on the status of idea? And lastly if the idea was rejected but considered good by his friends and colleagues, was he given the reasons for rejection?

A few simple processes could be installed to ensure that all the above questions are answered affirmatively and thereby getting rid of this drag.

In order to ensure that the people who have the authority to select or reject ideas do not reject ‘difficult to implement’ ideas, a few processes could be put in place (1) The idea owner could be asked to garner support on his/her idea from like-minded people and show their support to the decision maker. (2) The decision makers reject ‘difficult to implement’ ideas because they don’t want to be chased for the implementation and seen as non-performers. For such ideas that are ‘difficult to implement’ the decision makers could give a status of ‘Promising’ instead of rejecting them. The measurement system for ‘Promising’ ideas should be very different as compared to ’Selected’ ideas.

While selected ideas could be tracked on Implementation status, the promising ideas may be tracked on efforts spent! Implementation of Promising ideas should have a big upside and no downside if not implemented. On the other hand non-implementation of a ‘selected’ idea should have a downside.

Some employees also have a fear of someone else stealing their idea. This fear gets developed over a period of time if there are instances (and stories) of people taking credit of someone else’s idea. This usually happens if there is no proper method of capturing and recording ideas of employees. This can be overcome by having strong policies for protecting ideas similar to organisations having policies for protecting patents. In fact, if we have such a process it encourages employees to share and stamp their name on their ideas before someone else could.

Drag #4: Is my company willing and capable of executing my idea?

This interesting drag is founded on the perception that employee has about the rigor of implementing ideas in his company. All employees want their ideas to see the light of the day. Employees are happy if their idea gets evaluated and selected (Drag #3) but they feel very dejected if their ideas do not get implemented without a valid reason. They don’t mind if the idea is shelved after the requisite effort has been put in. Based on their observations and experience about the rigor of implementation, employees create their own perception. If the perception is negative, which means organisation doesn’t put requisite efforts in implementing ideas, it becomes a drag.

If such a negative perception gets built, the basic human nature of measuring others while having conversation comes into the play. In simple words, if a person is a world class badminton player, he won’t give any tips about the back-hand smash to a novice player because he would consider it to be a waste of time for him. In any conversation between two people the person with more knowledge or ideas downgrades himself to the level of the other person to engage in a conversation (unless the person is busy bragging!) . The same is true with sharing ideas. If the ideator feels that the idea will not get implemented either because the organisation is not ready to take risks or is not capable or is weak in execution he/she will think twice before sharing.

Strike Rate

For an employee, the ‘strike rate’ is the ratio of ‘ideas implemented’ to ‘ideas occurred’. If innovation is a serious subject in the organisation, most employees would aspire to get a 100% strike rate for their ideas. This strike rate has three components, due to the four drags and organisation needs to work on all the four:

If innovation is a serious subject in the organisation, most employees would like to aspire to get a 100% strike rate for their ideas. For an employee, the ‘strike rate’ is the ratio between ‘ideas implemented’ and ‘ideas shared’. I am sure it would be evident that this strike rate has three components:

Strike rate     = Invisible Strike rate X Visible Strike rate

= (Idea shared) / (idea occurred) X (Ideas implemented) / (Ideas shared)

= (Idea shared) / (idea occurred) X (Ideas Selected) / (Ideas shared) X (Ideas implemented) / (Ideas selected)

= Drag 1 & Drag 2 X Drag 3 X Drag 4