Some time ago, I attended an Assessment Centre of a major energy company, and the thoughts about it would not let me go. The negative part of my personal feedback was: “We need innovations, and you are not creative, because you did not propose any solution to the problem”. Our group was the only one to complete the task correctly though.
Choosing between different directions for innovation is not only the task for one’s creativity, but this is an issue of the right facilitation and personnel management. Most companies have enough talented people to bring innovations forward but concentrate all the efforts on finding the solutions somewhere else instead of motivating employees to bring ideas forward within the company. Moreover, while recruiters are paying attention to the knowledge of the “right” (well-known and certified) methodologies, the ability to listen carefully to others and to ask the right questions is never in the middle of the interview.
I went through many modern innovation approaches focusing on customers, internal processes, team-related brainstorming – but did not find any good concepts related to individual intellectual strength of employees. Let’s say, innovation is not business at first – it’s personal.
Many companies are strongly team building-oriented, while innovation-focused structured work of less social employees is underrated. The goal of the team management often becomes to make employees identical enough so they could work as an “effective team”. The amount of emotional energy every employee should invest in this theatrical masterpiece of acting like a “good team member” instead of his own work and relationships with the clients is not considered. This becomes especially visible in teams, which have only few introverts, who need to adapt to the “team culture” of others. Meanwhile, when did the “good team player” become the only way of distinguishing the “good employee”? A solid introverted scientist can be of more help in an innovation process than ten certified Innovation Managers can. I am talking here about employees, who are too shy or just uncomfortable to speak up for their ideas. In this case, their y).
Why do so few methodologies focus on what the INDIVIDUALS can and so many – on what THE TEAM can? Why do employers spend so much time creating “team cultures”, candidates are sitting with books on “how to become a person everybody will love during the Assessment Center”, team members are concentrated on the team brainstorming while competing behind each other’s backs. Excuse me, who is going to work in this structure on the innovative strategies and when?
Why do not we try to collect different ideas from the employees themselves one-by-one and then analyze them, as we do with the customers’ opinions? Why not to make our own talented people to our internal customers in the innovation process?
We do not use the individual strengths – we tolerate them. And later on we try to change the individual in order to be able to manage him more effectively. Similar people in larger groups are easier to coordinate. This toleration is a disease, as what we really need is to learn, how to integrate individual strengths instead and make use of them.
We also lack the ability to observe. When I read my non-marketing-related newsfeed on LinkedIn, 80% of posts are about people themselves (I was nominated..I visited…I achieved) and 20% declare the same in a more polite form “WE” (My team..my company..). There are only few to none posts about achievements of colleagues and partners, which mostly come from executives and headhunters. To survive, one should be self-centered, self-confident and very loud. The team culture in many companies does not motivate people to share innovative ideas with each other, as it is more of a co-existence culture under the conditions of a high competition within the “team”. Nobody is willing to share more than is required, even less are employees motivated to ask other team members about their opinions.
In my perception, the reason why many innovative startups are showing a sustainable fast growth is that they are small enough so the employees would use the individual strengths of each other and have less time for the process management. You MUST get to know others and learn their opinion to survive. The ability to listen and make others speak becomes crucial.
As the speed requirements for innovations processes increase, we need new concepts concentrating on making people speak up rather than making their opinions “acceptable” to the team. In the world of diversity, one should learn not only to accept differences in minds, characters, and working cultures – but also to benefit from them.