Fostering innovation

“The best solutions to the diverse challenges confronting Canada’s communities are often found locally. Every day, the power of innovation is seen at work in communities across this country, as citizens, businesses and charitable groups join forces to tackle local problems.”These are the words of Governor General Michaëlle Jean as she delivered the Speech from the Throne in March. Her words resonate among all ages and across all industries, public and private.

The public sector, in particular, is in an especially unique position—more and more constituents are demanding innovation in the ways in which government operates and supports citizens, while government agencies continue to hold the potential to affect millions of people in the innovations they make.

These innovations can be easy and practically free—such as Suzanne Dodge, the mayor of Prescott, Ont., who is using Twitter to stay engaged with her community and expand her reach when soliciting requests for proposals for local contracts or spreading the word about community events. Larger scale initiatives can also benefit from some innovative solutions, such as the City of Calgary’s collaboration with the provincial government and private sector partners to create a new 88-unit affordable housing tower in the city’s trendy downtown Eau Claire district. The city expects to roll out 11,000 new affordable units by 2012 thanks to its innovative public/private mixed-use approach that includes office space and even fire halls in some of the new buildings.

There are efforts your department or agency can take to create an environment that fosters innovation and encourages employees to actively participate in making your organization more effective and efficient.  One of the surest ways is for leadership to support employees’ initiatives and reward them for their efforts. Whether it’s performance-based pay, incentives or recognition, leadership needs to provide the resources to ensure an innovative culture grows and flourishes. Try these additional ideas to support innovation in your workplace:

  • Allow employees professional development or networking time to learn the latest in industry trends and to make connections that may leverage innovation.
  • Provide greater flexibility when it comes to office hours—let staff come in earlier and leave later, go home for lunch or even work from home on occasion to create an environment that is conducive to creative thought or that offers time to think beyond immediate workplace needs.
  • Set aside time at staff meetings for brainstorming sessions and include time in all reviews to discuss possible areas for organizational improvement and innovation.
  • Facilitate new idea show-and-tells. Hold brief meetings outside of regular staff meetings during which employees can present their ideas for innovation or present a quick brief on a comparable government organization in the province or throughout the country that has implemented a progressive program or made other innovations and the subsequent effect it has had. You may just find an idea to implement in your office, or just find inspiration to keep looking!
  • Hold workplace contests that ask employees to submit ideas for new ways of doing things. Reward winners with larger prizes like the Convertible Cooler Duffel or a Wine and Cheese Picnic Kit and thank all entrants for their ideas with smaller giveaways like a Swivel Tool Kit with LED Light or an Etched Money Clip. Or, if staff are more comfortable in anonymity, consider the use of department-wide internal suggestion boxes that allow employees to submit ideas or suggestions on room for improvement. Create awareness of the suggestion box by sending employees a note explaining where it is, how it should be used and a fun takeaway to encourage immediate action, like a Lightbulb Pen or Light Bulb Gator Clip.
  • Consider crowdsourcing for innovation. Reach out to constituents in order to identify needs within the community that may align well with your department or programs and develop new efforts that fulfill this gap.
  • Let staff know that failure in developing or implementing innovations is okay—because it is. Sometimes, you have to go through multiple bad ideas to find the one that sticks. Along the same lines, make it clear that any suggestions or brainstorming ideas are part of a judgment-free zone—innovation means being open to anything and appreciative and respectful of all opinions.
  • When these efforts produce successful innovations, reward employees who contributed to the initial idea or change. Rewards can include public acknowledgement in the form of a department celebration in their honour, a mention in the newsletter or on the intranet, or even a gift, like a Double Old-Fashioned Glass Set or Paramount Award. And don’t forget the thank-you note to further show departmental gratitude and appreciation. These type of rewards not only make employees feel good about their innovations, but may also serve to encourage future innovations, too.

Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing; in fact, most of the time it’s just what we need. Encourage staff members to create, to streamline and do the best job that they can do—to foster innovation.

Canada. Government of Canada. Prime Minister. Speech from the Throne: A Stronger Canada. A Stronger Economy. Now and for the Future. Government of Canada, 03 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2010.

City of Calgary. Newsroom. Affordable Housing Arrives in Eau Clarie. City of Calgary Newsroom. City of Calgary, 26 Feb. 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2010.

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