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Fostering inovation

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“This nation wasn’t built on greed. It wasn’t built on reckless risk. It wasn’t built on short-term gains and shortsighted policies. It was forged on stronger stuff, by bold men and women who dared to invent something new or improve something old—who took big chances on big ideas, who believed that in America all things are possible.”These are the words of President Barack Obama as he launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign in fall of 2009. While he was speaking to the need to foster innovation in today’s young students, his words resonate among all ages and across all industries, public and private.

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

These innovations can be easy and practically free. The City of Minneapolis, for example, is expanding snow emergency communications to Facebook™ and Twitter, reducing towed and ticketed cars—to larger scale initiatives—like Washington’s Sno-Isle Regional Library System that brought in ergonomists to assess their 20 some libraries which resulted in a 75 percent reduction in staff injuries.

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 best ways is for leadership to support employees’ initiates 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 state 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 a Medallion Coaster and Mug Set or a Wine Companion Gift Set and thank all entrants for their ideas with smaller giveaways like a Genuine Swiss Army Knife or a Money Clip and Card Holder. 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 Foam Magnet.
  • 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 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 honor, a mention in the newsletter or on the intranet, or even a gift, like a Double Old-Fashioned Glass Set or Voyager 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 it 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.

“Educate to Innovate.” The White House. Web. 03 Apr. 2010.

“Success Stories.” Labor & Industries (L&I), Washington State. Web.




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