As Ernest Hemingway so eloquently put it, “Never confuse movement with action.

The implementation of corporate innovation programs continues to grow across the globe as organizational leaders are challenged by a new age of innovation pioneers. They’ve watched as tech giants adopt new ideas such as chief innovation officers, hackathons, twenty percent time and idea tanks. These programs, while good in theory, can only go so far as to promote innovation if they are not properly rooted. 

The real key, as it turns out, lies in the baseline motivators that drive your employees and your ability to help them clearly understand the role they play in the bigger picture. 

The Problem With Many Innovation Programs 

The main problem with many innovation programs is that their premises are rooted in tired, ineffective productivity mindsets that are motivating employees in unhealthy ways. In a famous string of studies conducted by psychologist Edward Deci at Carnegie Mellon University, it was discovered that money is actually a terrible motivator and greatly hinders creativity and innovation. Deci found that these monetary, short-term rewards actually triggered an addiction mindset similar to that of caffeine addiction. 

Short-term rewards breed short-term thinking - and this is not the mindset you want to promote. Not only that, but many innovation programs find themselves lacking a true definition or identity. In order to motivate your workforce, you need to clearly articulate what success means within your organization. 

Some examples of the main drawbacks to innovation programs include:

1.  Lack of Proper Motivation

Deci’s studies led to the discovery that people need to be motivated by their own intrinsic desire to solve a problem. They need to be committed to long-term mastery of their position while feeling like they have the autonomy to pursue that mastery in their own way. Human beings have an inherent tendency to crave personal challenges that they can conquer on their own terms. They need to explore, learn and apply creativity to tasks. 

If your main motivators are promotions, money, or other short-term serotonin fixes - your workforce is at great risk of cutting corners and getting stuck in selfish and short-term thinking. 

2.  The Mercenary Mindset 

Innovation programs need more than just the proper motivation, however. They also need to have a structure that cultivates autonomy and limitless thinking.

Individuals that are focused only on extrinsic motivators can spell the death of any attempt at innovation. The remedy is simply the opposite: a focus on priming teams to operate autonomously while motivated by a purpose and the commitment to the long-term mastery of a skill. Managers need to have trust and confidence in their teams. They can express this by loosening the leash on their employees and giving them more freedom to solve problems in their own way and alongside other teams within the organization. 

3.  Lack of Concrete Success Definitions 

Do you really understand what value means to your teams, or are you just using trending buzzwords? If there is to be innovation, employees need to have a clear idea of what is expected of them. They need real, tangible problems to attack. They need purpose.  They need autonomy, training, trust and permission.  Buzzwords do not provide a concrete definition of success. They lead to a disconnect between management and the workforce. 

The Power of Employee Freedom 

If you want employees to be at their most productive and innovative, the best approach is to have already established a workplace dynamic that effortlessly creates a sense of motivation. The only way to do this (for tasks that require creativity) is to ensure that the teams are being motivated properly and to ensure that they feel that they have autonomy and purpose within the larger picture. 

But how can you clearly establish this type of dynamic? After all, some of the main components clash with many traditional concepts in business - profit over everything, compartmentalization, and employees who are micromanaged and stifled. Thankfully, however, there are some actionable steps you can take to implement innovation programs that deliver:

1.  Promote Purpose

The power of promoting inherent satisfaction to your employees is invaluable. Employees should have the freedom to experiment with new ideas while having the ability to be autonomous and pursue a long-term journey towards mastery. When employees are equipped with these critical keys to success, the results are obvious. 

Managers have the responsibility of empowering employees to add value to the organization with their own unique creative experience and participation. Not only will this improve motivation, work satisfaction, and creative output, but it will also prove to them that their leadership is invested in their long-term development and their journey towards mastering a skillset. 

Put simply, you need to make it clear to employees that you trust them and believe in their ability to deliver. By focusing on purpose, you can democratize the process of innovation and empower passionate contributions to the advancement of your organization. 

2.  Understand Motivation

You don’t want employees sprinting towards the reward rather than diligently attacking the problem. If your rewards become predictable to employees, then they will only do the minimum required work in order to be rewarded.  An additional consequence is that extrinsic motivators will need to grow to generate the same effort moving forward. 

One of the keys to ensuring you are properly motivating employees is to establish a long-term mindset.  This can be achieved with clarity about your objectives, investment in educating your employees to pursue the objectives and empowering your employees to add value in pursuing those objectives.  

3.  Nourish a Culture of Innovation

Every organization needs people who are invested in the organization’s mission.  This investment is nourished by helping your employees understand and believe they can add value to the organization.  

Understanding comes with education and communication. Belief comes with permission and action.  Incorporate intangible rewards such as praise, positive feedback, social promotion and recognition.  Cultivate employee trust and empowerment with training, support and personal development.  Collaborate with your employees to develop and improve your innovation activities.  Most importantly, do something!  Send the right message to your employees that you value their participation and that it is essential.     

Innovation in Action

Innovation trends can cause organizational leaders to scramble but movement for the sake of movement is meaningless. While these transitions may be difficult at first, curated properly they can lead to compounding growth, greater employee motivation, retention and outcomes. If you want to maximize innovation within your organization, be real with your employees and ensure they have tangible goals and ample autonomy to pursue these goals in their own way - and, importantly - stay out of their way! 

Speak with an Output professional about your innovation activities and other strategies to help your employees add value to your organization.

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