This article was originally published by Inside HR
By Zoe Aitken
October 1, 2020
Like with any big change initiative, when it comes to embedding an innovation culture you must first start with your people. Making sure that your team is on board with the innovation journey, is absolutely critical to the success of any innovation efforts.
Middle managers, in particular, are in a unique position when it comes to innovation; they’re close enough to day-to-day operations to know where the critical problems are but removed enough from frontline work to see the bigger picture. They also play an essential role in maintaining employee motivation and focus around innovation.
Try demonstrating how innovation can support them in their current role. Outline the specific objectives that could benefit from creative and innovative thinking.
Yet too often, middle managers are forgotten or circumvented when it comes to embedding innovation within an organisation. Instead, the focus is on engaging senior leaders and training up employees. Yet without the support of middle managers, employee’s innovation efforts are often stifled, and they end up reverting to more immediate priorities.
Below are 5 ways to ensure that your middle managers are engaged and on board with your innovation journey.
- Incentivise innovation
Middle managers are often incentivised (and therefore focussed) on shorter-term goals and business challenges. Because of this, many don’t have the time, resources, or patience to focus on innovation. Therefore, incentivising your middle managers around innovation is critical. Whether that be by including ‘innovation’ in their performance metrics or rewarding them in some other way. The main thing is to make sure that you are encouraging your middle managers to focus on both short-term business needs, as well as longer-term growth opportunities.
- Demonstrate how innovation relates to their priorities
Often one of the biggest barriers to middle managers prioritising innovation, is that they can’t see how it directly relates to their role and objectives. Many see it as extra work that takes valuable resource away from business-critical activities. Therefore, try demonstrating how innovation can support them in their current role. Outline the specific objectives that could benefit from creative and innovative thinking. And help demonstrate that innovation is a tool that can be applied to all sorts of day-to-day business challenges.
- Make innovation easy and practical
Disruptive innovation gets a lot of airtime in the space of innovation. The term ‘disruptive’ has almost become the symbol of innovation success. Because of this, it often biases people’s perception of what innovation is. This perception that innovation is only about large, disruptive-type initiatives often deters middle managers from getting involved. Therefore, the key is to make innovation practical and easy. Demonstrate how innovation can be used to make tweaks to existing products and services. And how the principles and tools of innovation can be applied in smaller, more practical ways.
- Keep innovation top of mind
It’s highly probable that innovation isn’t top-of-mind for most middle managers, unless it directly relates to their role. They have their heads down, focused on more immediate priorities. Therefore, keeping innovation top of mind is critical. The leadership team plays an important role in making sure that messaging around the importance of innovation is consistently communicated, and that middle managers are actively engaged. You can also assign responsibility to your middle managers to communicate the innovation priorities to the broader business.
Middle managers, in particular, are in a unique position when it comes to innovation; they’re close enough to day-to-day operations to know where the critical problems are but removed enough from frontline work to see the bigger picture.
- Build confidence around innovation
Often middle managers don’t get involved in innovation because they simply don’t have the confidence or skills to do so. While they might not need the same hands-on training that their team members do, building their understanding around the ‘what’, ‘why, and ‘how’ of innovation will help get them on board and more engaged. Spend time helping them understand the fundamentals of innovation and how and when the innovation process can be applied in their role.
Employing these five strategies will help ensure that your middle managers become backers rather than blockers of your innovation efforts.