How a Safe Workplace Can Lead to More Innovation

Maintaining a safe workplace is obviously very important if you want to avoid costly accidents and injuries on the job, but it has several other benefits as well. In this article, Tom Reddon highlights a few reasons why keeping a safe workplace makes good business sense.

Innovation has always been valued in the world of business, but most people believe that it is up to entrepreneurs and other “idea people” to come up with new concepts and strategies. Those in middle-management and below are often lost in the shuffle despite being right in the middle of a business’s operations. This is a real shame, especially since those who spend 40 hours a week in the workplace have more influence than many people realize. They directly affect their business’s productivity, and their innovation and creativity should be nurtured and encouraged. This, of course, can be accomplished through innovation training, but that’s not the only way to encourage productivity and success in the workplace. As strange as it may sound to some people, the best way to ensure that your workplace remains productive and encourages creativity is to focus on safety.

Maintaining a safe workplace is obviously very important if you want to avoid costly accidents and injuries on the job, but it has several other benefits as well. Here are just a few of the many benefits of keeping your employees safe when they’re on the job.

Peace of Mind

Some employees may complain about having several rules and regulations regarding their safety, but the truth is that these rules are great at giving employees peace of mind. Nobody really wants to work in a needlessly dangerous environment, and it would make sense that a company that doesn’t adhere to basic safety regulations would scare people away and lead to a high employee turnover rate. On the other hand, a business that takes the time to enforce those regulations and does what it can to keep its workers safe will be able to better put those workers at ease. If your employees don’t have to worry about injuring themselves or causing an accident, they will be happier and better prepared to focus on their work.

Employee Appreciation

There are few things that can destroy an employee’s productivity faster than not feeling appreciated. An employee who doesn’t feel like their safety is a priority obviously won’t feel appreciated by their employer, and they won’t feel encouraged to be innovative or productive. A cynical person might see putting safety regulations in place as nothing more than a company avoiding legal punishment, but it can also show that a business cares about its workers.

More Engaged Employees

When employees feel safe and appreciated by their employers, they are more likely to be engaged when they are at work. In many ways, engagement is more important than productivity and innovation. At the very least, it leads to greater productivity and innovation. An employee needs to enjoy their job and feel engaged by what they need to do before they can really come up with new and innovative ideas.

InnovationManagement and productivity are important to the success of any business, but few people realize how much those qualities go hand-in-hand with workplace safety. As long as you take safety regulations seriously and adhere to them as closely as possible, you can have a happy and productive workplace.

The Top 6 Predictors of Creative Performance in the Workplace

About 12 months ago, we set out to see if it was possible to do what was previously thought to

be impossible – to accurately predicting whether a person would be an effective creative

thinker at work. To our knowledge, there was not a single, scientifically validated process to

do this. We found that in the majority of cases, most companies were not using any method for

assessing creativity, despite claiming it to be a critical competency for staff to possess.

There were a couple of exceptions. In “creative industries,” such as advertising and design,

recruiters would typically look at a job applicant’s portfolio of past work to see how

creative they were. Of course, we all know people’s tendencies to stretch the truth. I used to

work at the advertising agency that came up with the idea for Earth Hour. And despite the fact

that only one person came up with the idea, I heard about many people from the agency claiming

that they were the one who gave birth to this idea and had put it in their portfolio.

In other industries, creative thinking is sometimes assessed by giving people a difficult

problem to solve and observing how they answer the problem. For example, Microsoft famously

asks job applicants how they would move Mount Fuji, and uses their answers as a test as to how

creative they are. However, this process has never been scientifically validated and is only

testing a small component of workplace creativity.

So we set ourselves the challenge of measuring the unmeasurable. We tested over 1,300 people,

from industries as diverse as advertising, engineering and insurance. We discovered that yes,

we could indeed predict a person’s ability to think creatively and work, and could do so

extremely accurately. It was all a matter of identifying the right variables to measure.

There are several components to creative thinking that we found that our test could predict.

These included a person’s ability to:

Generate new and effective solutions.

Collaborate well with others.

Sell and communicate ideas to others.

Think creatively under stressful situations.

Our test incorporated over 25 “predictors” – things that we knew were predictive of creative

performance as shown by leading researchers in the field. Here are some of the variables that

came out as the top predictors of creative performance in the workplace that you can use to

help your own predictive powers.

1. Openness to experience

There are hundreds of different personality traits, but we found that there was one trait in

particular that was most predictive of creative performance. This trait, called ‘Openness to

Experience’ is all about our inclination to seek out and appreciate new experiences. People

who score high on this trait tend to enjoy having a lot of variety in their life, have a high

level of curiosity, and use their imagination a lot. As a result, they perform significantly

more creatively at work.

If you want to try to foster this trait in yourself or in others, start by becoming

consciously aware of routines that you have in your life – it might be reading the same types

of magazines, gravitating towards the same types of movies or restaurants – and actively

encourage yourself to try something different. Being open to experiencing new activities, and

following through on this, will help improve your openness to experience and thus

significantly boost your creative performance.

2. Creative self-efficacy

Creative self-efficacy relates to a person’s confidence in their ability to think creatively.

A person’s creative confidence is important because it directly influences the motivation and

ability of a person to get stuck into creative problem-solving tasks. People who are high on

this dimension have a strong belief in their ability to generate creative ideas, will immerse

themselves in tasks that require creativity, and will seek to get the best ideas out of

themselves. Simply having this self belief has been shown to significantly increase a person’s

actual ability to think creatively.

If you currently do not see yourself as being an effective creative thinker, it is important

to recognise that this is merely a negative frame of mind that can be changed using positive

reinforcement. Research has consistently shown that creativity is malleable and our creative

potential can be manipulated using a variety of strategies. So next time you do something

creative, like solving a problem or participating in a brainstorm, make sure you acknowledge

this creativity, give yourself a pat on the back and nurture your creative confidence. By

reinforcing your creative triumphs, no matter how small, you will increase your awareness and

confidence of your creative potential.

3. Resilience

Resilience is all about a person’s psychological ability to deal with stressful situations.

People who are high in resilience bounce back easily from disappointments and failures, and

can remain optimistic when things are not going their way. We found that people who showed

high levels of resilience were significantly more creative at work. This is because creativity

often involves experiencing failure, such as having ideas rejected and having implemented

ideas perform poorly. Being able to bounce back from rejections is critical to maintaining

creativity and enthusiasm.

Starting to see failure as going hand in hand with creativity can help with setting more

realistic expectations which will help boost resilience. In addition, reminding yourself that

rejections and failures are not personal should also help build up a level of resilience.

4. Confidence in intuition

Intuition is an effortless, quick, and automatic form of thinking (our “gut feel”) that we

rely on frequently to guide our actions. This is in contrast to analytical thinking which is

deliberate, unhurried and detail-oriented. People who have a lot of confidence in their

intuitive side tend to prefer this way of thinking over more analytical thinking and their

confidence in the accuracy of these intuitive decisions. Having this confidence in one’s

intuition can help immensely with creativity, as creative thought often involves tapping into

intuitive, “gut” thinking.

Confidence in intuition can be developed by gradually using and testing your intuitive

judgments in low risk circumstances, then using any successful intuition-based decisions as

encouragement for more important tasks. The next time you have an opportunity to make a low-

risk decision using your “gut feel” (when trying to answer a question on a game show or when

you’re asked a question you’re not too sure of, for example), ensure you make the decision

instantly then check to confirm the correct answer. More often than not, you will find that

your instinctive answers are correct. The next step is to start deploying these automatic

judgments at work when trying to solve problems or when brainstorming, and to consciously

acknowledge the benefits of your instinctive judgments when they pay off. This gradual

approach will ease you into a pattern of trusting your intuition and will help to develop your

creative aptitude.

5. Tolerance of ambiguity

Tolerance of Ambiguity relates to how people react to problem solving tasks where the

information provided is vague, incomplete or inconsistent, and where the solution and path to

get to the solution are not immediately clear. People who are very tolerant of ambiguities are

not bothered by problems that are perceived as open-ended or ambiguous as they tend to be

highly flexible and dynamic, and they enjoy the autonomy and creativity ill-defined tasks

require. Being open to ambiguity and feeling comfortable with these types of problems is key

to creative performance, as a large part of creative thinking involves being able to sit

comfortably with problems that have no obvious solution.

Changing the way you perceive unclear objectives is one way of becoming more comfortable with

ambiguity. Initially, you must challenge your automatic tendency to view vague instructions

negatively; instead, try to be neutral and open to ambiguities. The next step is to realise

that the more ambiguous your directives, the more scope you have to impose your personal touch

and talent on the brief. That is, ambiguous briefs give you much more opportunity to work

outside organisational constraints and norms, and to do things the way you think they should

be done. If you consistently approach ambiguous directives in this way – openly, positively

and confidently – your habit of perceiving ambiguity negatively will be replaced by a tendency

to view ambiguity as an opportunity for you to shine.

6. Cross application of experiences

Cross-application of experiences occurs when a person draws on experiences from seemingly

unrelated parts of their life to solve problems at work. People who demonstrate this behaviour

frequently apply knowledge and concepts from outside of the work environment to solve work-

related problems.

The obvious solution to improve upon this area is to start deliberately applying knowledge and

experiences from outside of work to tasks requiring creative problem solving at work. A common

and effective strategy is to use analogy, that is, try to identify similarities in the problem

you are working on and a problem you’ve solved previously outside of work. Once similarities

have been extracted try to see if your previous solutions would also work in the problem you

are attempting to solve. You can also draw analogies using your knowledge of seemingly

irrelevant topics, such as history, politics or popular culture. The more similarities you can

identify between projects at work and your knowledge and experiences, the better you will

understand the problem you are faced with and the more likely you are to be able to solve it.

So what now?

The six points outlined above are some of the main findings to come out of our research, which

should hopefully give you and your team some direction for enhancing your own creativity.

There were also several other variables that were linked to creative performance in the

workplace, however, the above variables were some of the main ones.

You might also start to think about how you could incorporate these things into your

recruitment process when you are looking for new staff who will be great creative thinkers, or

alternatively, seek out a formal way of measuring these traits as they can be tricky to

assess.

A Process for Innovation Planning

All too often, hastily planned brainstorming sessions bring up a lot of good ideas that somehow never get used, while the boring kinds of ideas you are trying to get away from seem to be used again and again. One reason for this is the lack of an innovation plan, according to Jeffrey Baumgartner.

“We need fresh ideas for the Acme proposal. Let’s all sit down and brainstorm ideas some time this week.” How often have you heard something like that at your office? How often have the creative ideas of the brainstorming session been implemented? All too often, hastily planned brainstorming sessions bring up a lot of good ideas that somehow never get used, while the boring kinds of ideas you are trying to get away from seem to be used again and again.

One reason for this is the lack of an innovation plan. I am not talking about a grand plan for your entire corporate strategy. Rather, I am talking about developing an innovation plan for a single issue or project.

Your Goal/Problem

The first step of your innovation plan is to state the goal or problem. Imagine you are a product manager at a mobile telephony company and want to introduce new services to your clients.

Before putting stating a problem like “new services”, you need to think about your goal in a little more detail. Do you want to develop new revenue streams for your company or do you want to add additional free services? Are you targeting a specific group ­ such as business users or teenagers? Or should determining the target group be part of your goal? Bear in mind that I have used the term “goal” here. Think not just about what kind of ideas you want ­ but the goal of the ideas. Finally, be sure you express the goal in a way that is clear to everyone on your team.

You also need to establish how far you will take the innovation. Are you simply preparing a proposal for management or will you be responsible for the entire project life-cycle or does the limit of your responsibility fall somewhere in between?

Once the goal is stated, you should also consider several other issues:

Participants: Who will participate in your innovation plan? Can you solicit ideas from the entire organization or will you be restricted to a specific project team? Who can you call upon for evaluation and pre-implementation?

Budget: What is the budget for capturing and developing this idea?

Resources: What resources will be available for capturing and developing this idea? What tools do you need? Can you hire facilitators or an ideas campaign tool? Can you hire facilities for brainstorming? What internal resources will be available to you?

Timeframe: How much time do you have to capture and develop your ideas.

Reward(s): are you offering any rewards for ideas? You might want to offer a small reward for the best ideas. One well known company offers small cash rewards and dinner coupons to people who contribute exceptional ideas. Others offer gifts, points or recognition. If you are working with a relatively small team, you might consider rewarding the entire team at the completion of the product ­ or at major milestones if the project is long-term.

If you like to push the envelop and have fun, consider adopting a theme for this innovation plan. Themes are not necessary, but can be an effective means of focusing creativity in new ways and tying together various aspects of innovation management. Keeping to our example of a mobile telephony company, you could adopt the theme of “amusement parks”. In other words, you would use amusement parks as a metaphor when generating ideas, implementing ideas and even naming new services that you devise. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be about amusement parks. Rather, amusement parks are simply a focus of the team’s thinking.

Idea-generation methods

Now, you are ready to plan how you will generate ideas. Don’t limit yourself to brainstorming, there are several effective team ideation approaches worth considering:

Brainstorming: is best when time is limited or the team is relatively small and in one location. Brainstorming, in a nutshell, is getting a group of people together in a space and shouting out ideas for a limited time period. People build on each others’ ideas and the creative energy pushes people to think more creatively and propose more radical ideas.

Ideas campaigns: are best when there is more time or the team is large and dispersed across several locations. An ideas campaign is rather like a long, drawn out brainstorming session where people come in to the campaign from time to time, share an idea or two, build on other people’s ideas and then leave. An ideas campaign usually lasts from two to six weeks.

Experimentation: is best when ideas are technical in nature. Experimentation is basically a matter of putting together various configurations and seeing how they work. Experimenting would not be an effective approach for our mobile telephony company example of developing a new service. On the other hand, if the innovation plan was about improving the efficiency of sending multimedia data across a GSM network, experimenting would probably be an important part of your innovation plan.

Other approaches to ideation can include outsourcing creativity to another company, buying the rights to an established idea or buying a company that has innovative products you would like to be able to offer your customers.

Once you start generating ideas, bear in mind that there is a tendency in teams to embrace the first creative idea that you capture. This can be a mistake. Rather you should push that first creative idea further and see if you can make it even more creative. At the same time, you should push people to come up with more creative ideas. This pushing for further creativity is important and should be included in your innovation online learning plan.

Pushing ideas further could be a matter of doing brainstorming sessions on your best ideas, in order to develop them further. Alternatively, you could ask people to think about the best ideas overnight and give you more developed ideas in the morning. “Sleeping” on an idea is an excellent way to push it.

Pushing people’s creativity further is about positive feedback, explicitly encouraging more radical thinking and inspiration. Inspiration includes all kinds of things, such as: bringing in professional brainstorming facilitators; taking the team to an art museum or ballet performance; participating in activities that open the mind; and using alternative brainstorming approaches.

Finally, you need to allot a specific time frame for the idea generation phase.

Initial evaluation

Once you have captured some good ideas, you need to evaluate them to determine which are worth taking further. The 5×5 criteria matrix is probably the most efficient initial evaluation method. To do a 5×5 criteria matrix, you simply determine five criteria by which you can rank promising ideas. You then look at each idea, determine how well it meets each criterion and grant it 0-5 points for that criterion. Once you are finished, add up the points and you will have overall point scores for each idea. This is a very good basis for determining which ideas should go on to the next stage.

Other people prefer open discussion meetings for determining which ideas to take further. These can also be effective, although such meetings are usually less efficient and less objective than criteria based evaluation ­ at least for the initial evaluation. We recommend that you have an open discussion based meeting AFTER the criteria based evaluation in order to clarify any outstanding issues and discuss how promising ideas could be improved further based on the evaluation results.

You also need to allot some time to the evaluation phase.

Report

If you are not involved in implementing the idea, the chances are your responsibility will end with making a report to your superior or to a project development team. If so, you can readily prepare a report based on the top ideas and their evaluations.

If you are involved in the implementation, on the other hand, you will want to go directly to the next step.

Pre-implementation

Pre-implementation is a preliminary action, such as building a business case, doing market research, making a prototype or running a limited trial in order to test an idea.

You will doubtless already have standard pre-implementation methods in your company for developing ideas into products or services. Nevertheless, it is important to include the pre-implementation in your innovation plan. You also need to determine how much time to allot the pre-implementation.

Implementation

By now, you should have a small number of very good and well tested ideas. It is time to implement them.

By developing such a structured innovation plan for specific projects, you can look forward to more creative ideas and a higher level of implementation of those ideas.

Translating Unseen Needs into Innovations

The world is changing, yet people constantly assume, incorrectly, that tomorrow will be like yesterday. When business leaders make this mistake, the outcomes are generally bad because opportunities are lost. Competitive advantage is gained with the ability to transform insights into useful innovations by seeing the unseen. In this chapter excerpt of Agile Innovation, Langdon Morris explains how ethnography drives better innovation at a top-five U.S. financial services company.

Part of what is so fascinating about the transformation process is that, once successful examples are revealed, almost everyone immediately grasps the significance, and the world is changed. It’s a paradigm shift.

Even after the telephone was invented, quite a few people thought it had no value. Many companies, quite contented with the communication tools they already had, shortsightedly turned down the opportunity to own Alexander Graham Bell’s technology, and indeed a memo written at Western Union in 1876 said, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” An enormous opportunity was missed.

This is but one example among a great many. A humorous list of similar comments is circulating on the Internet, in which very smart and famous people reveal their incapacity to imagine the usefulness or the possibility of new technology.¹

They said what?

On a Web page titled “They Really Ought to Have Known Better,” you can view a very long list of comments that are humorous in hindsight, such as²:

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”

—Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”

—Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

—Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.”

—Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon- Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873

“We are probably at the limit of what we can know about astronomy.”

—Simon Newcomb, 1888

Noted computer industry pioneer (in mainframes and minicomputers) Ken Olsen pronounced in 1977 that no one would ever want a computer in his or her home. (Today, not so many years later, my home has more computer chips in it than I can count.)

Lord Kelvin, quite a talented scientist, nevertheless revealed his own ignorance when he proclaimed the heavier-than-air flying machine to be impossible. He made this remark just a few years before the Wright brothers proved him wrong.

Speaking of airplanes, Sir Sam Hughes, while Canadian Minister of Defence, commented in 1914 that “The aeroplane is the invention of the devil and will never play any part in such a serious business as the defence of a nation.” Marechal Foch of the French War College said something quite similar around the same time, because it was a commonly held opinion.

These are examples of people making predictions based on their experiences of the past. This phenomenon is notable only because it’s so common—people constantly assume, incorrectly, that tomorrow will be like yesterday. When business leaders make this mistake, the outcomes are generally bad because opportunities are lost. Later on, when things do change, we wonder why we didn’t see something so obvious and simple, something that was staring us in the face all along.

Once you master the ability to see when things really are broken, countless innovation opportunities will unfold before you. You’ll then start asking questions such as, “How could this be improved through a different approach, a new process, or a new technology? How could this be radically improved?”

This way of thinking, of course, goes to the roots of the very process of learning, and developing skill in this way of seeing differently becomes a core competence that you can apply over and over in many contexts. The power of your new competitive advantage will be the ability to transform insights into useful innovations by seeing the unseen (understanding unarticulated needs), translating unseen needs into innovations (anticipating future or hidden requirements), and bringing them to market.

Furthermore, these competences must be developed at every level of the organization, not only in innovation or in research and development teams. In fact, the sales staff may be the most important group, because when they understand what hidden information is, then they can recognize it and use it to become better at selling, and when they know what good design is, they’re also better at selling. They have done this quite successfully at Wells Fargo Bank, a top-five U.S. financial services company.

Ethnography achieves $20 million in top-line growth at Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo embraces the power of ethnography and uses it extensively throughout its operations. For example, the bank conducts ethnography studies at client sites to uncover innovation opportunities both internally and for its clients, and to provide feedback to improve products and services.

Steve Ellis, EVP at Wells Fargo, along with EVP Pam Clifford and senior vice president Kim Pugh, had a brilliant idea to do a technology transfer project with coauthor Moses Ma and Michael Barry, a professor at Stanford’s legendary d.school. The objective was to teach the bank’s customer insight group how to do ethnographic research.

Ellis, an extreme snowboarder, explains:

When you go heliskiing, it’s about the feel of the mountain and reacting to the texture of the snow and the hill. It’s about intently listening to yourself, your body, and your emotions. In business, it’s about listening as closely as you can to the customer. So it made sense for us to learn ethnography, which is all about listening harder. We created a small team to literally camp out at a customer site for several days to observe how customers do their jobs and interact with financial services. I felt this would give us a fresh approach to look for ways to reshape our services.

Vice president Paul Kizirian was tapped as the first official Wells Fargo ethnographer because of his keen skills as an analyst, paired with a remarkable level of empathy. He manages client studies in the Southwest and special projects. Kizirian explains the correlation between listening harder and being innovative:

Listening more intently to our customers was both our objective and our greatest challenge. We needed to find a way to sit with the individuals who do the actual work in a customer’s back office. To do that we needed to align the interests of several key people: the bank’s relationship manager, the customer firm’s leadership, and the individuals with whom we’d be sitting.

At first the program was a hard sell because nobody had heard of ethnography. Relationship managers were hesitant: “Let me get this straight, you want me to introduce your ethnography service to the CFO [chief financial officer]?” And customers would say, “Okay, what is that . . . and does it hurt?” So we quickly realized that we needed to give something of value to our customers so that they would let us sit and observe their back-office operations. The service was free of charge, and we threw out the notion that they would only get what we paid for by wrapping up each study with a top-shelf consulting deliverable. The customer received insight into how they could improve business performance; relationship managers gained a much deeper understanding of their customers; the lives of customer employees were improved; and the ethnography team analyzed the data to identify opportunity areas for Wells Fargo.”

After a careful start, the group’s first few studies were so successful that news spread quickly through Wells Fargo’s grapevine. Before long, relationship managers were calling to put their top customers into the pipeline. Even though the group could manage only a handful of studies at a time, the service gave leadership something to talk about as not only a source of innovation but also an expression of the bank’s commitment to listening to its customers’ needs.

Customers and relationship managers started having deeper conversations, and although customers are, of course, never obligated to implement anything that is recommended, the team tracked results and found an unanticipated so-called side effect—every customer that participated in a study subsequently bought more solutions from Wells Fargo.

One customer, a global sugar manufacturer, invited its long- time relationship manager to its global banking roundup meeting for the first time, marking the first time that Wells Fargo had a seat at the proverbial table. Its CFO commented about Wells Fargo: “This is a bank that really cares about us and wants us to succeed—it’s not just a bank, but a partner.”

Listening harder has also led to many other successes. Here are two.

Ethnography Drives Better Innovation Management

Ethnography studies are powerful at accurately identifying previously undiscovered customer needs, and in one case, ethnographers identified an unmet need that kicked off a new service for the bank. Today, this service helps hundreds of large corporations manage billions of dollars in cash around the world.

It all started with cash managers, who log on to various portals to aggregate account information for their firms. Then they call, e-mail, and fax others within their company to ask about their cash needs and put all of that into an Excel spreadsheet to assess how much cash they will have and need in their accounts after all transactions settle at the end of the day. At one company, the CFO mentioned, “Every day we end up in both a borrowing and investing position.” One cash manager who works fast within a limited period refers to this deadline as a ticking time bomb, because daily she hunts down information from 15 people across 10 subsidiaries and three time zones.

This turned out to be a very consistent need across many customers, so Wells Fargo developed a next-generation treasury management workstation. Understanding the core needs accelerated product delivery by 12 months, saved millions by avoiding unnecessary features, and elicited customer responses, including “How did you know this is what I’d need?”

Creating a simplified solution that also solved customer needs meant that the service could be offered at a price one-tenth that of the nearest competitive offering.

Empathy drives $20 million in top-line revenue growth

The studies and final presentations were not a sales effort, yet customers bought services they had resisted for years, surprising the relationship management teams.

Ethnography studies also led to new ways for Wells Fargo to sell its services. After each study, customers described the shift in the relationship between customers and the bank as “being on our side.” The studies and final presentations were not a sales effort, yet customers bought services they had resisted for years, surprising the relationship management teams.

At one point the head of Wells Fargo’s Treasury Management sales asked a sales consultant, “What? They finally bought what we’ve been telling them for years?! I’ve been out to meet them for two to three years and they’ve never budged. What was it that did it for them?” to which the sales consultant replied, “It was an ethnography study.”

Because of these successes, Wells Fargo’s sales leadership asked the ethnography team to train the entire sales force of more than 800 to perform scaled-down versions of ethnography studies to give Wells Fargo an edge in the market.

The key learning is that sales professionals put aside their expertise so that they could listen, have empathy, be humble, and be curious about what it’s like in their customers’ shoes. By doing this, salespeople were able to transform their conversations, and Kizirian estimates that for Wells Fargo’s 1,000 relationship managers, empathy and ethnography drive a contribution of $20 million in new sales each year.

In summary, ethnography at Wells Fargo identifies the right problems to solve, and then innovation management helps find the right solutions. It helps increase customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and ultimately new revenue, and it is as effective with new product development as it is in the sales process.

One of the keys to success is that listening and empathy aren’t just buzzwords or marketing gimmicks; they’re skills practiced throughout the Wells Fargo organization. At the top, Ellis practices what he preaches—he regularly studies what the ethnographers hear from customers, and he acts on it. From the front line to the back office, it is now a cultural norm for people within Wells Fargo to listen to their customers actively.

Starting an Innovation Program? A Strategic Approach to Create Success

Many innovation leaders tend to be tactically driven, but their corporate leadership is looking for more strategic planning and analysis. This tension often contributes to high turnover in innovation management roles, based on a misalignment around leadership’s expectations. In this article Anthony Ferrier suggests perspectives and actions that should be considered part of your innovation strategy plan.

In the past couple of weeks I have been asked by some significant organizations (one an Asian-based conglomerate and the other a U.S. Federal Agency) how they should start an innovation effort. Though on the surface different, they share similarities in terms of their large, complex structures, a need to create new ideas and a desire to engage their employees.

Too often I come across organizations that think their first step should be to launch a crowdsourced challenge or campaign. While this can make sense in the context of “testing the waters” and quickly generating some visible activity, more value can be driven by a well-developed strategic plan.

In my experience, many innovation leaders tend to be tactically driven, but their corporate leadership is looking for more strategic planning and analysis. This tension often contributes to high turnover in innovation management roles, based on a misalignment around leadership’s expectations.

What perspectives and actions should be considered as part of an innovation strategy plan?

  • Defining success: What is going to be considered great? On the surface it is a simple question, but by asking this of yourself and your stakeholders, you are generating thoughts and concrete goals around an often nebulous topic. In addition, you are demonstrating that you are driving towards a goal that your stakeholders should have a sense of ownership around. If they agree to the goals, there is more pressure on them to support your drive towards them. Agree the goal and work to exceed it at every point.
  • Leadership support: Considering who would be a great sponsor of your effort and the approaches to generating broader leadership support are essential to driving success. Effective leadership support directs resources towards new idea development, gives employees the permission to innovate and provides a communication platform. Keep in mind, you may not get your desired sponsor initially, but put the goal out there and work towards finding the right person over time. Beyond the single sponsor, it is often worth considering how to engage a broader group of leaders (possibly from specific business units) to guide efforts going forward. These committees or councils can be stand-alone efforts, or align with existing groups that are already in place.
  • Ecosystem mapping and integrating: Within large organizations it is rare that a single group or individual controls all innovative activity. As part of this planning process it is important to understand the various innovation activities and actions within the organization (read more on this here). More broadly, beyond that they should build processes and approaches to support continued communication and leverage, with a goal of partnership or integration of efforts.
  • Scale of ideas: Understand the size and scope of ideas that you are looking to generate and assess how you will be able to develop thrm. By first considering the back-end implementation of ideas, you will make more informed decisions about front-end activities. In addition, this perspective needs to include not just what individual ideas will look like, but what makes up an actively managed idea pipeline.
  • Scope of input: Decide which stakeholder groups should have input to innovative activities. Do you want to focus efforts on a small sub-segment of employees, or reach out to a broader range? Is a specific business unit or region important to your success, or not? Do you want to focus on internal resources, or seek input / support by partners externally? Deciding on appropriate stakeholders will help define the type of activities undertaken.
  • Activity planning: There is an infinite variety of activities that organizations can use to generate new ideas, and hopefully get them executed effectively. Including an outline of the various activities that an innovation program may look to launch is essential. It may also help to include an honest assessment of costs, expected impact, stakeholder involvement and plans to improve and scale over time.
  • Resourcing management: Most innovation efforts that I work with, whether in a large or small organizations, have limited resources to support their efforts. Including directions and thoughts around the sourcing and allocation of resources will help frame your planning. It is also worth considering unconventional approaches to securing resources, including supporting employee networks and broader crowdsourcing efforts.
  • Multi-year perspective: With these plans it is important to set out a multi-year approach to innovation development. Generally activities start smaller and build over time, assuming agreed performance targets are being achieved. Beyond year-1 the planning can be kept vague, but this kind of approach emphasizes that this is not a passing initiative or corporate fad.
  • Goals and metrics: I have talked about this in the past, but I can’t emphasize the importance of focusing on the development of specific metrics for any innovative activity.

This is clearly a lot of information, and the resulting document that outlines your plan could be as long as you want it to be. In a previous life as a corporate strategist I found that every time I put together a word document, it was essentially for my own reference (no one would ever read it, despite my best nagging efforts). I do have a great innovation program business plan template in PPT, so feel free to reach out to me directly if you want me to send you a copy (Anthony@culturevate.com).