How to Balance Maintenance with Innovation
My company has served the U.S. federal government for the past 30 years, operating in five states and the District of Columbia. As a business owner who considers her company as family, I am proud of our accomplishments. And yet, we’ve long struggled with managing the day-to-day tasks necessary in any organization, while nurturing our teams’ products and solutions. Any entrepreneur knows this isn’t an easy road, and while none of us can ever reach perfection, I think my company has finally found a “secret sauce” to keep our teams encouraged while getting everything done in between.
The Three Critical Components
Any effective balance between maintenance and innovation rests on three critical components: communication, goal-setting and attitude. First, you must fully communicate the impact of innovation throughout the organization. Second, you must set goals and consistently measure where everyone is in relation to achieving them. Third, your teams must maintain an attitude of adventure. It’s easy to focus on everyday issues, rather than creating a journey that’s fun for everyone. Here are a few action steps we take to drive home these three components:
Brainstorm: Part of preparing teams for brainstorming is through the sharing of failures. If you don’t have ideas that are a “bust,” you’re not having enough good ideas. Another misconception is the confusion between innovation and invention. Some people don’t see themselves as creative and don’t know how they can be “innovative.” But innovation is not the same thing as invention; we define innovation as “change adding value to an organization or customer.” After prefacing the brainstorm, we provide several forums for employees to give suggestions. These include weekly meetings and discussion blogs on our intranet.
Enact: Ideas deemed worthy of pursuing are then mapped out
in meetings, where employees can define goals and discuss their anxieties or fears. From here, leaders meet with their teams to map out targets, and then the project begins. There are times, of course, when employees get “stuck.” In these cases, our leaders pose questions and give ideas to help staff solve the issue on their own. When people can’t see beyond the barriers, we ask them to assign a number to each obstacle: “Okay, that’s excuse number 621. Now, let’s focus on solving the problem.”
Reward: I have an annual incentive program that, in part, rewards innovative solutions. I take nominations from peers, supervisors and even self-nominations. But the reward doesn’t just go toward performance; the performance needs to have resulted in a quantifiable solution, in terms of cost savings or increased efficiency. And these bonuses go to working-level employees who go above and beyond the role they’re expected to perform. We also ask for recommendations from clients. This may seem unusual, but it’s an opportunity for them to provide recognition to individuals without having to spend money.
It’s not often in the national security business that people see how the acts of an individual or team can impact the rest of the world. However, when we’re recognized at a higher level—by the Pentagon, for example—there’s no better reward for us. Best of all, you can see the pride beaming from each and every employee, and that’s the biggest indication of a job well done.
Victoria Bondoc is an EO Boston member and the founder of Gemini Industries, Inc., which delivers resources, technology and execution plans to support national security projects. Contact Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.