Innovation helps governments achieve their goals at every level, yet encouraging it can seem a complicated task. Here are five steps you can take to build your department’s innovation strategy.
1. Give Support
Employees can be naturally hesitant to approach you with ideas unless they know you want to hear them. Make a point of leaving the door open and supporting anyone who comes forward with an idea, no matter how simple that idea may be. Ask for feedback and ideas at meetings and offer constructive, thoughtful responses to questions and ideas. As ideas advance through your process, document the changes that are made and why they happened so that, for future ideas, you can anticipate challenges or stakeholders can find new ways to deal with those challenges. The leader of a group sets the tone, so the more supportive, transparent, and honest you are, the more your team will reflect those qualities.
2. Set Reasonable Standards
We all want every idea that we present to be a slam dunk. To some degree, a little bit of ourselves is tied up in every idea we have, so even the humblest, most retiring person has at least a little of their ego on the line. Unfortunately, even the best idea relies on more than genius; timing, degree of need, budgets, and a host of other factors can end up affecting which ideas get picked. Make it clear that an idea not moving forward is not a “failure,” and that it’s just not its time at the moment. Thank contributors for the idea, ask them about the approach they took and the goal they wanted to reach, and make sure others can learn from their experience to refine their ideas. Just being heard and understood can be a powerful driver for future innovation.
3. Look For Pioneers
Look for examples of innovation strategy in other industries that you might consider applying to your own department and attend seminars and workshops focusing on the goals you’re hoping to reach. Find research on innovation, and consult outside experts. Build a culture with your team that encourages them to do the same, so you’ve got everyone looking for and offering different approaches. Platforms where you can share what you’ve learned, see the resources others are using, and comment on what you’ve seen will help drive new approaches and turn up new resources.
Experimentation is going to be fundamental to any innovation strategy in any sector, yet it can be difficult for people to become comfortable with it. If an experiment fails, those involved will worry it’ll reflect on their career. Make it clear that experimentation is good and make it a goal to learn something from the experiment that informs your innovation strategy.
As in the private sector, many employees simply want to be heard above all else. Find ways to acknowledge and thank anyone who steps forward with an idea or who participates. Document what their goals and concerns were, and discuss it with them to be sure you have a handle on it. For ideas that finish the process and become a full-fledged product or process, make sure everyone involved is acknowledged or rewarded in some way. Innovation is a team effort, and the full team should get credit.
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