1. Pull innovation from workers
Companies that “push” work improvements from the top usually generate tepid front-line enthusiasm. Many executives are attracted to push approaches, especially senior managers who need big results fast.
If you want to shake up your organization in a way most of your people are not positioned or predisposed to attempt, the top-down approach is very alluring. You get immediate attention by announcing a program, paying for external or internal advice and training, and setting clear financial targets. Using experienced consultants can lower your risk. At the very least, they can give you political cover if the initiative fails; you can blame it on them.
Project interventions led by outside experts usually carry the promise of sizable results, but they often aren’t sustained. When the project is over and the consultants leave, the process tends to revert to its previous state. Accountability for sustaining the changes often isn’t transferred from the consultants to someone in the organization. In addition, using outside experts implicitly demonstrates management’s distrust of the workforce, which is de-motivating. Further, a company can miss the opportunity to transfer knowledge from the process experts to its people.
Companies should complement a top-down push with as much bottom-up pull as possible to sustain momentum and avoid regression back to previous, inferior levels of performance.
As an example, Toyota is famous for its Toyota Production System, an approach that effectively engages front-line workers in improving their work. Constant improvement is part of everyone’s job description. Toyota’s culture encourages front-line workers to suggest local improvements and help make them. Management has established a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the workforce. Managers and workers can make improvement part of their jobs without fear because streamlining work won’t eliminate their jobs. Workers make suggestions out of a sense of pride in improving work conditions, and out of a sense of togetherness. Toyota nurtures camaraderie through lots of group bonding activities. Toyota doesn’t separate top management from the field with suggestion boxes. Senior managers go to the front line and listen, which shows respect to those far from the executive suite. That energizes workers.
2. Social Era – add a customers into the equation
Today, in the Social Era, we go even further by allowing anyone—without preapproval or vetting or criteria—to create and contribute. It’s not that everyone will, but that anyone can contribute. In that way consumers become co-creators in company innovation efforts.