Innovators can be found in the workplace just about anywhere, but what does innovation really mean? The definition of an “innovator” is anyone who attempts to make a positive change in their workplace. Here at the City and County of Denver, we have a large crowd of very specialized innovators that have been trained and supported by Peak Academy over the course of the last six years. To date, Peak has trained 1,838 black belts and 5,977 green belts, which means that most departments in the city have a pool of very talented individuals to utilize for process improvements.
What makes these innovators so special? Green belts are trained on basic process improvement tools which include process mapping, standard of work and the 6S (organization/flow) tool. Black belts are trained on additional tools like change management, behavioral science, visual management and many others. All of the tools that our black and green belts learn are designed to help make innovation easier and have been specifically selected for their applicability to nearly every type of work.
The tools we teach in Peak Academy are incredibly powerful, but the true essence of innovation is simply a willingness to participate in change. This can come from anyone, whether they are trained or not, and can be leveraged in many capacities to increase value in an organization.
Having innovators is the easy part, but it can sometimes be challenging to get them started. Thankfully, we have some ideas about this. Here are five great ways to utilize the innovators on your team:
(1) Give your innovators a goal based on a strategic priority
Remember that strategic plan from a few years back? No? Well, look at it again and find a priority that your team can contribute to. Try to identify a correlated performance metric and set your innovators to work on improving it. For example, the Denver Public Health Inspections Division set a strategic priority of reducing their complaint resolution timeframe. It started at around 180 days, and after their innovators tackled the problem, it has been reduced to just over 70 days.
(2) Have them research and work on a common customer complaint
We all have customers, and if you listen to them closely, you’ll probably hear some complaints. Turn those complaints into productivity! Task your innovators with identifying the most common negative feedback, then allow them to brainstorm potential solutions. This can be a win-win for your team and your customers.
The Denver Department of Excise and Licenses used to receive consistent complaints about their long wait times. After assigning their innovative employees with improving a wait time that sometimes went up to six hours long, they were able to reduce it down to around 20 minutes.
(3) Ask them this question: “What bugs you?”
Yes, this is a broad question. Encourage your innovators to think about this in terms of their most challenging work processes. Who doesn’t love getting rid of bugs? An employee in the Denver Clerk and Recorder was frustrated by an archaic billing process that his team has been dealing with for years, so he rounded up some other co-workers who shared his frustration, and they were able to improve it dramatically in a very short period of time.
(4) Allow them to shadow colleagues
This one may seem strange at first, but I encourage you to give it a shot. The value of knowing how individual team members work is underrated. This can allow your innovators to see what’s working well, what could use improvement, and ideas to rally the team around best practices.
We utilize this method here on the Peak Team as a way to identify better ways to run workshops and teach trainings. As experienced facilitators, we each rely on best practices for adult learning. However, we all have unique ways to deliver our service offerings that can sometimes be difficult to communicate without seeing them in person. Shadowing each other has allowed us to utilize the creativity we all bring into our work, and to continuously improve our methods.
(5) Celebrate them!
They are amazing! Let them hear it from you. Receiving praise about innovative contributions can be an incredibly powerful motivator. If they do great work and hear crickets, there won’t be much incentive for them to keep it going.
Keep in mind that every individual has different preferences for being celebrated. Some will want their innovations to be shouted from the rooftops, and others will prefer a head-nod and a handshake. It’s up to you to find what works best, but not celebrating at all is worse than picking the wrong method.