If I wanted to I could outsource my latest stats assignment to an MBA graduate in India, who also holds their CPA, CFA and is incredibly proficient in excel, for roughly $6.00 an hour. Sure they might not have perfect English, but they’re MBA’s..working for $6.00 an hour! Almost all businesses are aware of this option and many big corporations are taking advantage of it. Luckily there is still one thing on your side; innovation. The ability to make heuristic decisions is something you won’t get overseas. These types of decisions coupled with creativity, common sense and problem solving are the factors that’s keeping a large number of jobs in North America.
If companies are aware this then why are so few taking the steps to create a culture which encourages innovation? More importantly, what are the things we should seek out in companies that will help us become innovative and stay relevant in an increasingly outsourced global workplace?
Encourages Innovation Checklist:
In a perfect innovative world an employee would have autonomy over their task, their time, their technique and their team. The principle of the four T’s is taken from Daniel Pink’s book Drive.
- Task: Many businesses are starting to set aside time designated specifically for innovation. This may be an afternoon a week or a day a week, it’s different depending on the organization. The concept is; to spend your time working on anything that interests you. Facebook has hackathons and Twitter has hacker weeks. These are both a form of have autonomy over task. These short time periods have produced some important products and led to bug fixes in both companies. This goes to show that when people are doing what they are interested in, on average productivity goes up.
- Time: Not only do people work more efficiently on projects that interest them but when they are working during the hours that they are individually most productive the results are incredible. Not everyone peaks mentally between the hours of 9 and 5. Knowing this, a company that allows it’s employees to work flexible hours is already way ahead when it comes to encouraging innovation.
- Technique: A popular technique among the most innovative companies in the world is the idea of “lean production”. Eric Ries describes this process with detail in his book “The Lean Startup” The model has three simple parts; build, measure and learn, where the amount of learning being done is what your growth is based on. A company using this strategy is clearly focused on solving problems wherever they may be created instead of pushing them down the production line for someone else to deal with. These types of techniques mixed with a good team of people are key ingredients for creativity and innovation to flourish.
- Team: Again, to use Facebook as an example again, a common corporate policy is letting new hires place themselves on a team of their choice. This way they don’t feel like they’ve been dropped into an uncomfortable situation, and they are hopefully excited to get started from day one. It is common to be in these small work teams for the duration of projects which could last months or years so the ability to pick the team you will be working with is a huge factor in employee satisfaction.
-Results Orientated Workplace.
Being able to focus on the end goal and not necessarily logged hours is another benefit of a being part of a forward thinking organization. Most large companies find comfort in seeing people at the office whether they are being productive or not, where as companies who place an emphasis on innovation prefer to focus more on results instead of man hours. This type of atmosphere allows for creativity, and encourages employees to find the best possible solution to the issue instead of showing up to work because you have to or you will get fired.
-How they structure rewards.
Contrary to popular belief, money is not people’s number one motivator for picking a certain job. That being said it is easy to tell an “old-school” company apart from one with forward thinking beliefs based on their reward system. This would be an interesting question to ask in an interview because it also gives away the competency and management style of the leaders who are conducting the interview. The most innovative cultures are not built around extrinsic rewards. This means that a positive behavior is met with a reward, usually monetary. In the best organizations they pay their employee’s enough to “take money off the table”. Meaning above industry average salaries to the point where people aren’t contemplating how much overtime they will have to work to make x amount of dollars. They also use the underlying goals and mission of the company to give people intrinsic benefits for being a part of the company. By using “carrots & sticks” as a reward/punishment policy, (Again taken from Drive by Daniel Pink) people lose their sense of intrinsic motivation while also diminishing performance and crushing creativity. Using this strategy can also actually encourage unethical behavior. A situation where these type of rewards proved to be a complete failure occurred when trying to reward teachers for educating their students. In this scenario teachers would receive monetary compensation if their classroom grades were, on average, above the norm. This led to cases of teachers blatantly helping the students cheat and just handing students grades that were signifcantly higher than actually earned. Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great, “Expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time”. This example proves it, if someone isn’t motivated by intrinsic factors then the motivation received from external benefits almost certainly has a shelf life.
-Do they encourage mastery?
If you are stepping into a career you are passionate about you probably have goals of eventually becoming a master of that profession. An important question to ask any employer is; what emphasis do they put on training their own employees to make them better at their jobs? Many companies have internal training programs as well as paid external workshops where they encourage employees to never stop advancing their careers. These types of incentives are not uncommon anymore and you should expect that if your employer wants to keep you around for a long time that they will be willing to invest in your future.
-They have a clear goal/purpose
Finally, you should consider whether or not the employer in question has a clear goal or purpose. Does the company have an all-encompassing reason for being in business beyond making a profit? Almost all companies that value innovation do. If they didn’t how would they entice people to work for them when they aren’t using extrinsic rewards to motivate people? For example, Apple has an overall goal of making life easier for their customers with beautifully designed products. Google wants to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Toms wants to put a pair of shoes on every child’s foot, and the list goes on. In these cases, going to work is more than just a job, you have a purpose and are working for something bigger than you. If you talk to successful people, many times the most satisfying moments of their life will be work-related and with that, their ability to create something of value or make an impact on people’s lives. This greater sense of purpose is a key element inherent of a rewarding lifestyle.
Simply being aware of what the most innovative companies are doing to promote innovation will help you make a more enlightened choice when it comes to picking an employer to begin your careers with. You may prefer more structure, or think you do, but an innovative workplace has proven to be the most satisfying.
“It would be an impoverished life if you were not willing to value things and commit yourself to working towards them,” Daniel Pink.