Magazine article International Trade Forum

Training Staff to Innovate

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Training Staff to Innovate

Article excerpt

The lack of staff skills is the single biggest impediment to innovation success. Services and service delivery processes do not lend themselves to development by a separate unit. All staff need to be actively involved and to have an innovation mindset.

One of the most common management errors is to underestimate the skills training needed so that staff can participate constructively in innovation. Investment in training will benefit the firm in the long run by eventually reducing the time needed to identify new opportunities and increasing the degree of certainty in the solution selected. There are five areas in which training is critical: stimulating creativity, assessing innovation options, focusing on the customer, designing new services and implementing change.

Stimulate creativity

Creativity is the ability to make unexpected connections and realign ideas into new relationships. Creative thinking is a core skill in any innovative process (along with the ability to implement change) and assumes the ability to think divergently. Three aspects of creativity are directly related to innovation:

Breaking set, or the ability to think outside conventional or traditional assumptions. This skill is premised on there not being only one right answer. The most common technique for breaking set is brainstorming.

Lateral thinking, or the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated areas. This skill is premised on the synergetic process, which assumes that insights in one area can be used in another. The most common technique for increasing lateral thinking involves scanning a number of diverse concepts and then forcing the identification of linkages (e.g. "What do x and y have in common?"). For example, the shortage of top executives and the practice of hiring them on two- to three-year contracts have given rise to the career agent who scouts for and negotiates the executives' next contracts. The idea for this new service evolved from the use of agents to represent professionals in fields like sports and entertainment.

Multiple options, or the ability to move beyond the more obvious initial ideas. This skill is based on the idea that there is not one right answer but rather a range of possibilities. Again, brainstorming is useful as is requiring staff to submit at least three options in any proposal.

Assess innovation options

New ideas need to be evaluated for appropriateness and feasibility. Assessment requires a skills set opposite to that needed for creativity - the ability to converge, or come to common agreement on a single option. Techniques that can help include:

Identify pros and cons for each idea; then select an option in which the positives outweigh the negatives.

Perform a root-cause analysis to determine why there is an issue and which option would resolve it.

Pair options, so that a group rates each option in relation to every other option and the item with the highest score is selected.

Focus on the customer

Innovations are effective only if they are acceptable to your customers. For example, tele-shifting allows telephones to be answered by staff in different time zones 24 hours a day. But customers may feel uncomfortable if they think that they are calling a local number and, from the unfamiliar accent, it is clear that they are not talking to a local person. Some corporations are finding that customers would rather deal with voice mail than talk to someone who sounds foreign. …

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