How to Make Innovation Systemic

The following ideas were shared by approximately 30 participants in the “How to Make Innovation Systemic” breakout session at the Smart Manufacturing Summit on April 30, 2015 in Indianapolis. General notes were taken and transformed into more “readable” sentences. As such, not all of these comments are “exact quotations”.

1. We use an incentive program to get employees to share ideas.

2. We plan Kaizen events which allow everyone to share.

3. We have a slush fund with lots of money. Anyone can say “I have an idea.” The put a proposal together and we give them a yes or no answer within 24 hours. 80% of the ideas get a “yes”.

4. We operate our company that recognizes that failure is also part of the equation.

5. Remember it is important to include people who will be implementing the ideas.

6. We take an outside/in approach by starting with the customers. We actually go and watch them use our products to determine both upstream and downstream opportunities.

7. We actually have an employee suggestion box and it’s not just stuffed with gum wrappers. Employees write up ideas, submit through supervisor and HR. We have 1700 employees and ideas are submitted in 7 languages. It averages about 1 idea per employee per year. We’ve saved over a million dollars.

8. We use a matrix process for new products. We start with the customer and develop ideas based on our strategy.

9. We focus on improving our manufacturing processes via impact of incremental improvements. We communicate with our employees and share the successes of the small ideas too.

10. We’ve learned that “delay kills ambition”. It’s better to have incremental change, even if it fails, than to wait for the perfect solution and never do anything.

11. Recognition is a huge deal for our employees. Engineers love to get a plaque with their patent on it.

12. We walk the floor and the offices. Invest 5 minutes visiting with people and getting ideas. If it’s an idea we can implement right now, we jump on it. They get instant gratification which shows them that their ideas are important and validates their contribution.

13. We have an Innovation Committee on our Board of Directors. We have a Chief Innovation Officer on our board who spearheads the Innovation Committee.

14. We use Kaizen events and pick and issue on the line. Take the team through the event.

15. We encourage our engineers to develop customized solutions and file patents. It keeps them thinking as they engage the process of applying solutions.

16. We create a culture of empowerment at every level. Employees feel like we take every idea seriously. We collect ideas via email and paper and respond within a week.

17. Our company actually celebrates failure. We have people share their BIGGEST failures in a company meeting. It brings lightness to the failure. The format is … This is what happened… This is why it failed… This is what we learned.” This culture creates a safe environment.

18. We actually create “Charter Teams”. We form a team around 1 single topic and they write a charter. They develop budgets, timetables, etc. The team simply focuses on results and find it very empowering.

19. One of our best ways is to “create a crisis”. An example would be challenging the team to come up with options if we had only half of our current floor space.

20. Sometimes you have to push. Sometimes you have to pull. We do workplace “Intercept Interviews” by crafting a few key questions like “what’s 1 thing you did this week that made the customer happier.” We do this once a week for 6 weeks. They begin looking for opportunities to improve processes.

21. Eight months ago, we set up a multi-functional team of 15-20 people. They were released from their regular duties and separated physically from operations. Most were self-nominated, then affirmed as team members. They can set their own schedules, yet still expected to work 45-60 hours per week. They wear whatever they want. They named themselves “Special Forces”. Basically they focus 2/3 of time on new product ideas, 1/3 on applications. We formally review their ideas once a quarter and fund some of them immediately.

22. We know one venture capitalist that uses a “burning platform” approach. He might be willing to invest $500,000 with a company, but only doles it out $30,000 at a time.

Facilitator: John Storm, BrainStorm Network. (405) 321-6262, [email protected]


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