Employee Innovation: Should we include everyone?

employee innovation

employee innovation

At a recent client meeting, they asked whether employee innovation include everyone.  They wondered whether involving everyone—the ones who never really participate or come up with anything “good”—should be invited into the process.  The reasons for limiting participation were sound.  They had limited resources and couldn’t afford to chase down every suggestion, these people had never really added to their innovation in the past, so they’d be wasting resources on training, not to mention the individuals would be working on non-work related projects, and finally, their “main” innovators had lots of domain expertise and contributed most of the innovation to the organization.

All of the points were valid.

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However, I suggested that perhaps these others weren’t participating due to unseen obstacles.  Would a junior engineer really speak up in a meeting when the senior “expert” had already rendered the most logical opinion—probably not, they’d see no need to stick their neck out.   While there are surely some who don’t mind starting a fight, most already have enough on their plate.  The last thing they want to do is raise the ire of senior management or expose themselves to ridicule for suggesting something outlandish.

The other thing to consider is the real depth of their expertise.  Just because an employee has only been with the company for a short time, it does not mean that they haven’t solved a similar problem in the past.  They may have expertise in a domain that is so new that your senior engineers might not have any real knowledge about a new approach.   They might have experience from volunteer work they’ve done, or knowledge of a similar issue in a spouse’s work environment.

Lastly, the problem of limited resources is real.  However, consider focusing the scope of your innovation, rather than limiting the participation.  For example, ask your participants to solve a particularly vexing organization challenge, such as how to reduce the cost of a current product.  By focusing, you’ll receive more ideas related to what you want and conserve your resources.

For successful innovation, you need the participation of everyone along with the expertise (seemingly relevant or not) of everyone.