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Employee Innovation Training – What Approach Works Best?

Source | Innovation Management : By: Anthony Ferrier & Cris Beswick

As organizations increasingly focus on building corporate cultures that are more open to new ideas, they are examining ways that they can engage a range of employees in innovative thinking and actions. In the past, the answer to this kind of effort was to run a challenge and pat yourselves on the back for a job well done.

Over the last couple of years that thinking has evolved, and innovation leaders are now considering approaches that are perceived to have a longer-term impact on their employees. In response, there is now a rush for innovation leaders to train and engage their employees on innovation skills.

The choices of training approaches are endless; top-down, bottom-up, self-managed, employer led, online, in-person, etc. Similarly, there are many methodologies to be considered, such as Design Thinking, Lean, TRIZ, business case development, business model canvas, etc. Just as every company has its own unique innovation mix, there is no one prescribed pathway towards boosting innovation skills for employees. Admittedly, some ways are more effective than others, and in this era of blended learning, companies are likely to employ a mix of training methods that can be directed to different employee groups, at different points of need. But, there is one way, which is guaranteed not to work, and that is closed-minded one-way instruction.

Building a framework

When considering training for employees on innovation skills, it is important to visualize (and record) the desired results and impact. This often results in an employee engagement framework around innovation concepts and skills.  As part of this framework, employee training may be viewed as an opportunity to engage key employees and expand organisational capacity for developing innovative ideas. In this case, skills such as collaboration, communication, idea development planning, and stakeholder identification may all help to increase interactions and thus boost the flow of executable ideas. But beware; using a broad brush or scattergun approach to instilling these attributes is not necessarily going to result in a culture of innovation. Whatever method–or methods–of training are followed, they have to be targeted and focused on achieving the specific, achievable goals.

With this in mind, let’s take a brief look at top-down and bottom-up training opportunities. At a strategic level, bottom-up approaches work particularly well when an innovation program is trying to make a statement about a move to a more open culture and also broaden the capacity to innovate. Because we are looking here towards a broad-based approach it is important that training is scalable, incorporates an understanding of the corporate priorities of the organisation, as this will help participants to direct their thinking towards future innovation possibilities. In addition, this kind of training is generally more focused on skills to move ideas forward.

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