The Squeaky Wheel in Your Innovation Program

The Squeaky Wheel in Your Innovation Program

Think about that innovation meeting you have on your calendar that occurs every week or month. It’s a status meeting where you talk about projects, ongoing initiatives, or areas of focus. Then you think about him. He is the one that always speaks, takes over the whole meeting, and never lets anyone else get their two cents in. Usually the direction of the group goes with what he is saying, not because he always has the best ideas, but because he is the most vocal and outward to express his thoughts. Most people would agree this scenario is not the exception, but more so the norm.

To run an effective Innovation Program, you need input from everyone. There are many types of people in this world; there are probably hundreds of personality tests that dissect the makeup of humans and our behaviors. The reality is, not everyone will be as vocal as the person sitting next to them. It doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas, the likelihood is that they probably have some very good ideas, maybe even great ideas. Some people work best by sharing their ideas around a conference table and jockeying back and forth, while others are most comfortable by themselves in front of the computer considering their contributions. Neither is better than the other and both approaches provide valued contributions to the Innovation Program.

In many organizations, however, the quieter ideas get lost in the shuffle. We’ve all heard that old expression “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” but have we ever considered the business impact of only hearing the voices and ideas that are the loudest?

The saying may be outdated, but in so many organizations those individuals who are the first to speak in a meeting, the quickest to respond to a group email, and the most active on social media are heard, circulated, and discussed, and then the topic moves forward. It’s wonderful to have so many active contributors and great ideas. By listening only to those first ideas, though, you risk missing out on the quieter ideas that might have a real impact on your innovation pipeline and your business as whole.

To put this on a larger scale, in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, David Burkus talks to the fact that “innovation isn’t an idea problem,” but more a recognition problem. One of the biggest challenges organizations face is uncovering the ideas within the company, thus businesses are probably missing out on some of the best ideas swirling around in their organization.

In conversations with our customers, we’ve heard several times that Kindling enabled broader idea contribution than the company had seen in the past. A senior level executive noted that with Kindling, his employees were contributing ideas he had no idea he’d been missing out on in the past, and that they were building on those ideas to identify new feasible solutions for their clients. It’s not hard to fathom that at one point this executive felt like his company was small enough, so of course he was able to communicate with all his employees. The hard truth is that some people simply don’t want to speak up, whether in a group or a one on one setting.

Employees need the opportunity to contribute at the time, from the device, and using the media (words or images) that makes sense to them. When they have this flexibility, managers see results: broader and more creative ideas that lead to actionable solutions and resolve business challenges.

The squeaky wheel may still get the grease, but it doesn’t have to be the only wheel that gets attention. As you consider your Innovation Program, provide all of your employees with a way to contribute. Think about how many ideas you may have missed out on in the past and the impact they can have on your business from now on.