By: Anthony Ferrier
As more companies examine employee-focused innovation training efforts, this article offers some crucial tips to ensure the long-term success associated with this important task.
In recent years an increasing number of innovation professionals have been exploring opportunities to training, connect and engage employees around innovation skills. As this competency becomes more established, chatter and analysis is generated (just see many of the great articles on Innovation Management) and, perhaps inevitably, vendors create some interesting solutions. It is pretty exciting.
Before proceeding further, and in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I run an innovation training company called Culturevate (www.culturevate.com). However, it may be worth noting that the thinking in this article is based on my experience in creating and running a successful innovation training program at BNY Mellon. So I may have some bias, but it is based on corporate experience, which perhaps is a bias in and of itself. Anyway, I am getting too meta. You get the idea.
So training employees around innovation skills is no small feat, with lots of details that can (and likely will) go wrong. With that in mind, you really do want to get this kind of activity right, driving the most value to your organization and making you look like a champion in the process.
Normally at this point I would explore the benefits of innovation training, but I have already covered that in a previous article. Feel free to check that out separately.
So, what are some important elements to consider as you explore innovation training for your organization:
1) Alignment of training approach to existing processes
There are many different approaches and methodologies to innovation. It is important that the training aligns with the organization’s existing processes and approaches. In my experience, this type of training should also incorporate information on Corporate, Business Unit and Innovation Program priorities. Additionally, consider including information around the various channels and tools that are available to employees to assist their innovative thinking.
2) Targeted audience
Be sure that the training you are setting up is aligned with the needs of the intended audience. Too often I see training that is developed for one audience, but shoe-horned into another employee segment (career level, cultural, Business Unit, geographic, etc.). Taken further, think about how training approaches and content may differ by segment. For example, senior leaders may benefit from more personalized, in person experiences, but economic pressures may dictate more scalable, cost effective approaches for junior employees.
3) Engaging format
Is the training going to really engage and educate employees in ways that they can use to create business value? Online training is all the rage these days, but I often wonder how impactful it is in engaging employees. If 55% of online page views are under 15-seconds, how is someone expected to engage with a webpage for 60-minutes? Your training needs to get participants thinking about how the lessons can be applied to their day-to-day role. Hybrid online / offline training models can be ways to address this issue more effectively.
Training and engaging employees around innovation skills is where both corporates and the vendor marketplace is heading.
4) What happens after the training?
It is relatively easy to get everyone excited about a new approach while they are in a room with colleagues. It is more difficult to consider what is going to happen to graduates when they get back to their day-to-day role.
Here are some examples of ways to tackle this issue:
- Booster courses: Getting participants to come back and do another “booster” course can encourage ongoing behavior change and knowledge retention.
- Network development: Organizations have been developing innovation employee networks, using names such as Intrapreneurs, Catalysts, Champions, etc. for some time now. Training can be positioned as an entry-point into these networks. Networks can also provide ongoing support to trained employees, with a goal of seeding the broader organization for broad behavior change.
- Technology: Utilize technology platforms to continually engage trained graduates with discussions, new content, tools and templates. Just be aware that these efforts need to be managed over time and it is easy to lose focus on them, while providing a high quality resource.
- Include participant’s bosses: These people have a big impact on participants before, during, and after the training. Consider how they can be engaged and directed with your efforts?
- Rewards and Recognition: Encourage behavior change, during and after the training, with some nice recognition carrots, including promoting successes to the organization. More broadly position the training as a desirable value add to participant’s career development.
- Track learnings: While lots of training efforts track employees during the training, it is equally important to track the retention of learnings once the training is completed. This kind of data can be tough to source, but is really valuable in terms of tracking success.
5) Take the long-term perspective
As I mentioned, these efforts can get complicated really quickly. Even if only looking at a pilot training effort, be sure to take some time to consider some long-term questions, such as:
- What internal partners do you need to make this effort work?
- What will training really do for my program and the business overall?
- How does the training support or link with my other activities and channels?
- How can these newly trained people be useful to me beyond the training?
- How can I make this easy for myself?
Of course, there are no right or wrong answers here. It is just important to consider these issues, by yourself and as a discussion with your colleagues.
6) Appropriate metrics
Running an innovation program within a corporation is always a tricky balancing act. You are trying to create a sense of creativity, but at the same time, you need metrics that align with business value creation. While metrics around attendance, session / presenter ratings, etc. are important, more substantive metrics need to be considered. For example, participant perceptions around the organization being innovative, or employee engagement are valuable, especially if tracked over time.
More substantive metrics can come from tracking the business impact of ideas or thinking generated from the training. These kind of harder, more impactful metrics should be built into your training efforts as much as practical.
7) Ranking elements
You can’t have everything, so consider what are going to be the most important elements to make your training a success. Scalability, cost, online / offline, tailored or set content, participant time commitment, management time commitment, perceived value of training entity, etc. It is important that you define what elements of a training program are going to be most important to participants, the organization and your innovation goals.
A couple of other quick points to consider, which are from more of a personal perspective:
- Focus on what drives value: Don’t get distracted by bells and whistles. Focus on what will drive a positive result for your program and the participants.
- Personal relationships: You won’t be working with the sales person long term, so ignore them. Focus on the account managers and vendor leadership. What are they like? Are they going to make your training program a success?
- Consider the real cost: Vendors will talk about costs, but other prices will emerge over time, so make sure that you really understand what the eventual cost of the program.
Training and engaging employees around innovation skills is where both corporates and the vendor marketplace is heading. It is an exciting point to be and I am happy to provide you with my insights. The above list is not exhaustive, so let me know what else you have come across?
About the Author
Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate, an organization that empowers a company’s employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal and training programs (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University). Anthony is a widely read author, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led the BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).
Image: Human Resources strategy diagram from Shutterstock