Getting off the Local lounge chair to sit at the Global dinner table

In a recent study, Canada dropped two places in global competitiveness in 2011, trailing behind the United States, Singapore and many European countries.

A recent article in Business in Vancouver indicated that “Canada’s persistent weakness in productivity growth has been due to business strategy choices; too few Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs choose strategies that emphasize innovation.”

Why is innovation lagging?

Harry Jaako, Chairman of Discovery Capital Corp., stated in the article that “Fear is the strongest driver of innovation and productivity improvement; no fear, life is good.”

Harry is implying that the Canadian economy appears to be doing well and as such, companies may not be pushing to be more innovative. However, what is the cost of not being innovative on a global scale?

Innovation should be valued and encouraged in every business. Not only does it impact competitiveness, but it also can optimize operational costs. One of the main reasons I have seen for lack of innovation is that leaders are not properly engaging their employees in dialogue nor aligning them to succeed on strategic requirements.

Possible causes could be a fear of communication, working in silos or letting go of ego needs. Reality is that almost everyone has ideas for improvement, especially those at the front lines who are faced with daily client and competitive pressures.

Knowing this, why doesn’t potentially valuable information flow up to the top? Most people want to be involved and challenged – not ignored.

Employee engagement continues to be a struggle. This 90’s buzz word is still a buzz. There are several reasons for this but ultimately effective employee engagement starts with leaders creating organizational practices that enable conversation, not limit it.

Tapping into the creativity of your employees not only increases morale, commitment and competitiveness, it also optimizes innovation, profit and revenue. Here are some steps you can take to ensure you are an industry leader, not a lagger.

1. Provide ongoing context of the vision and strategy so that employees know where they are going, why and how they fit in. Understanding this leads to a vested interest in company success.

2. Facilitate meetings so that employees are encouraged to talk, present issues, problem solve and create plans to capitalize on opportunities. In meetings, employees may shut down when managers preach rather than ask and listen.

3. Align the work of roles to specific business outcomes and let employees know. Make sure everyone in your team knows who does what and give them the capability and resources needed to succeed.

4. Remove creativity boundaries. Too often businesses pigeon-hole employees. Encourage open feedback on anything relating to organizational success, evaluate it and let them know the results or actions required. Your employees may know something that others are oblivious to.

5. Develop leadership ability and give them tools that enable critical thinking, innovation and problem solving. Something as simple as knowing how to do a SWOT analysis can facilitate the process of making sure new ideas make organizational sense before consuming too much time and resources.

6. Enhance the quality of facts and ideas that inform strategic decisions. If managers are not listening to their team or acknowledging business realities and escalating the good or the bad, poor decision-making could result.

7. Ask for help and motivate and credit employees in a way that discourages a water cooler culture.

Effective leadership practices that drive innovation help stop the potential brain drain and loss of employees to companies that want to listen to and engage their people. As more employees head east of British Columbia to be effectively utilized, there has never been a better time to implement ways to turn on the brain taps to keep your business flowing.

Glen Sollors, Senior Consultant

P.S. Kwela offers training in the areas of Critical Thinking Skills, as well as Team Optimization, and Strategic Planning .