This Hack attempts to build on two existing ideas to encourage continuous innovation within a large organisation. Staff members submit innovative ideas to an 'Innovation Department' (ID) within the organisation. Successful ideas will be developed and the submitting staff menber rewarded. The ID will be well resourced and managers at all levels will be required to allocate time to their staff members to submit innovative ideas.
This Hack suggests ways to "make innovation an everyday, everywhere capability" in emergency response organisations. The type of organisations this would include is the Fire Service, Police, Defence Force and Ambulance services.
These organisations tend to have a strict rank structure, where staff will generally only voice concerns or suggestions to their immediate supervisor. They are large, public sector organisations and conduct practical / physical jobs. Their training includes a lot of scenarios of potential incidents and the staff carry and use very specific individual equipment; body armour, breathing apparatuses, webbing, handcuffs, medical equipment etc.
Very often, people in these organisations will socialise with their work teams. During these social occasions, or between scenario training at work, staff will talk about the equipment they use and the procedures and methods they follow to complete tasks. From personal experience, I know that people in these organisations often spend time with colleagues talking about how they thought things could be better in the organisation; "If only this piece of equipment had an additional feature, which would allow us to do this with it. If only that piece of equipment could be modified slightly so that it doesn't cause as much pain or irritation when using it. Wouldn't it be better if we changed our methods to this, in order to achieve our tasks more efficiently?" It is true that we would spend quite some time discussing how we thought we "could solve all the issues and improve all practices."
Of course, much of what was discussed was not well thought through and not at all realistic. However, every so often, someone would suggest something very practical, very possible, which had the potential to make a genuine improvement to the organisation. Nothing would ever come of these innovative ideas, as they would never be passed on beyond the group discussion. This Hack attempts to provide an outlet for these ideas to be investigated further.
I know of a foreign organisation that encourages staff to submit innovative ideas via a website and that 'winners' receive monetary rewards. I am also in an organisation that has an intranet 'blog' for all staff members to make comments about equipment and training methods.
This Hack intends to expand on these two ideas and will present a method for staff at all levels to have the opportunity to submit innovative ideas regarding improvements to equipment and improvements to methods / procedures for accomplishing tasks.
Staff at all levels would have the ability to submit their innovative ideas via an intranet site. These ideas would initially be posted like a 'blog', allowing other staff to comment and add feedback.
Time would need to be allocated to staff to make these submissions. This time would need to become part of routine; potentially one afternoon per month, at the completion of each training exercise, or after a certain number of incidents responded to.
It is believed that the large majority of managers throughout the organisation (team leader through to senior managers) would initially view these allocated sessions as unproductive and a waste of time. Therefore, this would need to be a directive from the most senior members in the organisation. This would need to be monitored to ensure that all managers comply and allocate routine periods for their staff to submit ideas. It is anticipated that it would take approximately three years for this to become in-grained and routine within the organisation. Over this period, it will change from being viewed as "a waste of time" to "standard operating procedures."
There must be a dedicated team employed specifically to receive the ideas and work in the 'Innovation Department' (ID). Their job will be to receive and process these ideas and provide support, feedback and advice to staff that make submissions. The staff selected for this role must be well suited to working in an ID; they need to have an open-mind, a creative drive and a 'can-do' attitude.
The ID must be appropriately resourced, staffed and financed to action and investigate successful ideas. They must be able to liaise with outside organisations to get advice on how to implement a submitted idea. They must have a significant budget to purchase new equipment and conduct trials. They must have access to additional staff within the organisation to trial new training methods when they are ready for testing.
Staff in the ID would be required to respond to all submissions, in order to gain the confidence of staff across the organisation; staff must know that their idea will be considered. The ID staff must provide detailed reasons for not proceeding with any idea and then give the submitting staff member the opportunity to re-submit. If the staff member receives an explanation for why a particular idea cannot proceed in its current form due to limitations and constraints within the organisation, they will understand the reason and be more satisfied. If they can see a way around the constraint, they will have the opportunity to provide an innovative solution.
If the ID decides to further develop a submission, they should include the submitting staff member throughout the process. In addition to the ID deciding on which ideas to progress further, it is recommended that staff within the organisation are able to vote on the intranet site for what they believe is the best idea. This would be like a "people's choice" concept, where members of the organisation are able to contribute to the decision process.
All responses from the ID must be published on the website, so that all staff in the organisation can see that the ideas are being responded to. All staff will be able to view any valid reasons the ID have provided for not being able to continue an idea, as well as reasons for proceeding with certain ideas.
It is often the most junior / lowest ranked staff members that operate or use the majority of the equipment within these organisations. It is also often these members that carry out the training and procedures at the 'cold front'. Conversely, these personnel generally have less access to computers / phones within the organisation. Leaders at all levels must ensure that all staff members have access to computers and the opportunity to submit ideas to the intranet during allocated periods.
Staff members at the ID must be prepared to assist submitting staff members with their submissions. Writing persuasive documents may not be a strength of the submitting member, so they must be able to contact the ID and request assistance with producing the written material.
Staff must be able to submit ideas as 'Staff-in-Confidence' if they wish. Their name would need to be provided to the ID, in order to be contacted for further discussions. However, the submitting staff member must have the option to not have their name published for others to see if they wish.
To increase participation of staff members, rewards are recommended. The rewards should include options; cash, a piece of valued equipment, paid leave, membership to a certain group, acceptance onto a desired course etc. Research should be undertaken by the organisation to find out the types of rewards that staff would value. Further, the submitting staff member should be able to select their preferred reward from a range.
Rewards should not be allocated to everybody that submits an idea; they should be given to a limited number of submissions; to ensure their value is maintained. This could be a reward for the best idea each month, or a reward for the idea that has the most impact on the organisation, or to all ideas that proceed past a certain point in the ID development process.
There must be rules and guidelines on the intranet site. Staff members would be encouraged to make any submission they like; no matter how 'out-of-the-box' / 'left-field' it seems. However, there would be guidelines around not making any personal attacks on other staff members, no inappropriate language and that it is not a repository for general whingeing and moaning. The purpose is for constructive and innovative ideas to improve the organisation.
The organisation would be able to capture and develop ideas from within. The organisation’s staff members (often the most junior / lowest ranked) have the greatest hands on experience with equipment and training methods and can therefore, provide very useful information about innovative improvements.
The staff members will be motivated to provide these ideas, as they know they will receive feedback (and not just be ignored). They will have the opportunity to receive additional rewards for their innovative ideas and also have the opportunity to make a difference within the organisation. The changes they may effect will be enjoyed by these staff members and their colleagues.
The organisation will develop this as a routine part of their operation. This is a way to continuously encourage innovation within the organisation. Staff can even submit ideas for improving the innovation submission process as time goes on.
This Hack could be introduced in phases. The initial phase would be starting the concept in one department, or sub-department and test its success or otherwise. The organisation as a whole would need to provide direction and support for an ID to support just that department / sub-department. This trial would need to occur over a relatively long period; perhaps one year. The organisation would then get a gauge on the quality of ideas, the operations of the ID and receive feedback from staff participating in the trial.
The process can then be adjusted based on the trial, before being rolled out to other departments in the organisation and finally, to the entire organisation.
Two organisations (NZ Army and Aus Army) gave me the two ideas regarding a ‘blog’ and submitting ideas for cash.