Motivating Innovative Behavior

Innovators are at their best when they feel a sense of purpose. As a marketing leader you play a key role in that dynamic.

Innovators have to feel good about the products and services they put into the marketplace. They need to feel appreciated for the work they do and the risks they take. And they need to be rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments. Be sure to use a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and do it throughout the year, not just at the annual meeting.

A common mistake companies make when rewarding innovation is to consider only the results of innovation – the outputs. These include things like patents, or new product launches, or innovative cost cutting programs. That’s not enough.

You’d miss a huge opportunity if you didn’t also reward people for their inputs – the effort and time they put into becoming more innovative. From my experience, that’s where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck.

For example, make sure you recognize people for getting trained on innovation methods and processes. It may not sound like much, but trust me. People give up a lot of time to attend training. You need to reward them. It motivates others who haven’t been trained to get it done.

I suggest you reward team leaders who take the time and the risk to conduct innovation workshops. Find those employees who are putting their training to good use, then call them out. People love to be praised and recognized especially when they took a risk.  

Now, how you recognize and reward people’s innovation efforts depends on the type of culture you have at your company. That might include bonuses, plaques, award ceremonies and so on. That’s all good, but I don’t think it’s enough. Let me share two very important and powerful ways to motivate innovation.

I believe people get really motivated when you, as the leader, say that you’re willing to sponsor their innovation initiative. That means you’ll watch over and support them, not just with resources, but to keep the critics away from them – give them time to nurture and develop amazing ideas.

Finally, you can motivate teams by reminding them of a very sobering reality in any company – remind them they live in a portfolio world. Companies are nothing more than a collection of projects that are expected to produce positive business results. An employee’s individual project is just one of many. And guess what? The projects that get the most support and funding are those that can portray a bright and creative future.

In other words, the message they should hear is this: if you want to stay relevant and grow, get out there and apply innovation methods to create an amazing pipeline of future opportunities, not just the ones you have today.

In essence, you want your employees to see innovating as a way to compete for more resources. When you reach that stage, you will be amazed at what people will do to drive innovation.