In the tech world, employee-created innovations need to blossom beyond the original innovator to have the biggest impact, but new research points to a puzzling phenomenon: employees often keep their innovations under wraps, limiting their diffusion.
To me, the research clearly confirms the role of organizational culture in supporting technological and business innovation. Leaders shouldn’t necessarily default to an assumption that their team will openly reveal their ideas.
The AI innovation trajectory from concept to customer — where employees are keen to step up and show their ideas — happens in cultures that incorporate psychological safety, perpetual learning, and empowerment.
Leaders must promote global collaborative models that elevate the best ideas. At the same time, employees have an equally significant role to play in showing up for each other every day.
The links are inextricable. Here is a bit more on what I mean.
Psychological Safety: Enable Fearlessness
Psychological safety is when employees feel comfortable asking for help, sharing suggestions informally or challenging the status quo without fear of negative social consequences.
Strong foundations for exploration, creative thinking, and trying out new ways are laid in environments where people feel free to share and test their ideas without worry. And yes, failure is an integral part of every innovation!
Celebrating, recognizing, and rewarding contributions validates the innovator and reinforces the innovation’s value within an organization. This is a to-do for leaders and colleagues at all career levels.
Pioneering concepts can only be nurtured into meaningful solutions in cultures that embrace open dialogue, constructive critique, and allowing people to learn from mistakes.
Perpetual Learning: Follow Curiosity’s Course
With AI today, employee-driven innovations are central to almost every company’s success, no matter if you are creating and refining technology or applying it in daily practice. That means perpetual learning is now a non-negotiable aspect of almost every organizational culture, and people must be given an opportunity to put what is learned into action.
Leaders need to clear away bureaucratic obstacles, point toward resources, and communicate through administrative policies that the door is open to learning. Dynamic team members must then take personal responsibility for pursuing skills that align with emerging business environments. Then, they must talk to each other about what they’re learning!
Of course, technical skills are in demand. Here are some ideas to get started.
I always encourage non-technical skills like communication, empathy, boundary-spanning, listening, and consensus building as well, because research suggests non-technical skills are the secret sauce to driving innovative ideas to a faster, more widespread uptake of the benefits of business AI.
Empowerment within an Ecosystem
Leaders need to consistently promote empowerment as a cultural norm. At SAP, we’ve found that there are many ways to empower people. SAP Experience Garage is a great example. Through the initiative, we’ve gamified employee experimentation and collaboration.
SAP Experience Garage is a space where our people can experiment and prototype in collaborative spaces with the end purpose of improving the lives of SAP’s people and our customers. In one recent project, more than 300 colleagues formed teams to ideate and develop generative AI use cases for the SAP ecosystem.
I’m very proud of the growing SAP Experience Garage community for unifying innovators and problem-solvers to share their experiences, learn from one another, and identify new opportunities that will create a positive impact on the SAP ecosystem.
Bring Employee-Driven Innovation into the Light
Contemporary market conditions and the growth of business AI demands that leaders and team members work together sculpt, build, refine, and live out the values that build the foundation for organizational culture in a deliberate, thoughtful way — every day and across hierarchies and regions.
With today’s pace of business and technology, innovation is often created on the fly, but must be carefully and responsibly driven at the same time.
It takes everyone working together to amplify the human spirit of innovation.
Sabine Bendiek is chief people and operating officer and a member of the Executive Board of SAP SE.