by Joe Eng

How Do You Generate Innovative Ideas? Highlight Examples From Your Team

Jun 13, 20113 mins

If you want to encourage innovation, try rewarding those who take the initiative to solve problems, no matter how small.

Once you’ve defined what innovation means to your organization, you need examples that reinforce your message and demonstrate what innovative behavior looks like. By recognizing innovators, you make them more visible to others on your IT team. And you not only motivate these individuals to do more, you turn them into role models who motivate others. Such recognition is a big part of establishing a new practice—the attention and direction motivate people to change their behavior.

Recognizing your team members isn’t rocket science, and it can be done in big and small ways. For example, like many companies, JetBlue has affiliations with well-known brands, including sports teams. I’ve used these relationships to spotlight innovators and other exemplary performers on my team, allowing them to share the recognition with a family member or friend. I’ve also given employees gifts that relate to a theme I’m using to inspire the team.

Show Employees that Innovation Counts

Recently, I was able to take advantage of our relationship with the Boston Celtics to get great seats at a game for a crew member who had taken an innovative approach to a problem with our boarding-pass printers.

We’d had some complaints from customer service agents about the reliability of the printers, and the problems were slowing down their work. The IT crew member didn’t set out to create anything new, but by trying to improve the overall stability of the printers, he identified a configuration change that helped. This change allows our customer service agents to process customers more efficiently.

The configuration solution is a great example of a key IT behavior that I want to encourage: being proactive.  And it demonstrates one of our IT strategic objectives: to enable the business through IT by being consistent and predictable and by improving processes.

We followed up after the game with an email to the IT team citing the example, explaining the innovation and letting people know what recognition he received.

Another way I recognize employees is by relating their work to a theme. I have a deep interest in NASA and space exploration, and it’s a topic that inspires most people. So I’ve focused on the space race, as well as on the rescue of Apollo 13 and a line from the 1995 movie, spoken by Flight Director Gene Kranz: “Failure is not an option.” I’ve found several books that reinforce that theme. When I want to highlight an achievement, I’ll write a personal message inside a copy and present it to the person or group I’m recognizing.

Books and other gifts can be given to employees privately, be presented in a public forum—where they will be seen positively by their peers—or be sent to their houses so family and friends can appreciate their hard work.

There are other ways to recognize innovation, too. Find one that works in your business and do it consistently to reinforce people’s positive actions. As you do so, you’ll bring out the innovators in your organization.

Joe Eng is CIO at JetBlue.