3 Ways CIOs Can Spark Innovation In Their IT Departments

by drjim on February 1, 2012

The spark of innovation is already in your IT department, you just need to let it spread

The spark of innovation is already in your IT department, you just need to let it spread

If Steve Jobs was still with us, do you think that he might be willing to come and work in your IT department? He was supposed to be a jerk, but man can he bring some innovation to the table. CIOs who want to foster more innovation in their IT departments probably couldn’t get Steve to sign up with their IT team; however, I’ve got three suggestions that just might light the spark of innovation within your IT department.

Ask And You Shall Receive

So why isn’t there more innovation going on in your IT department? Based on how much time CIOs spend talking about innovation, you’d almost think that it was a part of the definition of information technology. One reason is that innovation isn’t happening is because you may be looking for it in the wrong places. The companies in the IT sector that are the most innovative know that the best ideas can come from anywhere in the organization.

The problem is that all too often IT employees feel that they have too little opportunity to provide input to improve the way that things are being done. Confirmation of this has been revealed by studies that show that the average U.S. employee’s ideas are implemented once every six years! It should be pretty obvious that innovative companies are the ones who spend more time implementing more of their employee’s ideas.

As CIO you need to clearly communicate to everyone in the IT department that you value their ideas and that you want them to suggest them. You’ll have to take the extra step and show them that their ideas are being implemented in order to get them to make more suggestions.

You Gotta Make Time

Just exactly when do you think that your IT staff will be coming up with these innovative ideas? If they are working non-stop from the moment that they arrive at work until the time that they leave, you won’t be getting the innovative ideas from them that your IT department so desperately needs.

This is exactly the kind of issue that only a CIO can step in and solve. You are going to have to very clearly communicate just how important you view innovation as being. After you do that, you’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is.

As CIO you are going to have to carve out time during the work week that your IT department employees can use to work on creative ideas. Clearly not all of these ideas are going to result in something that will benefit the company. However, the bet is that enough of them will so that it will make it all worthwhile.

It’s All About Execution

As CIO you might think that the most difficult part of the innovation process is coming up with the new idea. You’d be wrong. It turns out that where we all seem to struggle the most is in executing the ideas. Once again, this is where the CIO can step in and make things happen.

As CIO you need to establish a clear process that the IT department can use in order to prioritize ideas that IT staff are creating, assign resources to the most promising new ideas, and then find ways to test the ideas.

Finding ways to do all of these steps quickly and cheaply means that your IT department will be able to run more experiments and that means that you’ll be able to reject the ideas that don’t pan out and keep the ones that provide the greatest benefits.

What All Of This Means For You

We all like to talk about the importance of information technology, but in reality, innovation is the thing that allows an IT department to continue to improve. A part of every CIOs job is to find ways that will allow his or her IT department to do a better job of innovating more.

It’s not easy to do all of the things that an IT department has to do and be innovative. This is where the CIO comes in. You are going to need to ask your staff for their inputs on how to do things better. Even more important, you are going to have to take action when they provide their inputs.

In order to allow innovation to occur, you need to allow workers to make time for it. This may take time from other IT projects, but it will be well worth it. Once they’ve shared their ideas with you, it becomes your job to the hard work: executing on their ideas.

CIOs who learn how to collect innovative ideas and then turn them into IT department improvements will have found the secret to running a successful IT department. Nobody ever said that this was going to be easy. However, learn to do it right and some of that Steve Jobs magic just might show up in your IT department.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How much time each week should you allow your staff to spend being innovative?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When I’m working with new CIOs I often run into the buddy / boss problem. It’s perfectly understandable that any person newly placed into a CIO position would like to establish a positive relationship with the people in the IT department that they are managing. This is all well and good, but it’s all too easy for a CIO to go too far – you can be a boss, but you can’t be a buddy.

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