Sunday, June 23, 2024

How a curious, learning-oriented culture promotes innovation

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Technology companies are experiencing tremendous challenges on several fronts. On the one hand, emerging technologies like Generative AI (Gen AI) are opening up new possibilities for revenue and growth. On the other, a tight labor market in general and an even tighter IT labor market means companies can’t just “buy” talent — they’ve got to “build” it as well.

Encouraging creativity can reap significant rewards for businesses. People can think more deeply and freely about problem-solving and develop creative solutions by sparking curiosity. Research has shown that greater creativity can result in fewer decision-making errors, more innovation, reduced group conflict, more open communication and sharing of information, and better team performance.

However, to move from creativity to innovation, experimentation is required. Curiosity is the starting point; it drives employees to challenge the status quo and envision what’s possible. Experimentation translates this curiosity into tangible outcomes, propelling both personal career growth and the delivery of innovative solutions. To accomplish this, organizations must build a learning infrastructure and a culture that supports it.

There is a self-perpetuating cycle between learning and innovation: education and exposure invariably lead to broadened perspectives, fueling further curiosity and learning. As employees expand their knowledge base and skill sets, they uncover new areas of interest and potential, encouraging further exploration and growth.

Empowering workers through skill development

This development strategy is based on the belief that aligning personal development with organizational progress is powerful and beneficial. Self-improvement and skill enhancement serve not only employees but also their customers or clients and contribute to the company’s overall success.

AI technology is rapidly altering the industry landscape, and the demand for skills is intense. However, there’s a large gap between the demand for these skills and their availability in the workforce. One solution is to augment what employees already know with upskilling, reskilling or cross-training. Upskilling is when a worker deepens a skill set within a particular job. Reskilling is when workers learn to use their skills differently — for instance, in a different position. Cross-training gives the employee new skills that apply across different functions.

Increasing education around AI, particularly Gen AI, is a prime example of developing employee skills. Interest in Gen AI has surged with the rapid development and adoption of powerful tools like ChatGPT, DALL-E, and Midjourney. By offering related courses, organizations can ensure their staff can utilize AI capabilities to increase productivity and efficiency, no matter the area of focus.

The goal is to empower workers to prepare for the roles they aspire to, not just the ones they currently hold. This approach helps employees stay relevant and competitive while remaining at the forefront of technological innovation. It also illustrates a broader commitment to keeping your team’s skills sharp, which supports employee retention and engagement.

A two-pronged approach to talent

Across almost all industries, there continues to be an ongoing conversation around the difficulty of hiring workers with the right tech skills. Faced with a need for more candidates, some organizations are using a two-pronged approach to bridging this talent gap: develop the skills of current employees and bring in new talent.

Internal training focuses on filling skill gaps and prioritizing the growth and advancement of your current team. In addition to a robust training program, consider making open roles more visible to your current employees. This strategy builds loyalty and commitment among your staff and leverages their rich experience and understanding of the company’s operations and values.

New talent can bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas, allowing your existing team members to expand their knowledge. This approach creates a dynamic and progressive workforce where everyone has opportunities to learn and grow, irrespective of tenure. New talent also needs to learn from more tenured professionals. Organizations may consider programs that preemptively select and train recent university graduates, pairing them with tenured mentors to ensure they’re up to speed with the latest innovations in the technology space before even entering the workforce. ​These training programs connect junior talent with senior leaders, preparing them for their roles and providing guidance on managing advanced technologies.

Growth as a collaborative effort

Training should be a shared responsibility. The company should provide opportunities and resources for growth and, in turn, expect a commitment to learning and development from employees.

Training programs can take a variety of formats, from workshops to online learning modules designed to enhance technical and soft skills. However, the efficacy of these programs hinges on your workers’ active participation and engagement. Their willingness to embrace new learning opportunities, challenge themselves, and step out of their comfort zones is crucial.

To truly innovate, you need everyone on board. This means encouraging all employees to tap into an innate sense of curiosity and imagination and actively seek to learn and build new skills. For your employees, a willing embrace of experimentation means continuous learning, growth and the opportunity to be part of exciting work.

Experimentation will always come with some risk, so creating a learning culture also means creating structure — like upskilling/reskilling/cross-training programs — and teaching leaders how to nurture these behaviors. When adequately shepherded, creativity can be a powerful tool to drive more innovation and better business results.

Image Credit: Goodluz / Shutterstock

Mike Thomson is Unisys‘ COO and President. Unisys focuses on digital workplace, cloud, enterprise computing and business process solutions. Mike has over 20 years of experience leading global business strategy and operationalizing organizational change.

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