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Some people believe leadership involves of having one person or the C-suite making decisions about what will be done and how, and delegating responsibility to execute those decisions to supervisors who manage the people who will actually do the work. If you are one of those people, social innovation is probably not for you.

However, if you know that organizations are more cross-functional than hierarchical and believe that true success is achieved through empowerment and the willingness to let others grow and succeed, you may be ready to reap the benefits of social innovation.




What is Social Innovation?

Social innovation is all about structured collaboration around tackling a company’s worst problems. It’s the practice of gathering all the great ideas employees at every level of your organization have for solving business problems and working on solving them. Key to social innovation is:

What are the “Worst” Problems?

There are really two types of “worst” problems – those which are obvious and the inconspicuous. 

The obvious worst problems are serious issues that are likely being debated by executives, and it’s probably already someone’s job to work on fixing them. Some examples include production failures, safety issues, lost customers, and decreasing sales.

The less obvious worst problems involve process inefficiency, redundancy, and spending waste. These issues are the worst problems because:

  • They tend to persist without intervention.
  • They are not bad enough to warrant the C-suite’s attention, and it’s nobody’s job to fix them.
  • People have ideas on how to fix them, but they never get the chance to apply their solutions.
  • They might fester until they turn into really big problems.

These are the areas in which social innovation can provide the greatest impact. Engaging employees at all levels of the organization in fixing these problems with small, low cost, low risk improvements is the best way to solve these inconspicuous worst problems. This is social innovation.

How Does Social Innovation Work?

Social innovation is propelled by leaders asking every member of the organization, “What would you fix if you were in charge?” It’s about getting out of the way and letting the people closest to your organization’s worst problems suggest ideas for improvement and collaborate to find solutions.

When opportunities for improvement are identified, someone is put in charge and makes a change.

This practice works because your staff likely already knows what problems need attention, and probably have experience- or data-based ideas for solving them. After all, you hire smart, dedicated people. Your employees do not need to be babied; they need to be given the chance to express and test their own ideas.

If your employees already have all these ideas, why haven’t they already implemented their solutions or made suggestions?

  • Many people aren’t comfortable with making suggestions to management due to company hierarchies.
  • Employees don’t want to come across as difficult or as a complainer.
  • Many employees think that management does not care about the little problems in their daily tasks, and so believe that they should not bring up their observations.

You can remove these barriers and create a culture of collaboration and improvement by asking your employees for ideas for innovation and rewarding their participation, empowering them to actually implement those ideas, and recognizing them for their contributions to the organizations' success. 


What are the Benefits of Social Innovation?

  1. Working together to solve problems reinforces the culture of collaboration you need to improve your business, while encouraging your team to take personal responsibility in outcomes. Engaging them in daily continuous improvement creates an emotional investment that benefits both the company and the employees. 
  2. Policies and procedures meant to improve productivity often have the opposite impact when they come from the C-suite. But the people closest to your organization’s worst problems have a much better understanding of the situation, and may be able to provide clever ideas for smoothing out processes.

  3. When employees see the ideas and suggestions of their peers acted on in a way that makes things better for employees, partners, and/or customers, they are more likely to contribute their own ideas. This keeps the ball rolling for improvement within the organization



Can Software Help with Social Innovation?


Employees can have ideas anywhere and at anytime. If they have to wait until they get back to their office to discuss it with their colleagues, they might forget their idea. Having a software solution that can be accessed instantly from anywhere in which they can record their ideas will keep that from happening. Software gives every member of the organization an opportunity to consistently add new ideas and develop existing ones. With all those contributions, your business will be able to grow faster than ever.

With a software solution, you can improve communication within a team. It can be hard to get even a small team in one room for a half-hour meeting, and even if you manage it most of that half-hour will be rehashing progress, not planning ahead. By using a piece of social innovation software, your team can see progress and communicate in real-time, making any meetings you do have much more efficient. 

Additionally, when everyone has the same level and means of communication, your employees are more likely to feel as though their voices are being heard. And it’s true! Social innovation software lets you hear ideas from all around the organization and gives employees the recognition they’re seeking.

Software creates a culture of transparency - everyone is part of the process and can see its progress, encouraging employee engagement and contribution. 

Learn more about how software promotes continuous improvement through social innovation in this free eBook:

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