Ms. Gioia

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Fostering a Culture of Innovation

By Joyce Gioia, CEO, Employer of Choice International, Inc.

Back in the 1960s, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Peter Senge authored a book called The Fifth Discipline. In his book Senge detailed the results of a Princeton Study that pointed to the fact that organizations that had embraced continuous never-ending improvement were more profitable―much more profitable―than their more traditional competition.

Since then, numerous other studies have demonstrated that corporate cultures which foster this type of innovation are more profitable and successful by many standards. As if that weren't enough, these forward-thinking organizations also tend to have lower employee turnover and higher productivity.

In fact, according to McKinsey & Company's 2010 Innovation and Commercialization Global Survey, 84 percent of executives say innovation is extremely or very important to their companies' growth strategy. Yet, despite this obvious endorsement, only 29 percent of the executives say their companies set formal priorities for innovation.

First, let's talk about culture. Organizational culture is one of those intangible aspects of corporate life. In the hospitality industry, most often, the general manager sets the tone. If s/he understands the value of people, they will create an environment within which people want to work.

In this article we provide you with six great categories of ideas for creating a culture of innovation―for institutionalizing continuous improvement―at your property.

Provide conversation areas

We know that we are all most creative when we are relaxed. When people take a break from work for a cup of coffee or a snack, it is their time to relax. When you provide a comfortable area in which people can relax, you are encouraging their creativity.

Let's be clear here, I am not talking about sterile kitchens or typical break rooms. Rather, I am talking about truly relaxing environments, like the conversation pits with couches and recliners provided by Nobel Advertising in Springfield, Missouri or the Chill-Out Room with massage chairs provided to employees at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur. These special comfortable areas provided to employees are not only appreciated, but foster opportunities for people to relax, talk, and be creative. In part, that may be why both organizations are the recipients of so many awards.

Reward people for their best ideas

Sajid Khan, the beloved general manager of the Golden Tulip in Lagos, Nigeria, has been known to give out spot bonuses to employees who use their creativity to solve guests' problems.

But by far our favorite concept for this Initiative comes from outside of the hospitality industry. Possibly the most profitable company (per employee) in the United States is an organization called Boardroom, Inc. The CEO of Boardroom is a wonderful and talented man named Martin Edelston. His friend, management guru Peter Drucker, suggested asking (well, really, insisting) people to bring their best ideas to the meetings. Each person was asked to bring two ideas. Suddenly, people who had been bored with meetings were excited about them. They looked forward to hearing each other's ideas. It went so well that Edelston designed a whole program around the concept.

He called (and calls) his design "I-Power" and people are rewarded based on the value of the idea to the organization. While there is an executive whose duties include making sure the ideas are vetted, the company literally saves at least hundreds of thousands of dollars per year by listening to people's ideas for improvement. At this point I-Power even has its own area on their Intranet, where people can input their ideas and the company can keep a record of them. I-Power has produced "tens of millions of dollars in increased revenue" for Boardroom. The company's target annual revenue is $1,000,000USD per employee! For more information on the phenomenal value of I-Power, visit

Create Opportunities for People to Share in a Non-judgmental Environment

Many General Managers provide opportunities for their people to share ideas in different ways. Most have discovered that it is best to meet with their employees in small groups.

Geraldine Dobey, the very effective general manager of the Hilton Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, schedules what she calls "Engagement Breakfasts"; they are her opportunity to facilitate hearing the best thoughts from a variety of folks from different departments at her property.

David Kelly, the young and dynamic GM at the Hilton in Cairns, visits a different department every week asking for feedback on what's working and what's not. Obviously, he pays special attention to what could be improved. One visit to his laundry brought an easy fix to a problem that had plagued his laundry workers for years. When he asked, "What can I do to make your job easier?" one laundress asked for a fan to replace the one that had failed more than a year before. Kelly asked his chief engineer, who pointed to a used fan in the corner of the room. The engineer installed the fan right away and the laundry workers were very appreciative. If you don't ask, you will never know.

Many general managers go out of their way to share breakfast or lunch with their people. They find these opportunities to "break bread" with their employees to be valuable in keeping their pulse on what's happening on the front line; however, the added benefit is a chance to ask people for their best suggestions.

Schedule town hall meetings that are designed to mine people's best ideas

Most town hall meetings offer employees the occasion to ask questions of their leaders. Here we are suggesting that you turn the tables and schedule a town hall meeting that is specifically designed to get employees to share their best ideas. Be sure that you have a flip chart handy to record all the improvements people suggest. Also, you want to always insure that someone in authority will get back to the suggesting person in a timely manner. If you fail to give people feedback, you will discourage them from giving you their ideas again.

Teach people what really contributes to the bottom line.

There are two major programs that will allow you to mine the collective intelligence in your employee population. By teaching "business literacy," the Great Game of Business empowers everyone to improve bottom line results. With daily "huddles," The Great Game is modeled after a sports team of people who work together to accomplish the organization's goals by understanding how their individual work contributes to the bottom line of the organization.

Many people are familiar with how W. Edwards Deming left the United States and went to Japan because no one would listen to him here. His work with Toyota and others was the foundation for the more recent work by former MIT professor James P. Womack. Author of the three books, including Lean Thinking and Lean Solutions, Womack spreads the gospel of streamlining systems and procedures by empowering employees to make improvements.

Both of these systems work best when accompanied by a system of "gainsharing." Gainsharing features distribution of savings earned from people's improvement ideas among the employees.

Consider generational differences when asking for ideas.

With their different values, the generations will appreciate options for providing feedback that are appropriate to them. Though these are sweeping generalizations, your more mature employees will probably prefer to write their ideas on forms they may submit. At the same time the Generations X and Y employees will want to submit their suggestions on your intranet site or at least a webpage.

Give people many ways to give you their improvements.

You will engender the best response if you give people lots of ways to share their proposals: telephone, email, Internet/intranet site, and paper and pencil forms. "Innovation" means applying existing ideas in new ways, or in new markets. It's not rocket science and it's well worth the effort.

Joyce Gioia is a workforce futurist concentrating on relationship aspects of the future. This arena includes workforce and workplace trends, as well as consumer, education, and business-to-business trends. Ms. Gioia is also CEO of Employer of Choice International, Inc., a distinction earned only by companies whose leadership, culture, and best practices attract, optimize, and hold top talent. Ms. Gioia has co-authored five books that are focused on what employers must do to attract, optimize, and hold onto their best employees. A respected professional speaker and trainer, Ms. Gioia has earned the designations Certified Management Consultant and Certified Speaking Professional. Ms. Gioia can be contacted at 336-210-3548 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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