23 September, 2020

Using the “Drive to Innovate” Psychology as a Key Driver of Employee Engagement

Human beings are naturally curious about their general surroundings and the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of things. This sense of wonderment has its’ roots in an innate human biological drive, called the ‘Drive to Innovate, Learn or Create’, which is part of the human 4-drive model explained in our previous blog. Studies show how a particular type of dopamine receptor in the human brain helps create a pleasurable ‘Aha’ or ‘Eureka’ moment whenever we undertake activities that satiate this drive. Solving a complex problem, for example, involves a neuro-circuitry of associations between our current experience (stimulus) and long-term memory (in the sub-conscious mind), which is why great ideas seem to suddenly pop into our heads out of nowhere.

Organizations like Google have used this insight to make ‘innovation-hacking’ a business goal, while Jack Welch, the former renowned CEO of General Electric had often claimed that most of the firm’s productivity-boosting ideas came from its employees. With rapid technological advancements taking place globally, all organizations must innovate to remain competitive.

It is essential for organizations today, with a particularly large millennial population, to foster a culture of innovation in the firm as it has shown to be a key driver of employee engagement. The freedom to explore and ideate gives employees a sense of purpose and motivation to go beyond the call of duty. The sharing of these ideas with teams makes the process even more pleasurable, not to mention how the ‘Eureka’ feeling is multiplied if the ideas lead to systemic changes, resulting in a long-term positive impact. These rewarding feelings are the reason behind increased job satisfaction and higher levels of retention, considering how ‘boredom’ or ‘lack of growth’ are often cited as reasons for employees leaving an organization.

Employees discussing innovative ideas

Organizations can actively reward innovation, inventiveness and learning through the following practical steps:

  • Acknowledging and appreciating new ideas through a formal recognition program 
  • Launching ‘Top Innovators’ every quarter to publicly recognize efforts in the space and gamify the entire process
  • Ensuring that innovation and its associated behaviors are marked as significant during performance reviews
  • Incentivizing innovation by curating special rewards for those who challenge the organization’s status quo
  • Encouraging open communication for ideas through events like Townhall sessions and ‘Coffee Chats with the CEO’
  • Allowing groups of people to weigh in on new ideas through virtual ‘brainstorming’ sessions through collaboration tools
  • Having a robust L&D program, where employees are incentivized for completion at various stages

An engaged workforce is a happy one, and it’s impossible to create peak levels of employee engagement without addressing the human need for creativity and innovation. However, most employees tend to shy away from going off the beaten track, for fear of failure or reprimand. It is imperative therefore to make innovation a part of every employee’s mandate and use your organization’s total rewards program to celebrate innovation as an end in itself.