innovation lab

Make Innovation a Core Value

Position innovation as a core organizational attribute that helps agencies unlock the potential to make progress on tough mission-driven goals like safety, mobility, and preservation.  Innovation is one of four agency-wide ‘values’ embedded at Caltrans in its 2015-20 Strategic Management Plan, alongside ‘integrity,’ ‘commitment,’ and ‘teamwork.’ 

Walk the Talk

Unsurprisingly, adding the word ‘innovation’ to a strategic plan and moving on will not change a conservative, hierarchy-driven, and standard operating procedure-focused culture. DOT CEOs like those in Idaho and CalTrans, make innovation a constant theme wherever and whenever they engage with personnel and they invest in tools and processes to back up those words.

Bottom-up Beats Top Down

Occasionally, innovations are born in the CEO suite and pushed downward, but this is a limiting innovation paradigm. Leaders get much more powerful results if they foster a bottom-up innovation process designed to inspire anyone, anywhere in the agency so that new ideas are continuously emerging organically and moving forward for testing and implementation. Kiewit, ITD and CalTrans all use digital crowdsourcing platforms for ideation across their agencies.

Use an Innovation SWAT Team

A leader cannot carry the torch for innovation alone and neither is innovation is ever a single box on an org chart – it should emerge across all levels and areas in an organization. But neither can innovation penetrate deep into an organization without some level of dedicated staff resources: 1) a central day-to-day team who can carry out other key strategies like communication, recognition, training, and measurement and 2) a handpicked group of mid-level or senior ‘champions’ who are early adopters with trusted status and a high level of energy.

Ensure All Employees are Aligned

Use performance measurement to look at where within an organization innovation is taking root and where it is being resisted and work to align employees in these areas. Break down the resistors! At Kiewit, innovation leaders are careful to build a tight case for their ideas so that detractors cannot resist innovation by pointing to poorly implemented or ineffective ideas. Measurement is used to prove that innovation works.