on April 27, 2015 Innovation Culture Innovation Management Design Thinking Enterprise Innovation Breakthrough Innovation Sustainable Innovation

A Necessary Ingredient for Breakthrough Innovation: Employee Engagement


It’s well known that innovative companies continue to outperform their competitors. One common trait of these high performing innovative companies is that the CEO has directly declared that Innovation is the responsibility of each and every employee. It’s clear that just making that statement does not make it happen. Developing a high performance, innovative culture requires new mindsets, new ways of working, clear methods, shared passion and engaged employees. 

Companies often choose one or more methods: open innovation, crowdsourcing and/or design thinking. While all of them can play a role in innovation, only one of these methods can be the cultural catalyst to drive employee engagement to help build capability for long-term sustainability within the organization. With its focus on developing new mindsets, teaching reusable methods, encouraging collaboration and tapping people’s natural instincts design thinking provides the answer to drive engagement.

Here are two must-know insights on how design thinking helps drive meaningful employee engagement. 

1. Applying design thinking to real projects helps people participate across the company.

Design thinking doesn’t just help a company better connect with its customers, it also helps the employees within the company to find high-value insights, together.

With an “all colleagues innovate in the everyday” philosophy, Pfizer recognizes how scalable design thinking results in a more connected and motivated workforce. Pfizer captures it best when it comes to the motivation-innovation connection: “People want to do more than their everyday job and will join if you make them aware and let them in.”

With more than 77,000 people in its workforce, Pfizer is familiar with the challenge: the company has been tasked with creating a sustainable, coordinated framework for innovation—one that by no means could have a  “one size fits all” approach—while also ensuring adoption and authentic engagement could happen on a global basis. With a presence in more than 100 markets globally, Pfizer’s “Dare to Try” innovation program combines design thinking with scalable software to do just that. 

When it came to rolling out the initiative, Pfizer identified a network of internal champions located around the world. These champions served to accelerate adoption of the program, getting people from every discipline involved and participating in meaningful ways. Whether it is enhancing, expanding, connecting or testing—all the information, insights, and data collected by employees can now successfully be captured on an ongoing basis with the program. 

What did Pfizer take away from its network of innovation champions? These top performers and thought leaders proved that passion was just as important as experience in spurring collaboration and in helping spread ideas. Now there is a coordinated process in place that helps drive meaningful innovation over time. It may be a “slow hunch” that needs time to play out, or just the ability to stay flexible, pivot and experiment, but Pfizer shows how design thinking can boost both engagement in individuals and cross-functional collaboration.

2. Experiential learning (and playing) makes for more authentically engaged employees.

Far from an idea harvest, design thinking helps employees come up with fresher, better insights and concepts more consistently. By teaching the proven methods of design thinking as part of a larger innovation framework, organizations can improve the collective problem solving capabilities of the entire company while also building capabilities in every employee. Design Thinking encourages employees to be curious, have fun, experiment in new ways and allows self-directed and team learning, as well as bottom-up and top-down driven processes. 

Making this mindset the “normal” inside an organization, allows the democratization of innovation. In return, employers get better innovators, employees obtain new influential behaviors and skills, and the organization’s overall performance is enhanced.

Embedding Innovation Into Your Culture 

Initiatives that incorporate the tools, training, and techniques to offer employees the chance to become better innovators (and the potential to become more engaged) are fruitful in the short- and long-term. Of course, incorporating human centered design into established innovation programs is not without its challenges. Changing behaviors takes time, and for companies used to “big bang” deployments, this can be challenging. Scaling these mindsets and methods and providing the right blend of process consistency and flexibility can be tricky, but there are solutions available to help.

How well does your organization address cultivating a collaborative culture? We’d love to hear from you here or on Twitter @Batterii.

Learn more about creating a culture of innovation

Want to know more about how Pfizer fostered a spirit of innovation among their 70,000 + employees worldwide? Get a copy of the presentation given by John Klick, an innovation leader at Pfizer, and Batterii's CEO Kevin Cummins.

download the pfizer innovation journey presentation