How to Keep Pace with the Increasing Need for Innovation Without Increasing Burnout and Attrition

Aug 29, 2022 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Innovation

Everyone wants to innovate, but few can find the right balance. Innovation creates excitement and allows teams to think and grow beyond their current state but is often quickly constrained by parameters like time, budget, and expectations. Because of the kind of whiplash experience this can create, burnout occurs, and fresh ideas eventually die out.

Technologists and marketers are two groups that tend to burn out the most in innovation since these are the two primary sources of ideas. In environments where the need is heightened for innovation, the process is accelerated rather than following its natural cadence. However, innovation doesn’t happen on the spot. Ideas don’t come faster simply because the market calls for them.

The strain of making innovation move faster is a high-energy investment. Eventually, this pace extinguishes the fun, creative side of what innovators signed up for and is replaced by pressures of production. However, innovation consulting can help businesses achieve the best of both worlds.

Look at the Decision-Making Process

Everyone wants the next great thing to be ideated, researched, and executed as fast as possible. However, rather than looking at time to market to gauge success, it’s better to first look at the product development lifecycle from a decision-making point of view. Here is where businesses can make decisions regarding prioritization which can help to unburden the teams actually executing the work.

For example, part of consumer products consulting may be considering SKU reduction to eliminate products that lose money or reduce overall margins rather than pushing forward all SKUs as if they generate equal value. Cutting the long tail releases time and resources to focus on more impactful innovation.

Clear prioritization of projects also helps with determining the bigger, better projects worth our time and resources. Sometimes more is just more and can serve as a loss, especially since it’s one of the main contributors to burnout. Prioritizing efforts toward the most profitable areas alleviates the burden of chasing after products and processes that may not give a valuable return.

Find the Right Balance between Innovation and Productivity

Knowing how to allocate resources (and re-allocate them during the highs and lows of the market) is the key to striking a balance between innovation and productivity. As part of an innovation consulting engagement, businesses can assess the skills of their employees and position them in areas for maximum impact, knowing these designations may change.

Pre-pandemic, a specific portion of time and resources could be confidently allocated to innovation while continuing the current workflow of revenue drivers. However, given the recent market turbulence, businesses must decide whether this ratio still makes sense. For some, implementing less innovation and prioritizing optimizing operations may be the answer. From a cost standpoint, it may be better to regain stability first. Conversely, other companies may find value in increasing innovation investments to gain a competitive advantage once the chaos starts to settle down.

It’s also important to keep in mind the type of work also has a significant impact on whether burn-out starts to set in. Generally, innovation work tends to energize while productivity-focused work is much less exciting and can feel like more of a burden. A resource-to-resource or hour-to-hour comparison won’t be accurate when comparing the two.  A good practice would be to cross-level innovation projects with productivity projects for your associates, so they have a bit of both worlds to keep up the motivation and energy.

Spot Early Signs of Attrition

When companies stop paying attention, minor disruptions become big problems very quickly. Working with our innovation consultants helps business leaders spot early signs of attrition, prevent burnout, and keep operations steady. For example, one common symptom is when your scientists and marketers stop asking questions or exploring new insights. When their mindset shifts from curiosity to compliance, burnout is right around the corner.

Innovation knowledge workers often lapse into a more robotic delivery mode when they feel overwhelmed with output-driven busy work and enter a survival mode to reach the next milestone. They begin to miss the things that can transform a product or process. Look closely at underrepresented groups as “canaries in the coal mine” in times of burnout and turbulent work environments. When people of color and women start to leave a company, it can be an early indicator of further attrition to come.

Though underrepresented groups don’t move the overall number, their exit should be viewed as a warning sign because these groups are already operating at higher stress levels, which means any increase will affect them first. When any critical area experiences a talent drain and early attrition signs aren’t spotted soon enough, it’s a precursor to a larger talent drain of the business. At this point, it often takes an external shock to trigger an evaluation of what went wrong instead of catching the warning signs earlier to make adjustments to workloads and processes.

When shocks do occur, it’s helpful to dedicate the space and time to analyze what happened internally with different talent pools to truly understand why things happened in order to improve future retention.

The need for innovation will always be a driving force, but business leaders should set their own pace for sustained success. Our innovation consultants can help fuel your efforts by empowering your people to operate with purpose. Contact OUTLAST today to learn how our strategies can help you.

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Jared Simmons

Jared is the founder of Outlast Consulting LLC, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations with strategy, process improvement, and professional development. He is an engineer by training with experience in market research, product development, innovation, management consulting, and strategic planning at P&G, McKinsey, and Coca-Cola.


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