Invite Failure – What the Innovative Agencies Are Doing Right

In order for an agency to be innovative you have to empower your employees and leave room for failure. So which agencies are doing that effectively? 

Dan Helfrich is a Principal at Deloitte Consulting. The Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte’s new Best Places to Work in the Federal Government analysis found that the vast majority of federal workers want to be innovative and are looking for ways to perform their jobs better.

Helfrich told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that 91% of employees they themselves are innovative in their roles. 


"Only 31% of employees believe that creativity and innovation are rewarded at their agency. So that gap is worthy of our attention," said Helfrich. 

Innovation Index

"We've come up with an innovation index. We've found in the last few years the percentage of innovation has gone down at the same rate as overall satisfaction in the Best Places to Work survey," said Helfrich. 

Risk Averse

"We don't tolerate failures on a macro scale, that creates some parts of an organization or culture that are risk averse and risk averse cultures have a hard time innovating. Let's stop talking about innovation in these grand-macro, enormous changes. The next iPad shouldn't be the hallmark of innovation. The issue should be in the way innovation can take what the government does and do it in a slightly new way to alter the conventional way of doing things. If you do things at a micro level, tuning and testing you can invite failure," said Helfrich. 

How Can Leaders Promote Failure

  • Leaders can set a tone.
  • Invite a two-way conversation.
  • Put up technologies like IdeaHub to gather ideas.
  • Ask for feedback and have agency leaders respond to the feedback.

"Look at what the State Department did with Diplopedia. They took the concept of Wikipedia and and applied it to the world of diplomacy. These aren't ideas that are coming from massive innovation processes. These are ideas that 1-2 people had and their agency's allowed it to grow. It is not surprise that the State Department landed very high on the innovation index," said Helfrich. 

Corner Office is NOT the Idea Factory

"Very few of the best ideas come from the corner office, particularly when we are talking about ideas for process. If you are looking to streamline invoices you should talk to the people that are filing them everyday. The fronline employees are really the right people to handle it," said Helfrich. 

Link Between Empowerment and Innovation

"Employees that answered the question of whether their leaders gave them opportunities to grow and improve and to feel empowered were much more apt to say their agency was innovative.  There is a high correlation to creating an environment for innovation and empowerment," said Helfrich. 

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*All graphs are from the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte. 

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