Having established that innovation is critical to growth, how do you create a culture where innovation happens naturally and becomes embedded in your corporate DNA, in order that you can consistently offer market leading services and solutions? Stuart Gallie (Head of Professional Services, UK) argues that this might be achieved through incremental improvement or through radical change and that either way, you have to keep moving.
Sadly it isn’t as easy as walking out onto the office floor, gathering everyone round and advising them that “from now on everyone has to be more innovative!” It’s possible to be lucky, but that approach isn’t likely to yield the constant transformation of ideas into viable commercial solutions, because that is ultimately what innovation is. Encouraging people’s ideas is worth it, but if they don’t make a positive difference to either the brand value or the bottom line, in themselves they contribute little value.
Develop a strategy that enables you to create a culture where all your people, no matter what their role or level in the organisation, see themselves as empowered, enthusiastic agents of change creating and contributing to innovative solutions and services to enable your business to gain a reasonable advantage in the market instead. There are though no short cuts, and you are probably looking at a multi-year investment – but if the challenge seems daunting, just ask yourself what would happen if you don’t innovate! Will your firm be stuck in the doldrums or even get overtaken by more spritely and innovative competitors?
The leading global brands certainly do have the capability to innovate, plus they are better equipped and have more resources to apply towards innovation than any small start-up. They also have an established brand, present customers, traditional channels to market, and investment in technology. The challenge is to allow those within the firm to develop ideas, take some risk, and to learn from their errors. However through people new ideas exist in all firms whether large or small, they just need to be allowed the freedom to grow. The corporate ‘centre’ needs to work hard alongside those who have innovative ideas, in order to encourage innovation, remove obstacles, and kick-start creative start-ups.
To make this happen we advise a strategy that consists of three key and interlocking components, based on the established pillars of People, Process and Technology.
For your people to achieve their full potential as innovators, they will need certain things from the firm.
- Tell them that innovation is a core competency that you value and that it is something that they will be formally measured against, and more importantly recognised and rewarded for.
- Provide assistance to develop the right skills; not everyone is a natural entrepreneur, so a training program related to creative thinking can be a good starting point.
- Create a physical space and supporting technology, as well as being creative about how people utilise their time, will facilitate ‘innovation studios’ where individuals and small groups can work on new ideas outside (and not constrained by the norms) of their day jobs.
- Lastly and most importantly, they need to know that when they put their head above the parapet, they do so in a cooperative environment where trying but not succeeding is valued much more by you than playing safe.
After you have raised awareness, created enthusiasm and started developing your people’s innovation skills, how do you direct them to ensure that you recognise, select and invest in the innovations that will deliver the best ROI?
Create clearly defined and simple to understand criteria for innovation success. The first mistake made by many is to create a formal, rigid process involving senior signoff committees and parades – unless of course that reflects your company culture, in which case you probably aren’t going to be that interested in innovation any way!
If you do take that approach, ideas will be stifled because people probably won’t take the leap of faith and invest their own time. They will perceive it to be “too difficult” or “risky”.
- Create short, simple to understand and clearly defined criteria that will guide people in terms of what a good idea looks like and allow them to quickly self-assess as to whether their idea is in scope.
- Time and the investment pound/dollar/euro are both likely to be precious. Failing early is equally as important as achieving ROI. Ideally, you will have sought the input of your people to help generate and define these criteria which in turn will help get their buy in and awareness levels raised early.
- Allow people to self-manage, so that by the time they engage with a more formal investment governance process (the timing and structure of which should be scaled according to investment and risk), they will be able to develop the idea and obtain the required support such that the review and approval process is as efficient and effective as possible
- Provide positive feedback, constructive guidance, a sincere thank you and a request for them to bring forward more ideas in the future, even if the idea is rejected.
The majority of companies have a circulated workforce, so how do you make it easy for the innovators to find each other and when they have, how do you quickly and easily capture, evaluate, prioritise and manage all their ideas?
The application of suitable technology is the third key component of successful innovation strategy. There are a number of innovation management platforms on the market, but please consider the following principles before selecting one.
- Does it enable people in different functions and locations as well as external partners to collaborate?
- Can it provide you with the capability to generate MI so that you can easily identify who generates and contributes to innovation during the year – so that you can recognise and reward their contribution?
- Will it enable informal networks to self-manage and quickly move from ‘form’ to ‘perform’, does it utilise the concepts of social media and gamification, so that people can vote or like so that good ideas trend and ideas who don’t gain support are able to fail early?
- Is it easy to share knowledge, ideas and lessons learnt?
- Access via mobile possible?
If the answer to all of the above is a resounding ‘yes’ then you can congratulate yourself – You have found the final piece of your puzzle to start creating an innovative culture that could help you realise the full potential of your business.