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Before we start – why should you care about innovation? What’s in it for your business?
Integrating innovation into your company’s culture enables you to:
- Quickly adapt to change and disruption – whether it’s emerging competition or a global pandemic – by tapping into your team’s extensive knowledge.
- Improve employee engagement (and retention) by making individuals’ feel their work is more meaningful and their voices are being heard. Being seen as an innovative company can also help you to attract fresh talent, as younger employees are more likely to want to work for a fast-moving business.
- Find solutions to solve problems faster.
- Improve productivity and efficiency by crowdsourcing suggestions for improving processes.
To make innovation a key part of how your organization runs, you need an approach that’s both strategic and human.
An innovation strategy is a detailed plan that ties in with the overall aims of the business and serves as a roadmap for innovation. It includes a set of policies or behaviors that aim to achieve a specific goal, such as organizational growth or increased efficiency.
Without a strategy in place, innovation can become siloed and full of duplication. Ideas that could make a difference run the risk of being lost, as companies with no strategy often have no process in place for bringing them through to realization. It also provides a clear view of the priorities for innovation and the areas that teams need to focus on to provide maximum benefit for the business.
For an innovation strategy to be effective, it needs to capture the imaginations of individuals within the business and encourage engagement. The most successful innovation strategies are fueled by business need but led by employee engagement.
When you develop your innovation strategy, you need to consider:
- How it will align with your current business strategy.
- How it ties into the current market, including key challenges, competitors, and customer needs.
- The value proposition of innovation.
- What success looks like and how you will measure it (e.g., monetary value, time saved, employee engagement).
- How the strategy will be communicated in a way that will be understood by people across the organization.
- How you will encourage engagement and keep the interest of people around the business (this includes a value proposition that your employees can connect with, such as an existing company value or a theme chosen from a staff survey).
- Assess your current capabilities, including strengths and weak points. Consider how these could affect your innovation strategy and the changes that may need to be put in place, including physical and virtual infrastructure to support innovation activities (e.g., the need for an open innovation platform for encouraging collaboration).
Creating Innovation Culture
For innovation to really take off within your business, it needs to go beyond strategy. As mentioned above, you need to find a way of getting buy-in from people around your business by giving them a purpose that they can connect with.
Innovation works best with a top-down, bottom-up approach. You need buy-in from C-suite executives – particularly if suggestions are going to make a difference to how the organization operates – as well as investment from a critical mass of employees.
A study by McKinsey found that ‘the top two motivators of behavior to promote innovation are strong leaders who encourage and protect it and top executives who spend their time actively managing and driving it’. Some methods of achieving this are to ensure innovation is included on the agendas of high-level meetings and putting in place performance targets to give direction.
Everyone likes to feel that their voice is being heard and that they can make a difference, no matter which level of the business they reside in. Make yourself an ally, get people involved and be transparent about ideas that go on to become successful projects.
Many organizations find it helpful to run introduction events, which introduce individuals to the concept of innovation. These are often structured as learning exercises, rather than aiming to come up with any concrete solutions.
To encourage engagement from front-line workers, you may also need to consider offering rewards – such as vouchers – for successful ideas. As many of these individuals may not have access to a company email address, you also need to think creatively about how to collect their suggestions. For example, you could choose to have a tablet with innovation software located in a communal area that they can use.
So… you’ve created your innovation strategy, set up a rewards scheme and got your people enthused. Things are going great! But, what now?
Keep on going!
Innovation is a journey rather than a destination. If you’d like to create a lasting culture within your business, then you need to make sure you keep the momentum up.
- Make sure that there is always a problem to solve or a challenge to respond to. Companies that keep posing questions for their employees to answer are more likely to see the enthusiasm for innovation carry on.
- Adapt your strategy to changes within the organization and industry, so that you always have a clear view of what needs to be achieved.
- Perceived risk – such as worries about failure – is a major innovation blocker. People need to feel that they can make suggestions without being negatively affected if they don’t work out as well as hoped. Your business needs to show that it encourages innovation and captures lessons learned, so that the experience can be used to assess future ideas.
- Appoint champions to encourage innovation within their departments and consider setting KPIs around idea generation, particularly for office-based workers.
- Share any successes and give praise to those involved, so that people can see that ideas from team members are going on to make a difference within the company.
If you see engagement drop, then try talking to your teams and your innovation champions to find out how you can gain support once more.
Integrating innovation into your business takes patience and hard work, but the potential benefits are beyond measure.
As a passionate innovation and technology evangelist, Tad is the Executive Vice President at edison365, working with some of the most innovative companies in the world, every day. With years of experience in change management and business building, Tad has plenty of transformation stories to share in manufacturing, engineering, financial services plus health and life sciences. A long tenure at Microsoft, at the front-end of innovation and project management software delivery, helped him see what it means to transform and deliver at scale.
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