Original Article by: Applied Innovation Centre
“Very few leaders know how to achieve an Innovation culture”
So concludes independent research of Western Australian businesses conducted by the Applied Innovation Centre.
Many organisations have an innovation statement in their strategic plan. Some have implemented single components of innovation such as an ideas management system or innovation education. A few understand the nature of innovation, but mainly concentrate on attempts to develop innovative products.
Very few can guarantee a culture that supports creativity and innovation.
Most organisations have high level vision, values and strategies which are cascaded throughout the organisation into business plans and team goals. There are KPIs and performance is measured. But many leaders don’t apply this to empowering creativity and innovation within their organisation.
How to guarantee a culture of innovation according to Applied Innovation Centre
Focus on the 4Ps®: innovative products or services require creative, progressive people and a structured, supportive process all operating within the press or environment (internal and external) that supports innovation.
Create an innovation vision, values and strategy: Like any business strategy, innovative organisations have a vision for innovation and supporting values. They use a structured approach and make these real by cascading them into strategy, business plans and team work.
Make it easy to collect ideas: A great ideas management system captures and helps ideas germinate, and supports the team to develop them into possible solutions.
AIC is partnering with Nectir to provide our clients with the best Ideas Management system to use in their journey towards a sustainable culture of innovation.
The Nectir ideas management system is an exciting and collaborative way to help you align your innovative ideas with your strategic direction.
Leaders – model the way
Leaders engage with their people, encourage exploration and creativity.
Inspire and educate your people to use their creativity
Involve them in highly engaging workshops to enhance their creativity. Develop your leaders to build creative collaboration.
For ideas about some next steps, innovative organisations:
- Create, implement and measure their innovation strategy
- Value, capture and pilot unusual and new ideas
- Create a climate where people can make and learn from mistakes
- See problems as opportunities to be creative and apply innovative solutions
- Have leaders who empower their people and support the innovation strategy
If you would like further information in taking steps in the right direction, you are welcome to Applied Innovation Centre’s 10 Step Strategy in the Business Creativity and Innovation Framework.
Shift from process to progress
A fundamental philosophy of Nectir is to increase the rate at which businesses innovate. And, within this philosophy is a belief that there is no place for drawn out stage-gates in a connected business world.
Multi-stage approval processes simply create cost in time, effort and money (read waste), especially in structurally complicated businesses, otherwise called the process snake. Why not use the skills in that structure, at the right time – at one time? Innovating, quickly, requires that your business capture, test and implement great ideas in an agile manner.
Use complex business skills in sprints
At Nectir we believe in one-stage idea validation (we use the global term of “Sprints”), where cross-functional team members are tasked with validating an idea and giving it the required meat-on-bones for business approval. Here cross-functional team members join together to evaluate and validate a promoted idea. The time cost of innovation is radically reduced, the process simplified and the output is enriched with the collective insight of your selected team.
Colin Iles, an esteemed Disruptive Strategist, Consultant and Nectir Professional Partner explains in this video how to kill the Process Snake in 5 Steps. Many of the principles apply to why you should set up cross-function sprint teams to get ideas across the line.
For more of Colin’s thinking on purposeful businesses and innovation visit his website.
A successful innovation programme needs to be focused yet dynamic, fast yet considered.To implement a programme that gets high returns from your people’s brain power we look at key lessons learned from innovation programmes that work.
1. Equip business to drive innovation
A blanket objective for the business to innovate from only one source, like the Innovation Department, is often limiting. Business units, functions and teams should be equipped to drive innovation within their lines. Here they can apply their expertise and insights to continuous improvement while contributing to the broader business-wide innovation intent driven by the Innovation Department or the likes thereof. Innovation programmes, when made relevant to the daily function of employees, yields more results.
2. Speed up innovation through “liveliness”
Use “liveliness” to release offerings to test-customers, instead of deadlines which tend to stifle an idea before it’s seen the light of day. Liveliness release offerings and products at the stage they are at, at a set time. Similar to an MVP (minimum viable product) mentality, the business can release more offerings before progressing into polished products. This is a far faster, cheaper, and resource-lean approach to business evolution. This applies across the business – to all solutions, including operational offerings.
3. Give innovation direction
Setting the playing field for innovation is critical. Strategic focus, themes or intents are important to give team members guidance to the type of thinking that is required. With a direction in place people can apply those guide rails within their own areas.
Examples include: New market entry, cost saving, new products, higher efficiency.
4. The right people, the right time
Move ideas through people, quickly. One element within a innovation life-cycle that slows innovation down is trying to move ideas through the wrong people. To get an idea unstuck from the mud select smaller expert teams to progress an idea from thought to viable business solution.
5. Validate quickly
The faster an idea is validated the faster the business can implement or move on to the next idea. Use cross-functional team members to validate an idea at the same time. Multiple insights, while using the method of “liveline” releases makes for highly dynamic innovation. In an agile process this is done at the beginning of a sprint (rapid development iterations).
6. Free ideas
A key driving force behind breakthrough ideas is collaborative thinking. But, you should move away from the time consuming components of collaboration – endless meetings, email trails, etc. Bring thinking together by cross-pollinating ideas in one, virtual place that all team members have access to.
7. Give the “top” tools
Like many things in business, the “top” must drive innovation. But without smart tools leadership tends to resort back to town-halls and email blasts. Give leaders a channel that allows them to set their innovation challenges and ways for them to actively participate in, and evaluate innovation activity. When leaders are seen contributing within an innovation programme team members dramatically increase their participation.
Ready to get started with your own innovation programme?
An innovation culture needs more than a rally cry from the C-suite to be truly embedded into business operations. Like any efforts to build a resilient culture, employees need to participate in and see the results from innovation management activity. Understandably many employees dismiss calls for innovation because of lackluster initiatives they’ve seen before.
To get an innovation culture off the ground you first have to offer your people a visible programme that, by its design, eliminates historic drawbacks created by “soft” innovation pledges.
To unpack these drawbacks we take a look at the perspective of innovation’s toughest critic – the oppositional employee and give them (with modern technology) the answer to tangible innovation – which they can believe in and be excited for.
Innovation takes too much time
After the Townhall rally speech on being innovative, the comment of the resistant employee often is: “when am I going to find time to do this?”. Inherently the problem in many businesses is that innovation is seen as an add-on or extramural activity to an employee’s busy work schedule.
Solution – Trim the fat
Every idea has a certain amount of work that needs to go into progressing it from a thought to a viable business solution. It’s the way in which this process happens that can radically reduce the amount of time people spend fleshing out an idea to get to sign-off. It’s important that time-draining activities are removed from your innovation cycle. Say no to processes like siloed departmental reviews and dated stage-gate processes that add more people and time to more phases with more meetings and more email trails.
Nectir offers one agile phase (we call them sprints), to get teams to rapidly collaborate on the development of a viable business solution. It’s all the right people at the right time, in one fast sprint.
Random ideas are pointless
Everyone has an idea about something. But not all of them are worth going forward with – especially the expensive free coffee machine that Sue wants. Some of the best ideation, however, comes from free-thinking. So where is the sweet spot between a meaningless idea and a powerful left-of-field breakthrough?
Solution – Set the focus
Create focus for your innovation programme, align them to your business strategy, key objectives or goals. Make sure there’s a purpose to ideation.
Nectir gives you the ability set up strategic focus areas and challenges that help employees channel their efforts. Strategic alignment is embedded throughout Nectir to promote aligned thinking.
Innovation is biased to innovation, not real business
Innovation is, of course, a core responsibility of the Innovation/Product Department. But it’s also the responsibility for everyone from chief exec to clerk. One department alone cannot manage the innovation capacity of an entire business.
So then why limit the responsibility of driving internal employee innovation through the innovation department’s agenda only. The risk here is that the challenges set by one department either address generic problems only or is biased to a select few that have the capability to solve a challenge.
Solution – Empower business to innovate
Innovation works best when the business as a whole drives innovation. While the innovation department (or similar) can set up an innovation programme each department head, and all their respective line managers, should be equipped to drive innovation within their areas. And who best to identify where ideas are needed than from the people at the cold face of it.
Nectir enables all line manager to set challenges, for company-wide participation or for line-specific ideation. The power and responsibility to set challenges live with anyone that leads a team.
Ideas are worthless if they aren’t executed
The reality is that collecting ideas is a fairly easy component of an innovation programme. And yes, some ideas are not worth progressing with. Good ideas, however, should have the best chance of coming to life. A good idea without an end-point of execution is destined to fall into a black hole.
Solution – Use the crowd to execute ideas
The collective intelligence of your broader team has an unrivaled ability to identify ideas with the right potential. But more importantly, the crowd also has the ability to enrich ideas to make them viable business solutions. Use the power of the crowd to quickly collaborate on selected ideas to move them from thought to viable business solution.
Nectir uses the collective power of your teams, across your business to collaborate in the development of viable business solutions (Sprint teams). And, these teams can reach out to the crowd for support, when they need it.
Experts are needed to review expert ideas
Many business ideas are borne from a specific, often specialized, problem. When innovation programmes rely on a team of “administrators” to act as a review council they are often limited by a lack of specialist insight into the core problem or opportunity. This is why many potentially groundbreaking ideas never see the light of day.
Solution – Get the experts to review, automatically
An innovation programme needs to make sure that the right people see high-potential ideas. If an idea submission’s next step is to a siloed review council then that idea’s prospect is decreased by a factor relative to the experience of the review council. A better way to do this is to make sure people in the know, often people within a reporting line (up and down the ladder), are privy to ideas most relevant to them. This makes sure that people with the right expertise can contribute and enrich an idea all the way through to execution.
Nectir uses the power of the crowd, as well as automatically generated line structures to ensure that ideas are seen by the right people and, if necessary, contain sensitive ideas to specific departments or business units.
The reality is that, for the most part, businesses position innovation as game-changing ideas and projects that will change the course of their trajectory. But in reality, 85% of impactful innovation comes from incremental business enhancement. Even the employee most resistant to innovation will resonate with the reality that in their daily work lives there are systemic challenges that they can solve to make their lives easier. With more relevance comes more understanding and more frequent action – the key ingredients for an innovation culture to formed. And by building this muscle memory into a culture you’ll certainly get the game-changing ideas as well.