Innovation can take many forms. An organization develops a new product or service. A new business model offers customers a new brand experience. A new strategic partnership is formed, resulting in new customer segments and new distribution or communication channels.
More than ever before, organizations view innovation as a strategic priority, giving them a competitive advantage over others, at a time in which most employees are asked to do much more with much less. Who has time to innovate? It’s tough enough to slog through daily operations without having to think up new ways of doing business, too.
Making innovation a strategic priority often requires that stakeholders make a shift in their thinking to make innovation a consistent, repeatable part of their daily business routine.
“Creativity thinks up new ideas, but innovation takes that idea and turns it into action,” explains Lisa Bodell, Founder and CEO of futurethink, adding that “Stakeholders need to separate good ideas from great ideas before turning that great idea into a business thought.”
Ideas are the easy part. Knowing what to do with them is the trick that turns a creative idea into a business innovation. Consider the Swiffer, that nifty collapsible mop with replaceable ends. During the market research and development process, P&G took an ethnographic approach to determining what was missing when people cleaned their homes. Once the gap was identified, they created a need and subsequent demand for their innovative product.
Admittedly, not every organization has P&G-sized resources to combat hurdles to innovation which, in most organizations, include lack of time, money, and inadequate staffing levels. Bodell states that other hurdles include “an evaluation process that squelches innovative ideas, no way to track the progress or success of innovation initiatives, and no way to tap into the thinking of employees, partners, and users.”
A good place to start in your innovation initiative is to find out who in the organization is already doing something interesting or cool. Interviews, focus groups and surveys will elicit employee knowledge, opinions, attitudes, and degrees of satisfaction with existing innovation initiatives. Once that baseline is established, an overall approach to innovation can be developed.
The Quest for Innovation: A Global Study of Innovation Management was a survey commissioned by the American Management Association and conducted by the Human Resource Institute. This polling of 1,356 global leaders captured the top five elements necessary for developing an innovative culture in any organization. They are: 1) customer focus, 2) team work or collaboration with others, 3) appropriate resources (time and money), 4) timely and effective organizational communication, and 5) the ability to select the right ideas for further research.
“You can tell the culture of an organization by looking at the arrangement of furniture, what people brag about, and what they wear — similar to ways in which you get a feeling about someone’s personality,” notes Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D., in his Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision.
The steps to creating a culture that supports innovation on a daily basis are more accessible than one might first imagine. Every cause needs a champion and innovation is no exception. Innovation requires top down support, where those at the top lead by example and encourage stakeholders to take smart risks.
“What often limits innovation in any organization is that people tend to want to ‘get it just right’ before sharing their ideas,” explains Bodell. “Leaders who support innovative thinking need to help employees become comfortable with sharing their ideas – and works-in-progress.”
Artists at the Academy Award®-winning Pixar Animation Studios share their beginning sketches and drawings of animated characters with team members early in the process. This allows them to stimulate the thinking of their colleagues, gather feedback, and build on that feedback throughout the animation process, which adds depth to the finished product.
“Many people worry that by sharing their ideas, someone will beat them to the punch,” remarks Richard Bowers, Ph.D. “There is no limit to what can be done if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
Other steps in creating a culture of innovation requires leaders, managers, and supervisors to encourage new and alternative thinking and to share subsequent ideas within business units and across the organization. Everyone needs to know what others are working on and feel a part of the whole. Employee feedback about the status of organizational innovation can be captured in surveys about employee engagement, employee satisfaction, working relationships, and organizational assessment.
To foster a culture of innovation, leaders must support their teams with resources and expose them to creative ways of being. Offering tools for creativity and innovation on the company intranet is a start. The workforce must feel motivated to participate fully in innovative thinking without fear of reprisal. Employee recognition for innovative ideas – from a day off, memo, or heartfelt thank you — means someone noticed and cares. And, remember to keep people apprised about what happens to ideas as they make their way through the innovation pipeline.
If you would like to learn more about how NBRI can help you identify activities related to innovation and help keep your stakeholders apprised of your innovative ideas, call us at 800-756-6168 today.
Terrie Nolinske, Ph.D.
National Business Research Institute