Our experience has shown us that making an innovation program sustainable and fruitful in the longer term requires an organization to focus on 3 Pillars: Results, Skills and Structures. Many of our most valuable insights have been learned directly from implementing these programs with our innovation partners (somehow ‘clients’ doesn’t accurately reflect the true nature of our work together).
So here are the 7 useful ways on how to achieve a successful innovation program in the long-term:
Many of our most valuable insights have been learned directly from implementing innovation programs with our innovation partners (somehow ‘clients’ doesn’t accurately reflect the true nature of our work together). We have found that the task is complex (obviously) and requires a combination of varied activities on several levels: individual, team and organizational. We have formalized our knowledge in what we call The Three Pillar Approach. Here we will discuss a few examples of useful do’s and don’t’s.
So here are 7 useful ways to implement a successful innovation program for the long-term:
1. Brand your innovation process
Our partners have proved that giving your innovation process a catchy name and logo is much more than a gimmick. It makes an abstract process or idea immediately tangible. It communicates seriousness and commitment. It makes it easier for innovation to become a part of your organization’s language and culture. It provides a platform for getting people on-board and PR-ing successes. And, it becomes an expression of pride and responsibility. Well worth the effort.
2. Take ownership of the process
Some of our partners describe their innovation process as their personal “baby”. Parenting is indeed an apt metaphor. Labor pains, crawling, teething, sleepless nights, tantrums giving way to jubilation, creativity, wonder and a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. Sure, family and friends (aka external consultants) can offer essential support and guidance. But, remember your innovation “baby” is ultimately part of your organization’s DNA and, success comes with time, patience and love. As they say, raising an innovation program isn’t easy but it’s one of the best jobs around.
3. Have fun!
Innovation, like marathon running, demands Herculean effort, buckets of stamina, sweat and the occasional strained muscle (usually the brain). But it should also be exhilarating, compulsive and fun. If it’s not, something’s wrong and needs to be changed.
4. ROI – Return on Innovation
Profit, increased productivity, new products, and more motivated staff. Talking to our partners, we realize their innovation initiatives yield a diverse range of positive contributions to their organization. Some are easy to measure, like a more efficient internal process, some are dramatic like a breakthrough product launch, and some are subtle and cumulative, and seen in the way that teams think and work with each other. An innovation initiative in full flight has the potential to add enormous amounts: constantly checking return on the innovation investment and communicating successes will keep the cheques flowing.
We know that innovation creates a buzz. But it’s not trivial to keep the buzz going, so pro-active internal communication is critical to keep the buzz alive. Our clients have invested a lot of time, money and resources in internal communications, producing professional-looking internal advertisements for the entire innovation program; innovation coach awards, internal newsletters, events and lots more. AND they still think they could do better.
6. A common language for innovation
When the Lord wanted to punish those involved in the ill-conceived Babel building project, he enrolled them all in Berlitz courses. We make a big point about giving everyone in the organization a common lexicon for innovation. And we hear the impact when our partners tell us how colleagues from different business units can get together to work on an innovation project and immediately have a shared set of terms and concepts (“existing situation”, “closed worlds”, “limiting rather than diluting an idea”, “attributes and values”, “thema and rhema”, “fixedness”, etc.) to help them. A multitude of perspectives enriched by a common language, making innovation a natural part of the organization’s daily culture.
7. Managing innovation
Innovation doesn’t just happen. If it is to become a self-sustaining activity across the organization. It needs stewardship, planning and hands-on management. Our successful partners follow a “top-down/bottom-up” approach which means senior management and staff-wide participation are both essential in their different ways. Furthermore, they invest in creating and developing managers with special roles, responsibilities and report structure, who play a specialist role in making innovation happen.
After the applause
From these lessons, we gain a better appreciation of what makes an organizational innovation program work (and not work) in practice; which elements are essential, and which less than obvious elements prove surprisingly crucial in long-term, company-wide innovation initiatives.
Now that you have the knowledge of how to implement an innovation program, learn the best and worst practices of incentivizing innovation in your company!