Innovation is not just important, but essential for any organization. In this article, I attempt to highlight the significant things that you need to do to initiate the journey of innovation for your organization.
Before we begin, there are two fundamental things regarding innovation that we all must understand –
A. Irrespective of the size and nature of your business, failing to innovate will lead to failed business. So, innovation is not optional for your organization.
B. Innovation will not start happening in a day, every organization needs to take a journey to become an innovative organization and it all starts with a ‘start’. Therefore, start the innovation journey today.
The path and outcomes of innovation will be different for different organizations. However, every organization must focus on the below fundamental things when initiating with corporate innovation. Like it is said; a good beginning is half done.
1. Have an ‘innovation vision’: I am not taking about an innovation strategy or project plan or any complicated document here. Have a vision. Brainstorm and just answer a simple question for yourself– what would you like the innovation do for your organization in next 3–5 years? That’s it. It does not mean that you cannot modify or update it, remember innovation is all about flexibility, however the vision would act as a shooting star for you and your company in the innovation journey when you feel lost sometimes (and you will feel lost sometimes for sure, that’s how innovation works!). One of the key mistakes that organizations do while embarking on innovation journey is to copy another organization. It is good to know external best practice, but understand that innovation would mean different for different organizations. It is therefore very important to vision what innovation would mean for ‘your’ organization.
2. Communicate and clarify for staff: Once you have finalized your innovation vision, clearly communicate it to the staff. Bring it down to the simplest explanation. Do not use complicated jargons and definitions of innovation that are flowing all over the internet to communicate regarding innovation. This would only confuse your people. When people understand things, they are more likely to connect to that agenda. Make a connect with your people by explaining the vision and need of innovation for the organization. Your internal communication team would play an important role in this regard. Use mix of the physical communications (posters, banners, danglers etc.) and face to face interactions (floor sessions, staff sessions, town halls etc.) to regularly re-enforce the message.
3. Senior leaders should act as innovation advocates: Innovation in your organization would not sustain without honest support from your senior leadership team. Period. Do your senior leaders only talk about numbers, KRAs, targets at every possible touch point with their teams and staff? If so, innovation will never take-off. Senior leaders need to become advocates of innovation at every possible occasion, not just by words but through actions as well. Leaders need to encourage discussions around problems, support counter-opinions, appreciate non-conventional thinking in the team. These small rituals would soon become an integral part within the teams and reassure staff to think beyond.
4. Get an expert: Although this is not mandatory, but an expert on innovation management could be helpful in providing the needed vigour to kick-start the innovation practice in your organization. The expert would provide direction to the initial innovation madness in the organization. The expert could be — dedicated innovation manager hired from industry, innovation consultant assigned for some time or even a staff in your organization who is recognized for his/her non-conventional thinking and has a passion for new ideas. The expert would help ignite spark for innovation wherever required and act as a guide throughout the innovation journey.
5. Take your employees along: It is always said that people are the most important asset to any organization. For innovation, people become even more important. The success of your innovation effort will depend on acceptance and contribution of employees. One person or team cannot innovate for the entire organization. Therefore, it is utmost important to include everyone in this innovation journey. Everyone has thoughts/ideas and you never know which idea can become a game-changer for you. You need to create an environment where every idea-giver feels valued and can share their opinion without fear or hesitation. Simultaneously, you need to enable your people to think and spot opportunities for innovation. Conduct quick sessions on brainstorming methods and idea articulation (and later identify and graduate the bright stars to higher innovation methodologies like design thinking, TRIZ etc.). It would take time before innovation becomes part of your organization’s DNA, but sincere and small steps like these would lead you in this direction.
6. Provide a simple platform: Provide a platform for people to ideate and discuss ideas. Platform here means nothing but a dedicated space that provides an opportunity to voice one’s views. Therefore, the platform could be digital, physical or simply some people coming together. The platform would provide purpose and direction for people to regularly converge. Collective wisdom can do miracles when it comes to innovation. Another important thing to note is, whichever format of platform you choose to deploy, ensure to make it informal and fun. Gamification brings the best out of people for creativity and envisioning. You would soon witness people making time and looking forward to participating in these platforms. Do not hold yourself to perfect the platform, experiment with various channels that works and attracts people. People just need some triggers for thought and the platform would soon catch-on in your organization.
7. Encourage, encourage, encourage: This is the most important thing to do when initiating a corporate innovation journey. Identify and recognize every bit of innovation happening in the organization, no matter how small the outcome is. The reward or recognition needs to be appropriate and timely. Use every forum to celebrate the contributors of innovation (let’s call them ‘innovation agents’) and their efforts. Make them heroes. This will create a ripple effect. Recognition in the organisations works more than material rewards. Encourage your HR team to come up with creative recognitions for the innovation agents in the organization. Create badges or marks that differentiate them in a good way. Experiment with unorthodox recognitions — dinner with the leadership team, appreciation letter to the families of innovation agent, make innovation agents CEO for a day, invite them for the board meeting. This way, you will convey the entire organization that innovation is utmost important and people driving it are special. This way, you will never have to enforce the agenda of innovation on people. Innovation will become part of everyone’s agenda by-default. A volunteer innovation program is 1000 times more effective than the forced one. Make it a habit in the organization. The impact of innovation will follow suit.
Hope you find this article useful for your innovation program. I will talk about how to sustain innovation in the organizations in my upcoming article. Happy reading.