The straightforward way to achieve an innovation culture. Continuous Improvement. Ongoing Performance gains.
Innovation is at the heart of growth
Article by Dean Smith
The path to a successful and continually growing business is often not an easy journey. It needs effort. It needs focus. But most of all I think it needs innovation.
Many of the really successful businesses these days are seen as disrupters. By nature, they innovate. It's in their DNA. But 'innovation' need not be tagged only to disrupters - there are huge gains to be made within established and more 'traditional' businesses too. Embracing innovation as a Business As Usual (BAU) activity, embedding within the culture, rather than pursuing one-off or ad-hoc innovation efforts is a key step forward.
By introducing an innovation culture, teams that were once stagnated become enabled, motivated and extremely productive in driving beneficial change. It's amazing what can be done when you harness the inherent and detailed knowledge of team members within a well-structured innovation process.
Teasing out incremental improvements, or going back to basics and re-designing processes and systems that have long been taken for granted, and everything in between. Small, medium and strategic change initiatives abound. With a moderate and fairly straightforward degree of management and alignment (not to stifle the innovation-edge), your business can change forever.
There are four key ingredients to the recipe:
- Management recognises the value and genuinely desires an innovation culture to be embedded in the business.
- A viral approach is taken to inclusion, starting with the people that proactively demonstrate the energy to drive change.
- Simple and effective tools are used to capture, review, select and track implementation of initiatives.
- Declaring the value attained in each initiative and recognising those involved.
Let me dive a little deeper into each of these ingredients...
First, those that have the power to enable or subdue change need to be on board with the principles. There is no point having a bunch of people who know a lot about their work areas, the customers and stakeholders that they manage and the tools they use, come up with great ideas only to have them ignored or shot-down. I know that some more traditional managers feel that ideas and change initiatives must come from the top. Absolutely, many great ideas will come down the organisation pyramid, especially as many may link to more strategic and cross-functional thinking. But it is crucial to recognise that the people at the pointy-end of business operations - direct functional, shared services or BPO team members - will have a lot of great knowledge and ideas to contribute.
Second, many people respond poorly to change without being 'bought-in' to the reasoning. They need to see the value to them, or to their part of the business, before they can jump on board and really invest in the change. And sometimes that value can be difficult for them to recognise or make tangible enough to warrant the effort required. But when people are part of a wider culture that stimulates and listens to every suggestion, assesses worth and cost, and recognises contributions openly, then not only do they get excited about driving change, but they become more accepting of wider change initiatives. People will then know, and accept, that change is based on an inclusive innovation culture and so are more likely to be positive in effecting changes driven from elsewhere.
What is meant by 'viral' in this context? It's just like that great video, article or joke that you share from your LinkedIn or Facebook account. We tend to share and accept sharing of things we like. The same goes for innovation. When a few good people, respected in their roles and amongst peers, become innovation champions, then that's a great start. The seeds are planted. When you harness that talent and enthusiasm within a mechanism to continuously drive the capture and evaluation of improvement ideas and, most importantly, engage those contributing in the execution of the process and delivery of change, then you gradually create a viral innovation framework. People will feel better valued, respected, impactful. And so the change culture grows.
Third, it's tempting to experiment with unmanaged teams and innovation, but in my experience this creates more frustration than it resolves. So a light and inclusive management framework helps everyone benefit from the journey. Simple spreadsheet tools enable an innovation funnel, with a gateway process to naturally filter initiatives through to implementation. The key is to engage with the initiator and relevant expertise throughout. Managing the funnel does need some dedicated attention to work well, to ensure that the innovation flow-rate is maintained. But once established, it becomes BAU quite quickly. And tends to be very much appreciated by team members.
Fourth, stimulating acceptance and inclusion requires the value of what is being done to be declared. Once visible, it can be tested and challenged, which keeps the process honest. And those that initiated and contributed to the win will be recognised alongside some tangible value contribution. Recognition can be as simple as "thank you" or take other forms suitable to the team and business concerned. The key is to continuously visualise the contributions demonstrating that everyone can play a part, promoting the viral effect.
I've seen first-hand the value of implementing such cultures a few times on my career path, and I highly recommend it. With the right approach, it's not that difficult to do. It can start with a single function, and grow. And I guarantee the benefits far outweigh the effort, especially when it really becomes the cultural norm.