Tapping Your Innovation Potential
“Doing more with less” has once again become the mantra for executive leaders – and now is the time to capitalize on the opportunity to harness your innovation potential.
Budgets have been allocated. Meetings are frantic, issues get raised, and plans get drawn up, rejected, and redrawn. The innovation agenda is a major contributor to the mix needed to meet strategic and operating goals; in fact, it is the only path to success.
But get ready; it’s a lot of hard work!
Cutting costs without innovating typically results in “doing less with less”. There’s zero synergy in such an exercise.
On the bright side, a compelling need to reduce costs can, and often does, open a whole new imperative for innovation. With that in mind, I would suggest that you consider infusing a strong and aggressive innovation agenda into all of your strategy and operational management activities – an agenda that can make a real difference to the future of your organization.
A Caution about the “Soft Issues”
There are a range of soft issues – “people” issues – that are important, but that many managers find harder to work through. This is because the soft side of innovation is more elusive in “hard” ROI terms. They are also hard because most managers feel that if they factor in the soft issues, real innovation will never occur.
While not always so easily dealt with, experience clearly demonstrates that it is the intangibles – the softer aspects of innovation – that make it truly work. Why? Because innovation is hard work, and the soft issues build the emotional commitment needed for innovation to become reality. This is why we must consider the aspects of innovation that often don’t conform to the orderly ROI world.
It’s not about having one or the other; your innovation agenda needs both – strong ROI and human commitment.
Make Innovation both Strategic and Realistic
Making sure softer issues are embedded within any set of innovation goals is simply dealing with the realities of life. Eventually, as more people become comfortable with the ‘softer’ aspects, innovation simply becomes synonymous with strategy.
To get you started, here’s a list of often-encountered challenges that have significant “soft issue” implications:
- Strategic Alignment: Revisit the issue of alignment/misalignment of the innovation agenda with corporate strategy. A casual reading of my recent blogs will clearly demonstrate that one of the biggest issues for me is the poor success record of strategy implementation within organizations. A recent report suggested that anywhere from 25% to 50% of organizational effort is spent on tasks that don’t fully align with corporate strategies. If your people don’t understand that their efforts are really contributing to the strategic goals, then you should be deeply concerned. Fixing this potential ‘unproductive loss’ is an imperative goal to pursue in 2012.
- Rethink your PESTLE or SWAT analysis for insight into which innovations offer the best cost/risk profile. By exploring the array of tools that are available for spotting trends, needs, or unearthing the next big opportunity, you can make your executive team more acutely aware of the value of the innovation agenda you propose. One really positive outcome of this effort is to be able to establish a toolkit of techniques carefully tuned to our austere times.
- Innovation needs to be client-centric: Particularly when times are tough, there is this urge to force change onto clients with product and service revisions that improve productivity or reduce costs. When economic times are tough, clients are unlikely to embrace innovations that don’t provide value added for them. That means your actions must enable them to extract value. This emphasis provides a “client-centric” perspective that can provide a totally different slant on innovation opportunities. Client-facing workers are a great source of knowledge on what needs to be done to develop client acceptance.
- Avoiding Chaos: Disruptive Innovation is currently in vogue because of it’s potential for new breakthroughs. There’s nothing wrong with finding the ‘disrupting’ application, product or business model to respond to unmet client needs and generate value add. However, in tough times innovations that might not be as disruptive to you, your employees, and your stakeholders are likely to be more appealing. Disruptive approaches are often very expensive and fraught with risk. Considering other approaches that help to contain risks in volatile times is important to explore. This kind of thinking brings into play “lean” thinking while building on current successful models.
- Ratchet-up Stakeholder Engagement: Revisit your various “listening posts” to uncover critical issues effecting your customers, your employees, and other stakeholders to gain insight into what innovations best meet stakeholder needs. This can be a really powerful lever because it builds collaboration for implementation. There is a lot to absorb in this, a stakeholder engagement framework empowered by social media, customer relationship management, and organizational learning and experimenting can be game changers. Clearly defined goals on this issue can be strategically important for the continuous flow of ideas to feed your innovation efforts.
- Enlarge the Scope of Innovation Activities: Listening posts offer great potential for learning. Use the feedback to uncover required competencies and approaches for each type of innovation. Broader competency profiles can offer greater scope to your innovation activities. Use this insight to fuel your employee engagement commitments through communities of practice and stakeholder roundtables.
- Re-examine the potential for Web 2.0 solutions: Downturns are really good times to get rid of some of the legacy systems in your organization. Identify older systems such as flat file repositories that can be replaced with powerful tools for managing operations innovatively. The goal is to reposition the organization with some incredibly nimble, low cost, highly flexible systems that are available through a Web 2.0 approach. A small investment can provide tremendous leverage and payoff through an integrated flow of information, ideas and concepts; product life cycle management approaches and cloud management. Learn and experiment in pilot projects and beta testing environments so you can be well positioned to justify the benefits and costs for a corporate-wide application.
- Get Your Innovation Metrics Right: Good innovation metrics are frequently a difficult ‘nut’ to crack – but no less imperative. Again, the majority of managers want everything to be measured in terms of ROI. Taking time out to delve into the different ways to measure and get agreement on the metrics to be adopted can dramatically shift the executive team to a renewed support for innovation. Laying out your innovation value network can galvanize your executive team – if they understand how innovation impacts the overall success of the organization.
- Get the right timeframe for innovation delivery: Carefully calibrating innovation goals to conform to the annual financial cycle – combined with cost, risk and ROI potential – is not only necessary, but could also prove to be an incredible internal breakthrough. Building your innovation plan to include extensive internal discussion will allow innovation projects to move from discovery and proof of concept, through to the right delivery cycle. Avoid having to fit critical innovation into an unnatural calendar that limits the original concept and compromises the potential results. A logical progression offers greater potential for delivering game changing innovations and builds broader stakeholder recognition and support.
- Educate Your Executive Stakeholder Team: Making the commitment to educate and inform the executive stakeholder team builds support for the innovation plan and budget. For most organizations, embedding innovation into the psyche of the C-level corner office remains a work in progress. The corporate innovation manager needs to spend dedicated time and effort so that the numerous C-level executives ‘get’ the need to move from “nice to have” to “must have” thus solving one of the biggest innovation inhibitors most organizations face – the focus and resolve to make it so.
While this list is intended to jump start the process, you should develop your own list with these principles in mind.
In the end, your innovation list should be a credible “evidenced based” strategic commitment for 2012-13. Raise them, talk about them, and get agreement to your innovation plans for the coming year.
But most importantly, make sure you deliver on them!