Companies are adding innovation to their company value and mission statements in accelerating numbers but each organization goes about innovation in different ways. Some organizations implement idea management systems to help generate and evaluate product ideas. Others are willing to spend large sums of money on design firms and innovation consultants to help them create, architect, and deliver products and services that will engage new or existing customers. Based on these efforts, it is safe to assume that most companies and their leaders are committed to innovation, right?
“When it comes to innovation, ideas are the easy part. The cultural resistance learned over 30 years of efficiency is the hard part.”
– Jeffrey Phillips
Industry research provides some interesting statistics which highlight that innovation is not easily obtainable and that companies are not innovating fast enough to repel the unrelenting threat posed by new market entrants with declining barriers to entry.
It’s not enough to talk about innovation, or to invest in trying to come up with new products and services. Instead, more organizations should commit to making sure their innovation culture doesn’t stink.
One framework for determining a company’s culture comes from Kim Cameron, PhD. and Robert Quinn, PhD. It breaks organizational cultures into the four types highlighted in Figure 2.⁴
Any of these culture types can evolve into a successful innovation culture and any of them can also establish a highly dysfunctional culture incapable of sustained innovation.
If you are going to invest in the work to improve your innovation culture, you are investing in change. Prepare your people for your culture change, and keep in mind some of the best practices in managing change. Professor John Kotter of Harvard University is one of the leading voices on the topic and has identified eight key change principals.⁵
Some general rules about cultural change include:
If you cannot build a strong foundation to support change, you will likely fail. Do not underinvest in planning for change and in building a communication strategy for your innovation culture change efforts.
Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of the word “innovation”, and there have even been multiple articles written by the Doblin Group⁶, Geoffrey Moore⁷, and others about how many different types of innovation there are and how you must choose which types of innovation to focus on. When it comes to innovation, individuals speak about it differently and there are lots of misunderstandings. A common language of innovation is the foundation of any sustainable innovation effort and is realized by putting these five building blocks in place.
Innovation means different things to different people. Every organization should consciously define what innovation means to them (and what it does not). Establishing a baseline for what innovation is in your organization is the first and most important building block in a sustainable innovation foundation.
My definition: “Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into widely adopted solutions valued above every existing alternative.”
This definition highlights a difference between useful vs. valuable and invention vs. innovation and emphasizes that something must be widely adopted to be an innovation (at the expense of something else). Consider how company vision, strategy, goals, and infrastructure impact innovation within your organization.
A recent survey by Doug Williams of Innovation Excellence Research found that:⁸
Employees need to know why innovation is important and what leadership’s vision is for the innovation direction of the organization so they apply their efforts in a manner consistent with the vision.
Your innovation vision should ask and answer:
Six key characteristics of an effective vision
John Kotter, as part of his change principals, highlighted six key characteristics of an effective vision:
“P&G has incredibly talented employees – employees who are proud of the work they do. Moving from ‘only invented at P&G’ to ‘proudly found elsewhere’ required a change in mindset. It was important that employees realized that ‘Connect+Develop’was not another name for downsizing and outsourcing jobs, but instead a strategy to ensure sustained business growth for the company.”
– Chris Thoen, former head of the Connect+Develop program at P&G
When it comes to setting an innovation strategy, organizations should ask and answer the following questions:
Determine who and what you are going to focus on as part of your innovation strategy and its goals.
When it comes to goals, the S.M.A.R.T. framework states that goals must be:
When created thoughtfully and consistently with S.M.A.R.T. goal principles, your innovation goals should tell everyone how you are trying to execute on your innovation strategy and vision. One of P&G’s innovation goals was to source 50% of the company’s innovation from outside. This was measured by looking at the source of new product launches and other variables.
The final building block is achieved by building a framework and a methodology for innovation that your organization can embrace; followed by putting the financial and human resources in place to help innovation projects emerge, get funded, and be brought to market successfully. In Figure 3, you’ll find a sample innovation infrastructure highlighting some of the areas you’ll want to develop. Figure 4 provides a real world snapshot of innovation staffing at Whirlpool and how deeply their innovation focus is embedded throughout the organization. If you create an innovation definition, vision, strategy, goals, and infrastructure you will be well on your way to creating a common language of innovation, which will help to drive alignment, and ultimately, success!
The fact is that most employees have more than one skillset, so it’s important to give people space to innovate. Find a way to strike a balance between what employees need to do for the organization and what they want to do for the organization. Otherwise, human capital is being wasted, and flushed down the drain. Have honest conversations about the unique talents, skills, and abilities each individual possesses.
CISCO has a program that allows departments to post internal internships (small, discrete part-time projects they need help with) that individuals can participate in as part of their career development. This program helps to both harness the latent skills of the employee base and to build more connections across the organization. At the same time it provides the department with a set of fresh eyes to look at the status quo of their operations, and possibly tap into a new source of ideas. Programs like this help organizations move from being a typical job description driven organization, toward the organization of the future, the connected organization, which is pictured in Figure 5.
To be successful at creating a connected organization, you must prepare an effective plan to attract and engage customers, partners, and employees to increase employee retention, strengthen partnerships, increase customer lifetime value, and most importantly – engage in collaborative innovation. In Figure 6 you’ll see one view of connected culture from Dan Pontefract.⁹ While focusing on harnessing the untapped talents, skills, and abilities of our employees, we must not forget that our partners (and even customers) have skills too, and the organizations of the future (pictured in Figure 5) will stand ready to unlock those as well.
Finally, as you look to create your own organization of the future, you will notice early on that there are lots of different organizations that you are already connecting with (or should be). Invest in better organizing your efforts and wrapping a strategy around them, instead of letting them exist as a collection of one-off tactical relationships.
In every successful organization there is a healthy tension between the entrepreneurial mindset and the executive mindset. While the entrepreneurs and revolutionaries in your organization might seek change, not everyone loves change or is energized by it. According to a recent Strategy& study of more than 2,200 executives, 65 percent have experienced some sort of change fatigue.³
The more curious an organization you can build, the more innovative it will become. One way to build organizational curiosity is by sharing stories and inspiration. Inspiration is core to continuous innovation and sits at the center of my Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation Framework.¹⁰ Inspiration helps to give people courage to act, and when you get right down to it, inventors have great ideas, but innovators change the world. If you want your organization to change the world and your competitive landscape, you must work to provide a steady stream of inspiration and work tirelessly to unlock the passion of your employees. The Innovator’s Framework¹¹, (pictured in Figure 7), is a tool built upon Gary Hamel’s Hierarchy of Employee Traits for the Creative Economy, passion is the doorway to innovation.
Key takeaways from The Innovator’s Framework indicate that you may get some level of Obedience, Diligence, and Intellect from employees by providing a pay check and some level of management. However, to truly unlock employees’ initiative, managers must show respect, and to unlock employee creativity you must earn the trust of your workforce.
To access your employees’ Passion you must do all of these things and create a sense of fun and purpose in your organization. To unlock innovation, you must provide your employees with Flexibility and Insights. But transforming the useful seeds of invention into widely adopted solutions valued above every existing alternative does not happen unless you have people driving the effort who feel compelled to act. Your challenge is to find those people in your organization that will push past every obstacle. Who is passionate about creating a path forward in your organization?
Innovation is about the people, and too often we treat people as commodities that are interchangeable and maintain the same characteristics and aptitudes. Everyone excels at one or more of nine innovation roles, and when organizations put the right people in the right roles, innovation speed and capacity will increase. Below are Nine Innovation Roles featured in my book, Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire.
To be truly successful, you must be able to bring in the right roles at the right times to make your promising ideas stronger on your way to making them successful. Most organizations focus too much energy on generating ideas and not enough on evolving their ideas and their people. Ask yourself:
Your answers to these questions will help you define your areas of focus as you work to refine your team approach to innovation.
Hopefully you no longer feel that you have a highly dysfunctional culture incapable of sustainable innovation, and instead see some of the changes necessary to move your organization toward a more innovative culture. Just remember the following five keys to an innovation culture that smells better:
Making the investment in helping your innovation culture smell better will help your organization be better positioned to cope with the accelerating pace of corporate destruction and provide your most creative and entrepreneurial employees a constructive place to unlock their passions, while also creating a better balance in the organization between improvement/efficiency and innovation/entrepreneurship.
Finally, if your CEO is truly committed to innovation, remind him or her that for any innovation effort to be sustainable, the organization must go beyond investments in new products and services, and include committed investments in a culture that encourages and supports continuous innovation alongside continuous improvement.
Braden Kelley is an experienced innovation speaker, trainer, and organizational change specialist. He is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and has been advising companies on how to increase their revenue and cut their costs since 1996. Braden writes frequently on the topics of continuous innovation and change, and works with clients to create innovative strategies, effective content marketing, organizational change, and improved organizational performance. He has maximized profits for companies while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. He is the creator of the Change Planning ToolkitTM and the new book Charting Change, designed to make change less overwhelming, more human and to help get everyone literally all on the same page for change. And in his spare time, Braden is a co-founder of the popular global innovation community – InnovationExcellence.com – home to 7,500+ innovation articles and an innovation leader on Twitter (@innovate) with 17,000+ hard-earned followers.
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