Innovation continues to be a popular buzzword and something that many organisations claim to be taking seriously. There are ten key interconnected areas that must be considered in order to succeed at innovation. They are:
1. Senior leadership. Innovation must be led, demonstrated and supported from the top. Your chief executive, directors and senior leadership must ensure that time and resources are available to explore and develop new ideas. They must lead by example, being visibly involved in the generation and implementation of new ideas. They must also lead on sharing, learning from failure, constructively challenging assumptions, managing risk and encouraging teams to try new ways of working in order to achieve the organisation’s mission.
2. Strategic. Innovation is a business growth strategy to enable your organisation to achieve its mission. However, it is often perceived as ‘nice to have’ and is one of the first areas to be cut when budgets are being scrutinised. The organisation and its leaders must be clear on why an investment in innovation is crucial and be able to communicate this effectively to employees and suppliers. It is also important that the organisation makes strategic decisions on where to focus its innovation efforts in order to achieve the greatest impact.
3. Commitment to driving change to achieve the mission. Innovation by its very nature will involve change. An innovative organisation will have a clear and ambitious vision, as well as an appetite for and openness to the idea that change will be required to achieve the best outcomes. There will be commitment to driving those changes throughout the organisation.
4. Resource. There are a number of ways you can allocate resources for innovation. Examples include an investment budget for testing new ideas, building innovation into individual roles and job descriptions, employing an innovation team or gaining external expert support. In order for innovation to deliver results it must be adequately resourced. Whether your approach is based on time, budget or both it is vital not to underestimate the level of resource required to achieve success.
5. Time. It is easy to be busy reacting to the demands of important day-to-day work. However, if we do not step back and think strategically about how to grow business for the future, then we fail. It is vital to allow regular time slots to step back and consider how to develop in the longer term. Time needs to be taken to look outside of the organisation for inspiration, to understand market trends and your audience’s needs and to develop thinking and ideas.
6. Insight. If you do not understand your audiences, you are taking a big risk that your idea will work. A commitment to invest in understanding your customers, prospects and the marketplace is essential to successful innovation. For example, using focus groups or employing insight specialists can enable you to develop products and services that meet your audience’s needs.
7. Accepting risk. If something is new, it is not guaranteed to work. However, there are risks attached to continuing the same activities in a rapidly changing world. There must be a measured approach to risk taking, an expectation that not every idea will work and an emphasis placed on transparency and sharing success and failure, both internally and externally, in order to learn and develop.
8. Process. A good process provides a framework to enable ideas to progress. It ensures that ideas are developed around a strategic focus, based on consumer insight and are shared organisationally, providing opportunities for collaboration amongst teams. An organisationally-shared process helps to ensure that resources are allocated to ideas that have the greatest strategic potential. A process also helps to say no clearly to the ideas that are less likely to help the organisation achieve its mission.
9. Clarity on the innovation focus for your organisation. There are three ‘types’ of innovation:
- incremental innovation; making small changes to processes or services to make a big difference to impact or outputs.
- radical innovation; developing something so different that it will disrupt your market place.
- new product development innovation; strategic development of products and services.
Be clear and communicate to employees and customers which one, or which combination, you are focusing on.
10. Long-term vision. Accept that innovation takes time, ensuring it is prioritised as a long-term, business development strategy and not a fad or a ‘quick win’. Actively develop innovation across the organisation, which could include recruitment, staff training, regular communications and events as well as measures for income, collaborative working and idea development.
And 11 – the most important is people. Having the right people is crucial. Even if you have your 10 points above in place, without the right people your innovation will struggle. You need a mix of perspectives, skills, experience and personalities. You need some disrupters, people who challenge the status quo, you need analytical minds who can turn insights into opportunities and you need resilient people who are not defeated by the first set back (or the second, third or fourth). You need excellent networkers, connectors and storytellers. You need people who are passionate and driven to make a difference, who are ambitious and are prepared to do whatever is required to succeed.