Every year, new innovations are introduced to the world that can change the landscape for a product almost instantly. It’s harder now than ever to stay current and relevant.
Businesses can be creative and come up with new ideas. However, to be truly innovative they need to action these ideas at the right time. And in most cases, that’s the bit that’s incredibly hard to get right.
As a general rule, the bigger the organisation, the more time-consuming the process. Digitally transforming a global organisation doesn’t come easy, it’s like turning a huge tanker bit by bit, rather than one turn in a nippy speed boat. Change can take longer than expected, but a well-structured plan is an essential starting point to shifting the needle.
Right now, as businesses try to find their feet post Covid, there isn’t a better time to rethink and innovate. The UK government have committed to boosting investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and to increasing public funding for R&D to £22 billion per year by 2024–25. (UK innovation report 2021)
The number of companies reporting innovation among their organisations’ top three priorities is up 10 percent in 2021, but only half of those companies are investing and resourcing these priorities. Why is that?
Being truly innovative within your organisation is being able to spot the opportunities, knowing what’s important and delivering them at the right time.
Successful innovation requires three things:
- Making innovation a top priority.
- Committing investment, as well as talent to it.
- Knowing how to transform investment into results.
Why the reluctance to turn ideas into action?
Buckle in, there are a few reasons:
Many companies spend too much time on just the ideas part of the innovation process — the sexy part — but the real leverage is in the actionable change. Converting strong ideas into something real. Change can be messy and you need a committed team and long term goal to achieve it.
The greatest innovator of all time Edison put it perfectly: “Innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” How much time does your organisation spend on inspiration versus perspiration? And what is stopping those ideas and improvements being realised?
The first is the lack of urgency to implement the change. Unless a competitor has taken the market by storm and is draining money from your business, there’s very little drive to accelerate change and innovate. Roadmaps and project plans tend to involve incremental changes. A big shift will require more buy in, more money and a real need from the business — all of which sound like barriers.
Which leads nicely onto the fear of uncertainty: To change things is to take a risk. People are scared to make changes that may end up backfiring — that therefore pose a risk to the business and to their own reputation. If the process is alien, you’ll be more more reluctant or cautious to take steps into the unknown.
So the big question is: why take the risk? Why do we need to innovate? For what reasons are we looking to change and improve the offering? What’s driving the change?
In my experience, the most effective changes and improvements are made from an urgent business ambition or need, which helps give a clear purpose and goal. It brings clarity to the all-important questions:
- Are you delivering true business value?
- Do you know your audience?
- Do you know their opinions and hear from them regularly?
- Are you listening to feedback and using that to make informed decisions in your daily work?
Obviously, there’s no point improving a product when your customers won’t value it. But a strong business case, with reasons why these changes are paramount is a solid first step. Anyone who’s read Simon Sinek’s Start with why will know it should be deep in the heart of your plan.
A lot of the time, making something slightly better is also the enemy of new. Operational excellence gets in the way of quick improvements and the possibility of experimenting. Safe, small steps can work and be progressive, but it also depends on how far ahead you are of the competition.
We always look to develop a thought-through plan that sits behind everything, to bring a business sufficiently up to speed within the required timeframe. There’s nothing worse than plugging gaps with quick fixes if it’s not assisting your progress towards your long-term goal.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” — Henry ford.
Gather your team, embrace opinions and listen. The listening phase is one of my personal favourites in the whole process.
Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who have ideas that differ from yours. Diversity enhances innovation — surely, a self-evident statement. It allows you to generate a variety of new ideas that work, but also consider things from every angle. Cross-functional teams can then lead with multiple skillsets, giving a fresh, vibrant mix of talent and responsibility in their own areas of expertise.
Last but not least and one of the hardest to achieve: you need a vision. Many organisations lack that vision and the progressive steps to get there. A clear roadmap that sets out the plan is vital to make sure it carves a path to success. They are useful, but should be impermanent and open to continual review and update — especially based on findings as you go. This is where ideas cross over to becoming innovation.
Many organisations need to see that vision before committing and a clear step-by-step plan they can believe in. It helps build trust with partners and clients if they can visualise the long term goal easier. And then we start proving innovations worth with incremental results.
To deliver a strong vision, your organisation needs an innovative leader, or rather a leader of innovation. They do not have to be Steve Jobs but they do need to be someone to set expectations, to keep momentum and to lead through doing. Not being scared of failure is essential as is the power to kickstart conversations across the business. It helps if the person is a trusted pair of hands with solid experience behind them.
Make everyone an innovator
At ELSE, we work alongside our clients on a daily basis — helping support, drive business value through an outcomes-based approach. The key to effective and impactful change is to develop a culture across the business, that shows creativity and innovation is everybody’s responsibility.
The first step should be to establish a culture where all staff have the capacity and the capability to be creative and contribute.
For us, it’s about collaboration over competition. One shared vision can really pull an organisation together as long as it’s practical and every team member has a part to play. To do this, it’s important to debunk the myths around innovation and clear the path for all to engage by making sure there are clear methodologies and practices in place for teams follow. It goes without saying, all teams need support.
Where’s the proof?
What will be the KPI? Who will be accountable and who will be tracking the impact of the changes? You can bring about the most extraordinary results through innovation, but if you haven’t given yourself a framework with which to measure your success (or failure), no one is just going to take your word for it.
Every project we do at ELSE operates with an effectiveness framework — it’s the way we get the absolute best from every project. This also gives us the insights to learn and improve upon the results.
I encourage all leaders of change to focus on the ‘how’, as well as on the ‘what’.
Working with an idea of what, why and the how is key to improve your chances of success. Innovation is by no means easy. It takes many attempts and changes before it’s right, but with the right resources, people and know-how, big companies can move quicker and have more impact.
It might not be as sexy, but that’s true innovation and it’s the fastest, most effective way to deliver value to your business.