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What does innovation management mean to you? Does it mean gathering ideas or does it mean building a culture of engagement? If you answered yes to both, you’re on the right track. You need ideas to be innovative, but you need an innovation culture to continually source the most valuable ideas.
The concept of “building an innovation culture” is a topic that’s come up in a variety of conversations with Planview Spigit clients over the last few months. Whether it was at one of our Ignite Innovation Summits or our recent Horizons conference, a common theme connecting many of my conversations was this: While innovation programs built on ideas alone can be successful, they are typically not sustainable.
In many organizations, innovation is a buzzword—a quick box to check. This perception can stem from the impact of new innovation programs that have run a few highly visible campaigns and produced some great ideas. It can be easy to think that your company is innovative, just because you have ideas. But limiting the success of your innovation management program to the number of ideas you gather is a short-term vision.
How can we change that thinking? Here are three tips you can use to shift the perception of innovation management at your organization.
Innovation programs that deliver lasting innovation cultures are programs that are set up with a clear strategy—one that might span two or three years across a number of different approaches. Most importantly, these strategies do not focus solely on traditional innovation activities—they go far broader. They switch their focus to engaging a crowd of people rather than labeling what they do as solely innovation. They’re not in the idea business—they’re in the engagement business.
One way to make this shift at your organization is to change the use case, and even the stakeholder messaging, from “innovation” to “engagement.” Leveraging softer types of challenges—that ask questions such as “How do we remove barriers to productivity?” or “What would help you get your job done?”—can be a real accelerator to collaboration. You are, in essence, increasing the chances of offering a way for each employee, partner, or customer to be involved.
Innovation strategy and engagement are not mutually exclusive. You can’t have a truly innovative culture without the buy-in of all stakeholders—and most importantly, your crowd—no matter who they are. As innovation has swept through organizations over the last decade, leaders have become complacent that innovation exercises focused on new products or services are enough. And yet, a company’s employees are often capable of so much more—especially when it comes to surfacing and solving customer problems.
Adapting your innovation program to tap into the “front line” means that employee engagement takes a different form. You might reference problem identification, “bug bears,” or voice of the customer in your communications. This changes the perception across all stakeholder groups: Now they’re solving immediate problems for their customers and rising to meet opportunity as it appears, instead of just generating ideas.
While it’s not the same approach as finding the next billion-dollar idea for your company, challenges that seek to solve problems for customers provide what every innovation program requires—impact. They also tend to involve different areas of the company—like operations, human resources, and customer care—that may not typically be involved in product-focused innovation programs.
This is the really clever part of turning the perception of innovation on its head. The innovators I talked with described that offering different types of engagement to senior leaders immediately changed the value proposition for their programs. All of a sudden, they were no longer tied to long-term, high-risk innovation projects.
Instead, they were able to show tangible value much earlier by capturing ideas that improved their organization’s NPS score or generating ideas that reduce employee churn. These types of ideas offer much more agility when it comes to execution, and ultimately, much more impact for the company. Even more importantly, more of them can be delivered at a faster pace.
When you involve more brains in more diverse types of challenge, you significantly increase your probability of finding a winning idea. You’re able to spot ideas, problems, and opportunities much quicker by leveraging the diversity of thought. All of this enables you to show the value of your innovation program much sooner than if you had to wait on a long-term project.
While it’s true that innovation management is about finding the next breakthrough product or service at your organization, it’s also more than that. You need to continually tap into the collective intelligence of your employees and create an innovation culture. And when you listen to different perspectives, you can provide leadership with something that is far more valuable than “being an innovative company”—you’ll be uncovering real customer problems and generating front-line ideas on how to solve them.