Let’s assume you have the money and time to spend. Would you go on a journey without a goal or plan?
Much as everyone would love to travel, doing so without a goal or a plan is not something most would. If you indeed did so, be prepared for uncertain outcomes.
However, that is what many organizations are doing with innovation and digital transformation. Organizations are venturing into innovation and digital initiatives without specific goal or a plan. Even though one can argue that innovation and digital are the right things to do and your future may depend on it, doing so without a goal or a plan is not the way to get results.
In a recent public innovation masterclass that we held at Chennai, the participants were very clear; innovation efforts at organizations are struggling for lack of goals and strategy, culture was the 3rd missing element. Capabilities and process were not as big a concern.
Here are the top mistakes managements commit with innovation efforts. These aren’t necessarily in any order.
Start without articulating the need for innovation. This is especially true when the business plan clearly defines the path to growth and targets, with well-defined efforts. To employees then, innovation is a nice thing to have and represents an opportunity. They will focus on business as usual (that is what management expects to deliver the goals) and they treat innovation as some competition to amuse the management.
Not setting innovation goals. Everyone knows that if goals aren’t set things don’t move. This is true with innovation as well. Worse still, companies convert new product introduction targets as innovation goals. This leads employees to believe that innovation is an R&D and sales program; they tend to associate innovation with new products.
Not setting out criteria for evaluating innovation ideas. Despite bottlenecks, if ideas do surface, there are no criteria for evaluating them in many organizations. Without a well-articulated goal or plan, the evaluation team begins to apply existing investment guidelines to evaluate the innovation ideas; what is the market size? What is the investment required? What is the ROI? etc. A certain recipe for ensuring nothing moves forward.
Implement a tool such as design thinking. A number of organizations focus on tools as the method for innovation. Organizations and employees have long been trained about creative thinking, brainstorming, problem-solving, QFD, voice of the customer, etc. as part of the quality movement. When they are reintroduced to many of these same concepts under a “design thinking” program they tend to be extremely confused and the program loses its credibility. (I for one don’t mean that design thinking is equal to these tools, but if you do happen to attend a design thinking workshop, trainers spend a lot of time on these tools. May be comfort with familiarity?). The same goes for creativity workshops; oh didn’t we attend the 6 thinking hats workshop before?
Claim that we have always been an innovative company. Nothing kills an innovation program faster than the CEO claiming that they are already an innovative company. Employees begin to wonder that if we are innovative, why do we need anything new?
Not defining what is innovation. In an urge to motivate employees, many simple kaizens and quick fixes are highlighted as innovation in the organization. Examples such as “he came up with a brilliant innovation of using a fan at the end of the conveyor line to blow the empty soap packet”, does nothing to promote innovation within the organization. If you wanted a cost reduction program start one, don’t confuse it with innovation.
If you want success with innovation efforts, you need to plan the efforts carefully and with significant deliberation. The output from your innovation will not be immediate and will take time to fructify. We suggest doing the following.
Get everyone in the leadership team and the board on a common page with regard to innovation, it’s meaning and relevance for your organization. Invite an expert to talk to your board and management team about innovation, how to manage it and get guidance on what the organization should be doing.
If you have everyone on the board and management team aligned on what is the meaning of innovation for your organization, clearly articulate what additional value beyond the existing business plan, should innovation deliver? If your business plan shows that the existing and known capabilities can deliver all goals today, tomorrow and future, you don’t need innovation. However, do check if in the past the goals have been consistently delivered.
Make sure innovation is not some nice additional growth for the business but is a core part of your business strategy. Integrate innovation goals into your plans and identify strategic initiatives. Make sure these reflect what needs to be done today to ensure future goals are met.
Make sure your innovation aspirations are aligned with the capabilities. Do you have the process, leadership style, culture, capabilities, and people to succeed with innovation efforts?
Finally, develop a management system that will ensure the success of innovation efforts. The processes and discipline required for delivering your core business will struggle to manage innovation; the knowledge management, risks, futuristic outlook required, etc.
Krishnan is a consultant with more than 25 years of experience. His purpose is to help India and it's entrepreneurs be global leaders in innovation