“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Peter Drucker is still right. No matter how good the strategy, you ignore culture at your peril. Innovation, at the end of the day, is people-centric. People who are passionately dissatisfied, who care enough to change and give you the chance of having better innovation.

Even with a clear strategic focus, extensive future roadmap and a well-designed process, innovation impact is still not guaranteed. Organisations must remember that they are powered by people not machines. Leaders must create an environment for innovation to thrive, not just survive. Without this, say goodbye to sustainable innovation impact.

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Understanding culture brings us to the ‘Manage’ stage of our Better Innovation framework. Manage is not an afterthought, and must be considered upfront.

Innovation is an exploration, not a well-trodden path. Hence why it’s hard. The key to a successful exploration is bringing back new discoveries to the ‘known’ world.

Every exploration has a purpose, and everyone must be aligned to that goal. You can’t have half the team going north, and half heading south. The direction is set, but as inevitable adjustments are made, each course correction must still align with the original intention.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

A phrase that haunts every family car journey. But how will you measure progress towards those innovation ambitions? Traction metrics and indicators help you see where you are; these aren’t activity measures, they are unique impact metrics. It’s not about how far you travel, it’s about whether you are closer to the goal.

At Allianz, we published our innovation pipeline metrics each month; the whole organisation could see how each division was performing, both good and bad. This transparency led to a corporate ownership of performance, uniting focus and efforts.

Shift the balance in innovation’s favour for target setting. Remember that status quo creates inertia, so innovation needs to become a key performance metric for individuals to drive home the importance. Here we give a shout out again to 3M for this powerful metric that drives innovation through the organisation:

30% of a 3M division’s revenue must come from products less than 4 years old

You see, innovation programs need accountability to become embedded into an organisation. Underground innovation movements, although excitingly maverick in nature, often don’t get the support they need to really deliver the outcomes required. Establish an innovation office and you can ensure innovation gets taken seriously.

There are many ways that the innovation office can operate: central control mode, hub-spoke model or an agency approach; it depends on the organisation. Just make sure the mode of operation is agreed and steered by a strategic governance board; bringing responsibility for performance back into the leadership level.

What about exploration team dynamics?

Back to the exploration analogy. The team must be engaged with the mission, i.e., want it to happen and succeed. To be successful, they need to collaborate, know their role and when they are needed. Communication is vital, brief, authentic and often is best.

All levels in an organisation must have a voice. Exclusivity can kill ideas and, here’s a little secret, the best ideas rarely come from the top level. Shhh…

Give praise. Many of us are motivated by recognition, not reward, so be generous with praise to maintain engagement and reinforce success.

Cisco’s Innovate Everywhere program recognises the role of the whole innovation community; the idea creators, the idea teams, the investors who spot the good ideas, the implementers and the idea sponsors. They know it needs the community effort to have success.

The ease of engaging a workforce to innovate will depend on:

  • current levels of engagement;
  • how much the leadership is trusted;
  • how much change is happening; and,
  • how much they buy into the overall mission.
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Our framework comes out of our frustration and our perceived need to make innovation better.

Every organisation’s innovation journey is unique; buck the trend and make your innovation better.

In a series of posts, we share how to make innovation better. To read the  series, please find the links below:

  1. Making Innovation Better
  2. A Better Innovation Approach
  3. A Why is Needed to Innovate Better
  4. Better Innovation Execution
  5. Creating a Better Innovation Culture