Often when we think of innovation, our minds wander to global innovation, think Apple, Virgin, Facebook, Tesla and other significant ‘game changers’. Our thoughts don’t always go to the small wins and changes we can make within our own teams, department or businesses. Even if they do, often as business owners and directors the second thought can go to the perceived financial investments required to innovate and this is where many innovation programs end.
As leaders, we need to think of innovation differently. While some financial resources are required, it doesn’t have to be a significant investment - the real challenge faced by everyday businesses is accomplishing a move to introduce innovation when they are time poor.
Did you know that a well-executed innovation program can have a significant positive impact on staff engagement, leading to improved retention and employee satisfaction? Creating a sense of ownership and empowerment across an organisation brings together teams and colleagues to find and create new ways of doing things well. On top of improved engagement, some of the key benefits of an internal innovation program include:
- Improved customer outcomes
- Increased workplace problem solving and productivity
- Identification of efficiencies
- Cost reduction
- Increased competitiveness
While the introduction of an innovation culture needs to be supported from the top down, the actual execution of this doesn’t need to be implemented purely at these levels. Employees of all levels are often the perfect resource to engage and encourage ownership throughout the process.
Here are some of our favourite ways to get started when introducing or renewing an innovation program:
The key to getting people on board lies in defining just what’s expected of the program. What outcomes are you working towards, what will success look like? Initial outcomes when setting up the program can include:
- Representation on innovation committee by every department
- Ideas portal set up to capture ideas
- Ideas reviewed quarterly and feedback provided
- X number of ideas presented to board/ executives/decision makers for implementation
Gain buy-in and demonstrate support
Consider which staff will work as key sponsors for the program. Who are the team influencers that can support the effort and own the program from a leadership perspective? Effective leadership support in an innovation program helps demonstrate to employees that the business is taking the initiative seriously. Leadership support and oversight can also support the group when they are working through ideas and prioritising with business goals in mind. It’s this type of support that can set an innovation program up to thrive.
Establish a core Innovation Team
While everyone in the business is encouraged to present ideas for innovation and fresh initiatives, the innovation team meet at regular intervals to review the initiatives that have been submitted, as well as assess their merit against key metrics determined by the business. You may find that a number of teams are already sharing ideas and new ways of doing things - you want to harness this and encourage it to continue on the larger scale. On top of this, encouraging teams to submit initiatives they have introduced locally will encourage creative thinking, increased productivity and the sharing best practice across the business.
Decide on the scale of ideas
Think about the size and scope of ideas that you are looking to generate, then assess how you will be able to develop and implement them. There will be a mix of smaller initiatives and quick-wins alongside significant product, process, and system change initiatives. Determine what the team will be responsible for, and what is out of scope to be handed off to its own standalone project.
Make it easy for employees to innovate. Provide them with templates to form and generate their ideas. While the purpose of the innovation team will be to review ideas and initiatives, ideally, you want the individuals and teams within the business to take ownership for their ideas initially and document as much information as they can in their submittal. This is about accountability and ensuring that the concept has passed through more than just idea generation before coming to the team.
This may include things like
- Perceived benefits
- Potential risks
- Known barriers
- Departments impacted
Establish a communication plan
Set and agree on the communication frequency and channel. In addition to the launch communication plan, ideally, momentum will build and be sustained through the communication that comes out from the business and innovation team regarding achievements. This can include ideas submitted, ideas progressing and of course, ideas implemented. As they say, ‘success breeds success’ and the more employees see ideas progressing and getting actioned, the more likely they are to keep submitting and thinking of innovation opportunities. Regular communication says to the business that this is important and is on the radar.
Innovation doesn’t have to mean just big wins and big-ticket items. It doesn’t have to be a costly program, or culture to manage. A thoughtfully designed and executed program can have a significant impact on team morale and employee engagement, as well as identify numerous opportunities where changes can be made or introduced to improve.