While many organizations recognize innovation and view it as necessary, most look at innovation milestones as serendipitous discoveries and shy away from making any formal success strategies. This is a mistake.
Innovation is an anchor that keeps modern businesses afloat, propels growth and shields them from future risk, but its success largely depends on having a solid plan in place that includes the following:
1. A Dedicated Innovation Team
Innovation is fundamentally about creating something new or improved — and sometimes that includes your team. The most important ingredient is people that are not only intelligent, creative and highly skilled but also understand and are dedicated to the mission. They need to be masterful multitaskers, collaborators and mindreaders — not all at once, but you need each of those personalities on the team. You cannot allow micro-managers or “we’ve always done it that way” company soldiers to inhabit this space, or else you’re dooming it failure.
As an organization, you must focus on attracting and retaining the right employees as an important part of your innovation strategy.
2. Executive/C-Suite Support for Innovating
Right next to employees are the leaders who inspire motivation, creativity and unwavering determination.
Reporting on the findings of a research they conducted, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen write, “Innovative leaders spent approximately 31 percent of their time actively engaged in innovation-centered activities compared to only 15 percent by leaders of less innovative companies. Doubling the time a senior leader personally invests in getting new ideas typically delivers significant returns.”
A dedicated team of executives — or at the very least, one — is essential to an innovation program’s success.
3. Business Objectives Tied to Mission Statement
As with every other initiative, the innovation strategy should be aligned with goals and objectives that connect directly back to your company’s mission statement. This helps ensure executive buy-in and adds clarity to a somewhat blurry process. This also ensures that your organization never compromises on what it stands for and intends to achieve in the long run as you pursue a new direction in the name of innovation. Otherwise, you might follow a path that just doesn’t fit with the company’s culture and that could be not only costly, but career-ending.
In setting objectives, it’s important to get the employees involved too — both for feedback and to use it as an opportunity to realign your team on company goals. It will help them understand the mission much better and more willing to participate. And be sure to include the entire company in your innovation efforts too — as alienating sections creates barriers, lack of commitment and lost thought leadership.
4. Innovation Labs
Innovation labs enhance your ecosystem. With an innovation lab, you create a group that is consistently and exclusively focused on innovation.
The roles of these labs can vary from fostering social innovation and localized co-production of solutions to common problems to researching and recording what works, through shared learning. Other labs focus on encouraging collaboration across sectors and departments while others are about seeding and incubation.
Before setting up the lab, first understand what your organization needs most so you establish it with a primary purpose in mind. And be sure to staff it with a winning team (as addressed above!).
5. An Innovation Program
A formalized innovation program not only keeps ideas organized and moving forward, it demonstrates your company’s commitment to innovation. This is essential to fostering a culture of innovation in your organization. It provides a platform where innovative thinking is celebrated, success is tracked and rewarded and misfires can be learned from for the next round.
And it can help with employee retention, as everyone can participate and feel like an essential part of the team.
6. A Plan for Hosting Hackathons
A hackathon is an event that gets creative minds together in small teams to create and demo products or a features on an existing product within a specified amount of time — usually 24 or 48 hours.
Hosting hackathons inspires innovation among your employees and provides an exceptional learning experience for everyone involved. As Lisa Evans notes in Fast Company, “Some of the most innovative companies have embraced hackathons to promote innovation.” And with astounding success.
But beyond the hackathon itself, it’s crucial to keep that momentum going, and that’s where a hackathon app comes in, as everything worth a person’s time these days is mobile-accessible. And even better when you’re able to remotely and “rapidly build teams, have them collaborate, and manage the entire event — all online,” including:
- Share a schedule of events
- Build excitement and momentum around your event
- Submit questions and ideas to the hackathon organizers
- Track submissions as they progress through phases
- Create criteria for hackathon submissions and evaluate those submissions
- Interact with other judges/participants
- Send updates to participants as event is happening
7. A Way to Measure Objectives and/or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Measuring the impact of innovation is a simple thing when its hosted within an innovation program. You’ll be able to measure the number of ideas generated and subsets of those ideas, including which departments are experiencing more success and how long it takes to move from ideation to implementation. All of these steps can be tracked back to hard numbers that can then be reported to the C-suite to help justify your innovation program’s existence, and expansion. Same goes for your innovation team — and lab!
And if you’re tracking innovation outside of a program, it gets a bit more labor intensive, but it’s not impossible. You’ll just want to be very clear around what you’re tracking and how from the very beginning to make the process meaningful.
Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind is this: Innovating is not just about capturing those "A-ha!" moments that come to you in the middle of the night. There’s lots to consider and many companies have blazed an innovation path for you to follow.