Six Sigma, Lean, 5S, Kaizen, Value Stream Mapping, Business Excellence: they’re all great. They all work. But is it enough? Doing the same thing as everyone else is hardly going to put you at the head of the pack. But following rules of innovation will.
Most improvement initiatives only take you so far. In the 21st century we need to move beyond improvement. There’s no doubt about it, today the competitive advantage lies in building a culture of innovation. Just ask the team at Google, or at Apple.
Today’s best companies create a culture where everyone is engaged, where everyone can contribute and where good ideas are systematically captured, tested and applied.
If you need innovation to stick, to be generating ideas and increasing productivity in a year, or in a decade, then there are eight simple rules for innovation to follow:
1. Clearly understand and articulate the reason for innovation.
Innovation means change, and people resist change, so you need a pretty convincing story to get them to discard the old ways and do things differently.
2. Choose your approach wisely.
Believe it or not, there’s more than one way to become innovative, but which way is right for you? Good ones include a set of guiding principles, a strong focus on leaders’ role modelling of behaviours, an innovation process and a toolkit with innovation tools and techniques. Talk to someone with the experience to know what works and what doesn’t – it will save you time and money.
3. Adopt sound governance arrangements.
It takes time to develop a culture of innovation and, like the Costa Concordia, it’s easy to run aground. In the early days, the innovation program will need a guiding hand to provide support and to show the way.
You’ll need an oversight group of influential pacesetters – it could be the management team or a group of representatives from across the organisation. You may only need one group for the whole organisation or an oversight group in each division.
You will also need to consider some roles and responsibilities. For example, you will need an internal coordinator for at least the first year to coordinate implementation activities. And most innovation programs use internal facilitators or champions. These people are experts in the innovation methodology and work with teams to ensure their success.
4. Develop innovation capability.
People have the latent capability to innovate, it just needs to be drawn out and facilitated through training in creative thinking and innovation tools and techniques. This is more than the traditional problem solving skills; it is about unleashing their potential.
5. Engage managers as role models.
We can’t say it too often – any innovation program will fail without authentic and active support from senior management. And it’s not just senior staff you need to worry about. Middle level managers in particular feel threatened by change and often present the most resistance.
How do managers in successful innovation programs differ from yours? They identify and role model behaviours that are consistent with an innovative culture; they do it 24/7; and they constantly monitor and reflect on their behaviours to avoid slippage.
6. Develop an implementation strategy and plan.
An innovation program can be implemented in different ways. Issues to consider include: where to start; what rate of change can we absorb; and how do we test it to make sure we’ve got it right?
7. Agree on your change management approach.
Resistance to change will occur. Accept that fact and develop an approach to recognising and dealing with change issues that can mitigate the negative effects. Use multiple communication channels. Consider how to recognise the achievers; how to motivate the indifferents; and how to deal with the disrupters.
8. Evaluate your innovation program.
No one gets it right the first time, so plan to evaluate and tweak as you go. A good evaluation plan that includes measures of success, developed early, is essential for success. Decide early on how and when you will evaluate the program, and what measures of success should be used.
A few innovations will fly like an enormous six scored off a full toss. Fantastic.
But most innovative suggestions are singles – ideas that make a small, but meaningful difference. Together they add up to something substantial. And so will your bottom line.
Creating an innovation culture takes time and effort. It requires genuine and meaningful change.
But the proven benefits – increased profits, enhanced productivity, better staff retention – allow you to move beyond your competitors and into the A League.
Isn’t that where you’d rather be?