Whether you lead a team, a business line or a whole company, it’s clear that innovation is the key to sustainable success. But just saying we need to be more innovative isn’t enough. You need to make tangible innovation part of your strategy.
Step 1: Define your innovation goals. It is important to back your innovation initiative with concrete goals. For example, one of 3M’s objectives is to increase revenue from new products. This translates to a specific (tangible) goal for 40% of their annual revenue to be from new products, by 2015. Conversely, research shows that lip service to innovation can do more harm than good by de-motivating constituents.
Step 2: Establish metrics. How will you know your goal is being met? Having a measurable and transparent way of assessing progress is crucial to your cause. When it comes to product innovation, revenues from new products is a popular innovation metric, but many others exist that might be more appropriate for your particular goal - and more useful for keeping programs on track. For example, you might measure customer satisfaction with new products, change in market share due to new products, and number of new products at various stages of the development pipeline. Keep in mind that metrics are a great way to track success, and also a great way to know when you have come untracked and need to alter your approach.
Step 3: Put a system or process in place. Just because you defined it doesn’t mean that it is possible…YET. Often, people don’t know how to contribute to innovation goals set by the company’s management, or they don’t understand how their role is linked to the overall objective. For that reason, it is important to put a system in place that facilitates the attainment of your goals by your people. Good systems address responsibility and incentives, timing and milestones, and access to resources, and so forth. Examples of systems that facilitate innovation are Jam Events at IBM, FedEx day Atlassian, and the Connect and Develop Program at Procter & Gamble.
Step 4: Put a policy in place. Don’t imagine anything too complicated here. You simply need to put a few simple guidelines together so people know what behavior is expected and allowed. Innovation requires people to behave differently than they are accustomed to, so a little bit of guidance and permission goes a long way in reaching your goals. For example, Google’s 20% time has a major influence on fostering the creative climate their offices are know for.
We have heard numerous stories, first-hand, of innovation initiatives that failed to achieve much of anything, other than becoming a new entry in a company’s long line of flavor-of-the-month failures. You can’t simply speak innovation into existence; you have to make it tangible, and real.
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