Implementing Innovation

Innovation has been a hot topic for business leaders for several years but for too many people it can mean different things. I define innovation as the introduction of a new idea that forms a product, process or service. For organizations, innovation is the enabler of growth and is the stepping stone to new frontiers on the web, across the globe and in a variety of partnerships and relationships. But many organizations are overwhelmed with work and face a talent shortage in the key aspects of their business.

The leaders and managers of these businesses are expected to deliver operational excellence every day and continually innovate to renew the business. So how do employees get the “real” work done and also make time for innovation? Do they even have time to innovate?

Business executives expect managers at all levels to play a central role in driving innovation, regardless of whether technology is a strategic weapon or a base commodity in the strategy. It is equally important for people to unleash creativity to drive innovative solutions for operational problems as it is for aggressive organizations to pursue differentiation through innovation. Many CIO’s and leaders report that their teams are so bogged down in day to day activities that creativity and innovation are stifled.

Get innovation into your culture and on your agenda. Innovation is sustainable when it becomes embedded in the culture of your company.  There are two quick actions you can take to build creativity and competence in innovation, thereby improving both performance and the bottom line:

Daily work: One aspect of every job should be continuous improvement and “incremental innovation” in the work done every day. You already participate in many efforts to redesign, improve or update your methodologies, standards, business processes, applications, or architecture. However, top organizations identify incremental innovation as a specific accountability. They hold people accountable for performance and productivity improvements. They use metrics to measure the results. These companies are intentional about expecting innovations as a part of every team member’s job. Find those items most important in your organization and drive your teams to help reach those goals in new and creative ways.  Know where innovation comes from and how to drive creativity. Enabling innovation as an organic process is viewed as the quickest way to see gains.

Forced Innovation: Forced innovation comes about as a result of a situation or problem people are facing. When stressed either by crisis or issues they have no previous knowledge of or experience with people often find creative and innovative solutions. Issues such as lost market share, declining revenue, competitive threats or emerging technologies can often be tackled best by team members who are new to the problems. Just like that new CEO who makes powerful changes in his first weeks, new team members can offer innovative solutions to on-going problems. Creating a program that allows team members to join new teams outside their area of specialty for short periods of time can often drive new ways of thinking. It also carries the added benefit of fostering cross-team relationships, broadening skills and experience. By continuing to interject new challenges in strong diverse teams, new ways of thinking often result.

To inspire and channel innovation toward any area of focus, organizations need a ready workforce with intrinsic creative capabilities. It is difficult to foster creativity and drive innovation while always being focused on near-term priorities. Continuing to hold the middle ground between failure and success breeds complacency and makes innovation difficult or impossible to achieve. To stoke creativity, drive an innovative culture by continually challenging teams, measuring their progress and introducing stress through change.

The use of qualified consultants on high priority, high risk or mission critical projects is often seen as an ideal opportunity to force innovation and foster changes to the routine work flow. Professional consultants thrive in new environments, carry a broad knowledge set and excel at getting up to speed quickly. They’ve experienced the problem-solution life cycle at numerous companies across various industries and are prime candidates for creative problem solving. As a consultant myself, I’m always focused on long term gains for the client, often implementing solutions that offer continuous benefits well into the future.

Finally, it’s important to have goals around innovation. Is this just a hot topic or does your organization have a specific need? Take time to step back, observe where the internal and external growth should come from, and then focus on that area.

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