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Jo Geraghty

Director

Innovating inside the corporate machine

Date added: 08th Dec 2016
Category: Innovation Culture

I’d like to make one thing clear from the outset: delivering excellence through innovation is not a passing fad, nor is it something dreamt up by business theoreticians which is destined to stay firmly on the pages of a book.

Quite simply, building a culture of innovation delivers game changing, market leading results. For those who have already gone down that route, these include:

● improving the customer experience (90%)
● cost savings (90%), and
● improvement in ideas through collaboration (79%). [1]

Even those who may not yet have adopted the innovation imperative are rapidly gaining an understanding of the importance of innovation. 97% acknowledge that culture is increasingly a focus for investors and shareholders [2] whilst 79% of executives report their commitment to innovation is very high or growing.[3] But that very enthusiasm can bring its own challenges, not the least for those who don’t necessarily sit on the executive team but nevertheless have the responsibility for leading and delivering innovation.

As a corporate leader you may have responsibility for a strategic business unit or a project team, you may have been brought in to move the organisation towards an innovation pathway or you may simply understand the potential of an innovation culture and be trying to build a more innovative mindset within your organisation. Whatever your situation, enabling innovation within the corporate machine is not always a happy path.

In our recent book, ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’, we outline many of the challenges faced and provide a practical framework for addressing them. In this post I want to delve into 2 particular areas we see leaders and their teams grappling with: balancing the need for process and control.

Catching the leaders’ chaos

It can be tempting to equate innovation purely with idea generation, but whilst that is undoubtedly important, your innovation efforts are really designed to bring new products, processes and business models into your organisation. In other words, the fruits of your innovation should be delivering some kind of benefit to your bottom line.

Ideally, the outcomes of your innovation should be clearly aligned to the strategic goals of your organisation. This helps to provide a focus to your work, because you should be under no illusion that innovation does come with costs involved. There are time costs involved in people coming up with and then assessing ideas. There are financial, political and time costs involved in taking the best ideas and testing them in the marketplace. Understanding these costs help you to focus your efforts and not engage in untargeted free-for-alls that do little to really help your competitiveness in the marketplace.

Leadership plays a crucial role in this process, and leaders need to understand that their role is to inspire and facilitate, it isn’t to show off their own ideas and use their position to push them through regardless of their relative quality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you have a leader that buys-into innovation, but change is tough, so their energies should be spent ensuring that those corporate antibodies don’t sink any of the great ideas that emerge from the process.

This may not be as sexy, or indeed as fun, as the ideation side of the equation, but it is crucial if those ideas are going to translate into revenue, so it’s one that the innovation leaders need to take incredibly seriously. Your core job is to ensure that the ideas generated find their way to fruition successfully and efficiently. We all know the stories of poorly run projects that creep inch by inch away from their scope and become ever more expensive with each passing day. Your role is to ensure that doesn’t happen to your project.

In an ideal world, the solution is for the leadership to be clear on its intentions, to give guidance on priority and to ensure that budget and manpower and the infrastructure is in place to enable solutions to be delivered.

But, who lives in an ideal world? If you’re not then you need a strong individual within the direct team of the leader who can catch the idea, challenge the priority and create an order out of a bit of chaos. Either way, if you don’t the lack of clarity will cause more disruption, frustration, wasted effort and delays in delivering innovation.

Innovation within the confines of corporate processes

All organisation will have their annualised strategic, operational and budgeting cycles often taking place months in advance of a new financial year. Many corporate planning processes are led by the strategy or finance team who have a process which necessitates a business case for investment spend. The challenge for innovation leaders is about securing the right funding for the things you’ll want to do, whilst at the same time giving yourselves enough manoeuvre on what specifically you are actually going to deliver.

Some innovation leaders try to fight the governance processes, saying it needs to change to accommodate an innovation culture. This may be true, but in the short term how much change are you actually going to bring to the corporate governance machine – it will ultimately need to change, but does that become your priority or do you find a way of ducking and diving?

So how do you navigate the constraints of process and control? Ultimately you need to have the courage of your convictions – walk the tightrope balancing enough detail but not too much to be constrained. But, at the same time start to educate the process owners on the case for changing the governance processes, moving them gradually towards a more innovative approach. Then when the time is right, you can start engaging them in loosening some of the rigid requirements of the process, whilst still satisfying the fundamental requirements.

Your task will be made easier if you can undertake a little stakeholder management with the key guardians and influences of the governance process, but you aren’t going to achieve transformation overnight. In your innovation mix, this is probably a challenge for the ‘incremental’ improvement list. Think of this as a journey and don’t try to take too much on board once, no matter how frustrating it may be in the short term.
Whether you face one or both of these scenarios, finding the right balance of control is key for every innovation leader.

 

 

[1] Wazoku everyday innovation report – https://www.wazoku.com/everyday-innovation/
[2] EY report June 2016 – http://www.ey.com/UK/en/Newsroom/News-releases/16-06-09—Investment-in-culture-boosting-financial-performance-of-FTSE-350
[3] BPI Business Performance Innovation Network “Innovation the new Competitive Equation” http://www.brightidea.com/wp-content/uploads/BPI_Innovation_Report.pdf

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