We still do not seem to understand all the linkages that make up innovation. We just continue to struggle because we don’t connect all the essential parts together. We need to. I think there are different components that when combined can form the innovation ‘glue.’
Let me suggest some that can be combined well within a broader framework I think is emerging from work I’m currently working upon.
People are the last great innovation frontier and great connectors
People are essential across all of innovation and its useful production; innovation does not work unless you have full engagement, commitment and desire from the people involved. Everything else we provide in tools, techniques and methods only enables and supports that one vital cog in the need to turn the innovation wheel, our people, and their commitment to ‘generate to innovate’.
Innovation is the last people-centric process. While many other business processes or functions have changed consistently over the decades, innovation has been placing more demands on its people than any other business process or function and as yet, we cannot automate this. We rely on engagement, on relying on people wanting to be involved, sometimes we simply just seem to hope with the lack of support or encouragement they often seem to get!
How do we make this happen?
We do try to support our innovating people through attempting to automate the innovation idea process as we require them to generate ideas, to evaluate ideas, to judge ideas, to select ideas and to develop new products and services from the original mass and deluge of idea generation, that can seemingly be kicked out from a plethora of search options. How we then set about managing these through the innovation process always does need a lot of human intervention and sorting.
Automating the process can only go so far.
We must provide real, powerful linkages that associate what we see with what is needed to be achieved. Alignment to organization goals can be terribly illusive if we don’t have really good innovation frameworks and understandings. We often generate innovation just for the ‘sake of it’ and this is a real pity and can produce gross under utilization of the assets we have available, to make our innovation efforts really count.
Little of the work associated with innovation can be truly automated, and much of it requires active, engaged, trained people in order to do the work effectively, otherwise it labours and dies in the back of some research lab, or buried in some files held on a marketing person’s computer
So are we providing motivations enough?
Innovation, however, should ultimately result in benefits to the organization and this is where we often get a little caught up. We focus on the organization not the people who make it up. We tie metrics and measures to broad organization goals and let’s be totally honest, do those buried in the boiler room relate, honestly?
Of course offering benefits or incentives should align to strategic goals, and therefore can be measured in terms like revenue growth, share growth, market awareness, clear differentiation from competitors’ products and services, recognized leadership position in a market place and many other factors. Yet it is of more importance to establish clear innovation goals that are far more touchable,and pertinent to our own working domain. We need to work far more on constantly evaluate innovation returns on each persons contribution within their immediate space, using measures and metrics that are attuned to their innovation activities, certainly beyond the ‘simple’ ROI, as many roles don’t get measured this way.
You need to measure their progress and equally drive corrective actions on their contributions that are, perhaps very granular but where the individual involved can have measured their personal contribution. We simply don’t work hard enough at this defining, refining and realizing for their personal advancement and idenitification in innovation activities enough. We always seem to seek to consolidate the bigger picture, not break it down into the minuscule parts that contribute to the whole and really work at cascading this back up, is it so difficult?
We measure innovation in different ways, through hard, quantifiable targets but also in how we influence and make things happen. Executives need to shape innovation through a mix of incentives that promote inspiration, offer motivation and generate excitement. Highly extrinsic transactional drivers must be combined with more intrinsic transformational aspects.
Executives must also establish timely, appropriate innovation milestones and measurements based on metrics defined by that person’s contribution. Of course innovation metrics must align to corporate goals and expected outcomes but the intrinsic nature of innovation is far more relevant to the individual and these often motivate them far more, than ‘hard’ measures. These hard measures are often based on, for the individual, nebulous goals set high in the clouds of the organization. We need to find out what would work on the ground, at the grass root level, to engage each person and motivate them to contribute to innovation that does delivers into the need of the organization, that is well-articulated, crafted, connected and understood for them.
Innovation that is well designed can achieve Strategic Alignment
Executives need to consciously work daily for alignment of their agreed goals, so as to fit resources and activities together in novel ways so as to ensure all the assets that can be deployed are well deployed, to their most productive use for innovation. There is for many, a lot of effort going into this already but it often without a cohesive innovation framework. We need to look at this comprehensive approach far more. I seriously doubt that many managers can claim they are in possession of such a comprehensive framework today that constructs innovation and fully aligns its constituent parts.
We get caught up in politics, compromise, unhealthy alliances, ambition, silos and greed all seem to often kick in, I’m sure we all could name a few others. We struggle all the time for alignment, yet it is critical for ongoing success, yet many firms lack really well thought through innovation strategies or linkages between it, and connect to the overarching strategy of our organizations. Then we begin the chase, like the dog getting more frantic in trying to chase its own tail while going round in faster circles until it simply gives up. The smart move is in sitting down, so we all can achieve the end result of aligning innovation to your organizations goals and strategy and then really work through how to do it well and not chase our tails. We do need to apply a lot more thought to connecting the parts of innovation really well.
Alignment begins when innovation is strongly linked to strategic goals, and continues as people, activities and funding are aligned to the goal of consistent, sustained innovation. Innovation is uncertain, unusual and risky. The only organization that can manage innovation effectively and consistently, is an organization that is designed and aligned to sustained innovation. Aligning resources and directing the focus of the organization is the role of senior executives, so innovation success starts with vision, engagement and commitment from the most senior executives and then working through all the combining elements that make up innovation so it can integrated into a clear innovation framework . From my research there are critical linkages that when combined will make this happen.
Can we combine all innovation elements for strategic organizational success?
I wrote recently in a blog “From a buzzword to the imperative” that I keep coming back to the leadership of innovation; we need to move it from the peripheral to a more central one for innovation to be constantly successful. Wherever possible, executive should actively engage in innovation, to demonstrate commitment. When the organization sees that executive management is actively engaged, they understand the importance of innovation, they become motivated, they become aligned through a growing identification but they need this explained, to be framed so they know where, why and how they fit into this bigger picture.
Simply by communicating the purpose for innovation, innovation successes and innovation activities are some of the top roles for senior executives but it has to be in a well worked through in some really coherent ways, offering a comprehensive framework and not piecemeal as most organizations tend to do. You then eventually get to the point where this engagement, commitment and effort brings the organizations people together and they begin to value and relate to this consistent framework.
This then becomes a common platform for innovation to be housed under and is gradually developed into the common language that becomes central in good communications and practices across organizations. These forces that combine place innovation in its appropriate context to deliver on the strategic goals and aspirations set.
I believe we can get towards this ‘point’ with some thoughts and structures can make an enormous difference to innovation. I feel if we can gain some much-needed traction on bridging the clear leadership gap on innovation for building for the long term success they certainly seem to crave for, out of innovation, then we can generate the sustaining growth for their businesses that combines short term needs with long-term goals.
image credit: nationalacrobatsofchina.com
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.