The leaders of successful small companies understand how important it is to have the right people in the right position. When resources are slim, the ability of everyone to do their job well matters tremendously. One or two weak links can spell the difference between success and failure. So it will come as no surprise when I say that people matter more than ideas when it comes to making innovation of all types happen.
You should take a moment to think about that because many innovation initiatives fail miserably because their leaders don’t understand this simple fact. In fact, it is actually more important to have grade-A people than it is to have a slew of grade-A ideas. Why? Because grade-A people can take a grade-B idea—or perhaps even a grade-C idea—and turn it into a successful reality. Grade-B people, on the other hand, will struggle with even truly great ideas.
If we take this to world of small business, the big question is whether you have enough available grade-A people within your organization who can take great ideas, whether they come from inside or outside the company, and turn them into reality.
When large corporations tackle this question, their answer is simple; with their large body of employees, they can easily switch great people to other projects. But for a small company with its smaller staff, you simply don’t have the ability to do that. In this case, it is particularly critical to identify and develop people with the attributes and skills needed to turn an idea into a finished product or service. So before you get all fired up about generating a ton of ideas, first figure out how you’re going to match those ideas to people who can make things happen.
As you start this work, here’s another key point to remember: The skills needed to lead and manage a project within the existing core business—where innovation is likely to be incremental and resources plentiful—are significantly different from the skills needed to overcome the challenges and obstacles that greet almost any new business project involving breakthrough or radical innovation. And this is especially challenging in small companies where resources may be hard to come by. You need to staff new business projects with people who have a mindset and toolbox that match this different challenge.
You also need different people for the different phases of the innovation process, which presents another challenge for small companies. Just as some entrepreneurs are better at running a company at its very early stage and others are better at helping the business scale once the product is launched, so, too, are there intrapreneurs who are better suited both in terms of mindset and skills to various phases of the innovation process.
For example, the discovery-innovation-acceleration (D-I-A) model of innovation put forward by the Radical Innovation Group identifies three phases of innovation:
- Basic research: internal and external hunting.
- Creation, recognition, elaboration, and articulation of opportunities.
- Application development: technical, market learning, market creation, strategic domains.
- Evolving opportunities into business propositions: creating a working hypothesis about what the technology platform could enable in the market, what the market space will ultimately look like, and what the business model will be.
- Early market entry: focus, respond, invest.
- Ramping up the fledgling business to a point where it can stand on its own, relative to other business platforms in the ultimate receiving unit.
This model has been used with success at many companies, which have learned that only very few people have the skills to move from heading the project in the discovery phase to heading it during the acceleration phase. The challenge this presents for small companies is obvious. With far fewer personnel to choose from, it can be tough to fill all the slots identified in this model. The good thing is that you can identify people with the right mindset and then start working on their toolbox. Making people more ready for innovation by continuously developing their toolbox is one of the low-hanging fruits and this can be done in small as well as big companies.
On the right mindset, you can check this blog post with good insights from Gail Martino, Open Innovation Manager at Unilever.
Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation