If you want innovation in your organization, you need to give people clear instructions about where and how you want it. Not what you want ... but where and how. Permit me to explain.
I meet once a month with a few colleagues to talk -- we call it a think tank. This week one of the things we talked about is innovation, since both have been following my work on the innovation project at SEEC. And we are all obsessed with organization development in some fashion, so we talk about organizations a lot.
The startling realization...
Two of us have experienced life in a large organization first hand. We talked about our experiences in innovating, and came to a startling realization. We'd often had ideas we wanted to try, things we wanted to fix, but had NO IDEA what the process might be to put those ideas into the pipeline. We often weren't clear if we had the direct authority to act to make these changes. When we knew we didn't have the authority, we often weren't clear how to put forward a proposal.
What's really scary about this is that we were working for largely well run organizations. And this was not just our own experience. As outside consultants we see our clients struggling with the same problems. For the really big stuff -- systems investments, acquisitions -- there are always formal business case processes. But few people outside head office would know what these processes are.
In short, there is no clear direction on how to make things happen, even though there is tremendous lip-service being paid to innovation.
By way of contrast...
I want to contrast this situation with something that just happened. I'm doing a podcast with Stephanie Weaver -- or rather, she is doing one, and kindly invited me to be her guest. Stephanie is an expert on process and experience design. So no surprise that she sent me a very clear tip sheet to confirm what will happen. It has instructions on how to set up for the podcast, tips to ensure we don't get interrupted by a ringing cell-phone, and similar clear direction.
These clear instructions will serve to relax her guests and put people at ease, knowing they are on the right track, doing just what they are supposed to do.
Five steps to kick-starting innovation in your organization...
Isn't it so often the case that we have clear processes for the small things, but lack all clarity on the really important stuff? If you want some innovation in your organization, whether this is a small office or you are in charge of sweeping huge divisions, here's my advice:
- Tell people where you want innovation and where you want them to just adhere to the current state of affairs. If you want innovation in purchasing but not in product design, say so. If you want innovation in product design, but not in purchasing, say so. If you don't say so, you are guilty of wasting everyone's time through your lack of clarity.
- Tell people what the purpose of the innovating is. Is it intended to improve revenue? Market share? Customer satisfaction? Loyalty? Reduce expenses? Reduce time to market on new products?
- If you aren't clear about where you want innovation, where you don't want it, and what you want your innovations to achieve, you need to have a little off-site with yourself and get clear. Then go back to step 1.
- Tell people how you want them to make their proposals, if the innovation feels like it is outside their authority to just implement. Is it a memo? Do they need to have a bunch of cross-functional meetings to get buy-in? Is it a business case? What is the process?
- Tell people how to get clarity around the process when they are confused. Can they float an idea informally? Who do they float it to? What's supposed to happen then?
Having done all this, now you can hold people accountable. If you don't see any action, you can legitimately ask why, and keep asking. But if you haven't done steps 1 - 5, any complaints you have about why your organization isn't more innovative are just so much blah-blah.
My bet is that if you start down this road, you're going to be drowning in ideas pretty quickly.
I'd love to hear what others' experience of this is. Call, write, send carrier pigeons, comment or trackback, but please add your views.