2010/07/05

3 steps to innovation: Provide clear & actionable direction; Involve all & delegate ownership; Promote your successes

This is the thirteenth of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘What are three specific actions that a non-innovative company can take to become more innovative?’. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Rocco Tarasi

Innovation Perspectives - Three Baby Steps to InnovationWhen we think of innovative companies we think of the Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. But for every innovative company, there are thousands of companies that are long, long way away from being innovative. And even companies that are innovative in one area like product development could be the complete opposite in their IT, HR or Accounting departments. (Innovation isn’t just about cool new products, after all).

A company that isn’t at all innovative should take baby steps and then build on those over a period of time. Imagine that you are the owner of a business and want it to be more innovative. What are the first three steps that you would take?

  • Provide clear and actionable direction
  • Involve everyone and delegate ownership
  • Celebrate and promote your successes

Provide clear and actionable direction. Most people have to be guided to think about innovation in their current jobs. Define innovation in a way that everyone can understand. I would suggest to our employees that we’re looking for ideas that fall into three groups: those that save time, save money, or increase sales. These three groups provide clear direction, but they also provide a framework that everyone in our company can participate in. If we limit our innovations to just new products, we’ll restrict participation – the accounting clerk might not be expected to generate ideas about increasing sales or saving money, but they might be best positioned to improve internal processes that save time, like our expense reimbursement and monthly reporting process. Make the direction actionable by creating simple ways for employees to submit their ideas: online form, email, paper, department meetings, etc.

Involve everyone and delegate ownership. The downside to involving everyone in idea creation is the possibility of being swamped with ideas with a broad range of cost, effort and impact. The “idea box” is obviously not a substitute for a real process and culture for innovation (as many innovation consultants will point out). But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have one, especially if you’re a company that is trying to initiate innovative thinking for the first time. There are two ways to help manage the “idea box” problem:

  • First, delegate responsibility for evaluating the ideas to as large a group of managers as practical. One or two executives shouldn’t need to review every idea – many of them can be reviewed and executed at a department level, and summarized later for management.

  • Second, whenever possible make the employees that come up with the ideas the ones that lead the charge in implementing them. In fact, I would make this part of the data when documenting an idea. This division of labor, bottom-up approach will allow you to execute on many more ideas, and also increase the feeling of ownership and morale of the employees.
  • Celebrate and promote your successes. Recognition of innovation should come from the highest level – the CEO/Owner – and be for the smallest achievements. A quarterly, or even monthly, communication from the CEO to the entire company listing what employees did to either save time, save money, or increase sales will fuel bigger and better ideas in the future.

    Baby steps first. Execute a simple idea that saves the company time or money or increases sales, and show that management recognizing and appreciates the effort. Then build from that success.

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    You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘What are three specific actions that a non-innovative company can take to become more innovative?’ by clicking the link in this sentence.

    Rocco Tarasi

    Rocco Tarasi was an accountant, investment banker, and CFO before becoming a technology entrepreneur. He writes about innovation at www.InnovationMinute.com with a focus on “everyday” innovations in business models, sales strategies, products and services.

    Posted via email from Traction Lobe