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Innovate to Thrive- Part 1


Innovation is the key to your company’s survival.  It is an imperative  and it must be an integral part of your organization.  Innovation — it must be encoded in your corporate DNA.

This is true no matter the size of your organization.  No matter what business you’re in or what product or service you provide.  More so today than ever before, Innovation must be the holistic strategy that savvy leaders create, that flourishes in the right atmosphere (and founders in the wrong environment).

With all this innovation taking place – from new widgets to new insurance products to new processes – it has become more important than ever for business leaders to institute Innovation programs, and MANAGE them effectively.

In the dark ages, NPD program participants ideated and created a new product and passed the torch to sales and marketing.  Today, however, there are “new rules.”  And that means more complex issues within the organization that require flexible structures and unprecedented cooperation across disciplines, teams and business units.

So, we now need bold tools such as new organizational structures, new forms of training, procedures, intra-company communications – and bold leaders who understand and can implement consensus across divisional and geographic boundaries.

At this point, I know what some of you may be thinking:

–  but we’re a smaller company, with less than $50 million in annual revenue, or

–   but we don’t have the time, manpower, or money for this type of comprehensive Innovation initiative

–  Why can’t we just “wing it” – like we usually do?

Remember, Innovation is not a luxury, even for today’s most successful company’s.  Sustaining success means ongoing renewal of your intellectual property (IP) portfolio.  After all, technologies become dated, end-user fashions change and new processes, materials and capabilities emerge.

Bear in mind, there are “rules of order” – for Innovation requires rules of the house, rules that must be implemented, maintained, protected, fostered – fiercely – in order for your Innovation program to succeed.  Innovation is the lifeblood of any company and Robert’s Rules of Innovation is the heart of your sustainable growth strategy.

And what are those rules?

* Inspire
* No Risk, No Innovation
* New Product Development Process
* Ownership
* Value Creation
* Accountability
* Training and Coaching
* Idea Management
* Observe and Measure
* Net Result and Reward

Let’s now take a look at the first and one of the most important imperative, and understand why each is so critical to the creation of sustained Innovation.

1. Inspire

The Leader of your Innovation SWAT team, has to inspire, lead and drive the process.  Buy-in has to come from the top, it has to be an integral part of your company’s culture.  This is an imperative.

It can’t be a “flavor of the month” effort.  Short-term programs are sniffed out quickly by your company’s key people, with deleterious effects.  Remember back in grade school, when the class would arrive in the morning and find a substitute teacher in front of the classroom?  Do you remember what happened on such days? Mayhem.

For the Innovation program to work, the leader – and in many smaller and midsized companies, that person is the CEO – has to be regularly and personally involved, so that everyone understands: “this is the way it’s going to be.  This is what I expect.  There are no exceptions.  We are all in this together.  We will make it work.  And we will all reap the rewards of this program.”

And the unspoken implication: or else.

A major tip on setting the culture, so that it is an unassailable, undeniable, inescapable part of life at your company: Set regular meetings.

“Ha!,” you say.  “No way.”  Time is tight, travel schedules are demanding, and your core team has their “day jobs.”  And these day job responsibilities take lots of time and effort.  What to do?

I have had great success with regular, monthly, two-hour meetings.  These should be in-person – avoid long distance video conferencing if at all possible, because you want to create a sense of urgency and deadline pressure.  This In-person meetings result in immediacy and face to face interaction, creativity and sense of esprit that can only come from your key players being in the same room, at the same time, under the leader’s watchful eye.

Is time availability a major issue?  Fine. Link the monthly NPD meeting to divisional meetings, in order to enhance time efficiencies.

To communicate the importance of your Innovation effort, you need to make time for these meetings, and make sure everyone on the team understands that they will happen, and that participation is mandatory and that there are no excuses for lateness, unpreparedness and a lack of participation.

The CEO or designated leader runs the meetings.  Prior to each session, this program Champion will discuss key issues and build consensus and help make decisions, with select members of the team.

Progress reports are mandatory.  Each meeting will monitor progress, address issues and concerns, share research and results, allow for recalibration of priorities.  New decisions will be made.  Customer needs and wants will have to be considered. And, as stated previously, Innovation objectives will be created and prioritized for the next 30 days — in congruence with overall business objectives.

It’s all about accountability (see below) and the leader needs to ensure that project-by-project timelines and investment decisions are on-track.

Productivity at these meetings will depend largely on the composition of the team and complexity of the product line(s).  So part of the leadership function is a determination of who is on the team.  In my experience, many midsized and smaller companies have a limited number of internal experts from which to choose.    The CEO runs the show.  Key players should then include captains from Sales, Finance, Operations, Marketing.

And for those of you at larger firms: It’s still your inspiration that drives the process and sets the tone.

The net takeaway?  In time, a new, vibrant culture is developed, one that runs throughout the organization.  Do it right, step-by-step, building consensus, reinforcing ideas, underscoring the need for accountability, asking the right questions.   Don’t rush it — it will come.

But, don’t waver, either.  Stick to your guns, remain consistent, and it will happen.  Thanks to you, the one who Inspires.

Does a ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ Inspire Your Team?

Inspiration : TIPS

About Robert Brands
Robert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, Innovation Speaker and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation”: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman,  published March, 2010 by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).For more information on Inspire & Initiate or any of the other imperatives visit www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com or look for Wiley’s Robert’s Rules of Innovation (ISBN 978-0470596999). The book contains assessment tools, tips, in depth chapters  on the importance of Intellectual Property, working with multinational teams and more.

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5 comments
  1. Chris Ward

    August 4, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Thanks Robert, a useful and refreshing perspective on the reality of successful and sustainable Innovation. All too often innovation has a tendency to be viewed as a tactical and ring-fenced measure to fix perceived short term profit gaps.
    You’re clearly underlining the need for innovation to become the way a business does business. I feel sure this article will continue to be a useful guide to the reality of driving modern, commercial and brand-literate success.

    The only insight I’d wish to add at this early stage is my belief that an organisation must view innovation as a truly attractive cultural shift that it supports with every action and message. This won’t be achieved by monthly meetings alone.

    ‘Business as usual’ is by far the most pernicious force in crushing innovation success. So how do you stop this happening? Ensure your best leaders lead with innovation, your best project managers manage with innovation, your best operators operate with innovation etc. It’s always about the best people being seen to value that which you want the organisation to value. Easily said I know! But this is where a real leader really leads. Take risks and remove key BAU responsibilities from key people. Not only this, but adjust your performance management and reward programmes to embrace the successful outputs of good innovation. This will set the management ‘fractal patterns’ that you wish to see repeated and scaled throughout an entire organisation. Before you know it, the culture will start to shift in a sustainable way. It’s amazing how quickly a busy person’s workload and time will ‘recalibrate’ when it’s associated with new measures of cultural success. And the real turbo kicks in when the first tangible outputs of commercial innovation practice come out of the machine. The first major successes will send a message that doubles the culture’s ability to embrace and practice innovation authentically and successfully.

    I’ll look forward to further articles in this series.

    Reply
  2. Chris Ward

    August 4, 2010 at 2:31 am

    Thanks Robert, a useful and refreshing perspective on the reality of successful and sustainable Innovation. All too often innovation has a tendency to be viewed as a tactical and ring-fenced measure to fix perceived short term profit gaps.
    You’re clearly underlining the need for innovation to become the way a business does business. I feel sure this article will continue to be a useful guide to the reality of driving modern, commercial and brand-literate success.

    The only insight I’d wish to add at this early stage is my belief that an organisation must view innovation as a truly attractive cultural shift that it supports with every action and message. This won’t be achieved by monthly meetings alone.

    ‘Business as usual’ is by far the most pernicious force in crushing innovation success. So how do you stop this happening? Ensure your best leaders lead with innovation, your best project managers manage with innovation, your best operators operate with innovation etc. It’s always about the best people being seen to value that which you want the organisation to value. Easily said I know! But this is where a real leader really leads. Take risks and remove key BAU responsibilities from key people. Not only this, but adjust your performance management and reward programmes to embrace the successful outputs of good innovation. This will set the management ‘fractal patterns’ that you wish to see repeated and scaled throughout an entire organisation. Before you know it, the culture will start to shift in a sustainable way. It’s amazing how quickly a busy person’s workload and time will ‘recalibrate’ when it’s associated with new measures of cultural success. And the real turbo kicks in when the first tangible outputs of commercial innovation practice come out of the machine. The first major successes will send a message that doubles the culture’s ability to embrace and practice innovation authentically and successfully.

    I’ll look forward to further articles in this series.

    Reply
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