97% of business owners surveyed saw innovation as being central to their future success with 45% planning to create new products and services this year. Innovation is to account for a quarter of Irish business revenues in 2015, according to a recent survey conducted by Irish marketing and innovation company Jump!. Remaining relevant in a business climate where competition for customers and resources becomes more and more intense is a challenge that cannot be underestimated. In the past innovation was seen purely as the domain of the senior management and research and development team, where innovation stemmed from a top down approach. True innovation requires freedom and flexibility and comes from the bottom up, from those who are in the trenches and have worked first hand with the product, service or process in question. It is true that productivity, alignment and predictability are the buzzwords of management systems but it is possible to make every management process a catalyst for innovation and to weave innovation into the fabric of the business making it a core competency.
To properly embed innovation at all levels in an organisation and to ensure long term traction consider the following:
1.Innovation is a continuous process of improvement. As such it is important to ingrain the idea of innovation into company strategy. Without strategy you have no direction and without innovation you have no relevance. The trick lies in marrying the two. Innovation plays a huge role in transforming the concepts of strategy into reality. There are decisions to be made in every organisation about how best to prepare for future markets and the actions to be taken relate to transforming the innovation mindset into meaningful actions that will have an impact on competitiveness and ultimately on the bottom line. Strategy and innovation are intimately linked and therefore should be mutually reinforcing.
2.Collaboration is an important element of innovation. Collaboration, be it within the organisation or with outside groups such as universities and government agencies, can bring new ideas and perspectives to the innovation process. It is important to remember that people innovate, not businesses and an innovative product, process, service or solution is often made up of a combination of ideas right through from conception to delivery. Another advantage of collaboration is speed, which is a vital to delivering on your idea before your competitors do. Innovation occurs when previously unconnected bodies of knowledge are combined and if you continue to collaborate with the same people in the same way all the time this doesn’t happen.
3.Persistence is an often overlooked element of innovation. It is all well and good to be able to successfully innovate, but what is just as important is to keep doing it. To encourage risk taking and reward you must reward it. Rewards do not necessarily need to be financial. Effective rewards can take the form of recognition, exposure to influential senior management or increased opportunities within the firm. Moving an idea from conception to reality takes perseverance and hard work and people need incentives to reach beyond their formal job responsibilities. A reward system that emphasises investment in people and projects rather than payments for past services prompts people to move into challenging jobs while providing them with budgets to take on projects and rewarding them with even more challenging projects in the future.
4.Build a diverse team. When you put your teams together aim for people from diverse backgrounds with different ways of thinking who will complement and challenge each other.
5.Communication is a vital element of innovation. Collaboration cannot happen without communication. Create a policy that encourages open and honest communication between management and staff. Communicate your expectations. If a team is formed and the expectations around what they are expected to achieve are not clear the results will not fall in line with what you expect. Encourage meetings among various departments so that relationships can be formed.
You can’t manufacture innovation but you can create a work environment that is dedicated to fostering a culture of innovation, commitment and contribution. An approach such as this will help your organisation to continually advance and bring promising ideas to reality while ensuring that good ideas are never in short supply.