Businesses know they must innovate to survive. Some companies are, some people within those companies are and others have unbeknownst innovative ideas tucked away. The real question as a large corporation is: how can we take advantage of these ideas and the depth of knowledge inside the minds of employees, partners or the wider business ecosystem? Many enterprises, although heavily resourced, struggle with initiating an idea management programme due to the red tape, being slow to change and operating within a conservative environment.
At Wazoku, working across many industries brings proven methodologies and advice on how to embed sustainable collaboration and innovation programmes. Below we’ll share top strategies to get innovation best practice adopted in a conservative organisation, including:
- The importance of process
- Start small
- Set the right expectations
- Top-down, bottom-up
- Lead by example
- The importance of a good communication plan
- Celebrate success
- Make innovation part of everyone’s objectives
The importance of process
Large organisations work to detailed plans, strategic objectives and budgets for each vital function and business unit – and innovation shouldn’t be treated any different! The innovation function may be responsible for maintaining and building competitive advantage, retaining and attracting strong talent, enhancing operational efficiencies and finding brand new ways to serve the market, so it’s easy to understand why such a function needs proper management and leadership, measurable targets and budget allocation. By putting processes in place, you can create a strong and structured environment for innovation to grow within a conservative organisation.
Once organisations have a budget allocated and resource assigned, there may be desire to run off to start innovating and sourcing ideas from everyone. Although this approach works for some, for others operating within a more conservative environment, still finding their feet and approach to innovation, it’s a better idea to start small to scale smart.
With this approach, you also get the benefit of trial and error, improving each time, while securing the buy-in of your executive and HR teams to foster a culture where sharing ideas is good and will be recognised. For example, perhaps start with a STOP Challenge. Ask your immediate team, “what’s one thing our team should stop doing (in order to optimise/grow)?” Take the learnings from this, iterate, and then launching wider within the business, “what’s one thing our organisation should stop doing (in order to optimise/grow)?”
Set the right expectations
Building a culture of innovation is not an easy task! Event small businesses spend years building a fertile environment for innovation. Believing that it will happen quickly will set companies up to fail. Changing the mindset of an individual or teams across a conservative, large organisation will take time. People don’t change overnight, don’t expect your culture to either.
Quite a number of us have experienced programmes that have lacked senior or C-level endorsement and have therefore fallen to the wayside. Innovation initiatives are no different. lose. Its crucial employees know that the initiative is championed from the top in order to support the surfacing of ideas from the bottom and embed innovation as priority in their everyday job.
Lead by example
Often people will act when they see others take the lead. The same principle often works when trying to get your innovation programme off the ground. When others see their colleagues and leaders getting involved in the process, they feel inspired to do the same, but crucially are also willing to reprioritise their workload to give time to the new activity. Seek innovation champions to cultivate discussions and engagement across the business.
The importance of a good communication plan
Communicating with the right tone, from the right channels, with the right frequency is key to delivering changes inside any organisation. By using a communications plan effectively, you will get your audience ready, excited and less worried about something new and unknown. Educate staff on why you’re starting or optimising an ideas programme, build momentum with gamification and share plans for how ideas will progress and what’s in it for them.
Leverage your existing channels that your employees have become accustomed to using and frequent often. Also don’t be afraid to experiment with new ones, your communications can be a powerful tool to promote your initiatives.
Two key components of a successful idea management scheme is the process by which you incentivise, reward and recognise your participants and how you celebrate the entire programme’s achievements.
Understanding what motivates your audience can be the difference between an average and great rewards programme. Employees might be more reserved in a conservative environment, so subtle recognition might be critical.
Strategies such as showcasing some of the best ideas or writing a feature on the idea creator and the impact of their implemented solution will help recognise, as well as encourage more of your audience to participate. A monetary prize might not always be what drives your collaborators. Creating innovation awards or aligning recognition to existing company reward schemes can help you drive the right behaviours.
Recognition from an external, industry-wide award nomination or win, especially from a more conservative organisation, increases the company’s brand and reputation for being innovative, helping to reinforce the positive cycle that drives and fosters innovation internally.
Make innovation part of everyone’s objectives
Strategic company objectives should set the scene and business units, teams and individual objectives should all follow suit.
You are asking your employees to take time out of their day to submit ideas, to ensure that they return to the scheme and guarantee a continuous flow of ideas and conversations, you need to ensure they are incentivised to do so. When trying to get your audience involved in your innovation efforts, you might hear ‘excuses’ such as: I don’t have time for that, I don’t think I can prioritise your initiative, I am not sure my manager will agree… Sound familiar? If your organisation is committed to drive innovation, giving every level, especially individuals, a target around being innovative and sharing ideas will help you reach those objectives faster, jumping a few positions in their priorities list.
It’s worth noting that the strategies we’ve shared above are real approaches that we witness with our customers. However not all strategies will be right for your audience or organisation. It takes time to identify what works well for your company and failure will be part of the process. Much of this is about trial and error, starting small – but most importantly starting!
Marianna Canino and Kristy McKenzie
Customer Success Managers at Wazoku