Innovation managers call to arms

Sara DoucetteBlog

A pair of cannons at sunset on the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland

Innovation managers and departments are challenged with more than just innovation. Innovation for innovation’s sake is fruitless – and most businesses recognise that innovation can prove to be a powerful strategy to meet objectives around employee engagement, process improvement or culture and brand.

But, for many innovation managers, they find that they have the shiny new title and that their departments are growing but the results aren’t happening. Getting innovation programmes off the ground, running effectively and delivering to expectations can be a minefield. Effective innovation programmes require stakeholder involvement from across the business, a variety of skills, and importantly, a well thought out strategy and execution. In this blog I look at 5 steps innovation managers can take to make innovation live up to expectations and deliver results.

Choose your weapons carefully

The role of innovation managers is little understood and recognised in organisations, and as such, they face internal barriers that need to be torn down. As an example of this, many complain of how innovation can inadvertently be blocked by middle management, as they tend to focus on more immediate objectives and don’t think of innovation as part of their job.  Getting buy-in from all levels of the business is vital and contribution to idea management challenges relies on it.

Innovation managers can design all the innovation programmes they want but unless they are thought out with the intent of embedding a culture of innovation rather than scattered innovation events, the results won’t come as easily. The most powerful armoury in an innovation manager’s toolkit is achieved by working with teams across the business to develop a culture of innovation, to an extent that innovation becomes the responsibility of everyone in the organisation. It’s important to be armed with the right tools to overcome barriers, challenges and objections. But which are the right weapons to have in your arsenal:  to rally the troops in your innovation programme?

Step up to the front line

As an organisation, we deal with innovation managers and innovation programmes across a wide variety of customers and industries. We see the success of well-run innovation programmes and have also learned a lot about lack of success when something isn’t working.

In our experience, to succeed in designing a successful innovation programme, an organisation must have a well thought out communications plan, implement systems that make collaboration easy and accessible, and systems that facilitate speedy assessment and provide transparency across the business. Without these, engagement and contribution to innovation initiatives is impacted. It is the role of the innovation manager to be on the front line – communicating loudly and clearly about the innovation initiatives being undertaken.

A good communications plan is important to engage staff and show them why innovation is important. It will also keep them interested by showing why they should contribute, as well as making it clear how they can do it. It’s important that innovation managers create an innovation programme that creates momentum, making it easy for everyone to contribute and creating a community around innovation.

None of this would be possible without the right systems and processes for collaboration, assessment and transparency.  Collaboration tools connect the workforce and enable cultural change – the process is also transparent, which means that those involved will be more likely to become repeat contributors. Assessment tools will help organisations understand where they stand in terms of innovation and by giving them a starting point, will help improve the launch speed of innovation programmes.

Bring out the big guns

Let’s be honest: innovation programmes aren’t easy. But all the effort that is put into it is worth it because they yield good results.  Structure, goals and skills all have to be taken into consideration when working on an innovation programme – the right structure must be put in place, decide on the goals that should be achieved with innovation and attracting people with the right skills to bring them to fruition.

For a better innovation programme, these 5 steps need to be assessed, to aim to improve on each of them:

  1. Strategy – Organisations will need to define what innovation means for them: What is innovative in one organisation won’t be relevant to another. This is important, as knowing which goals you’ll be aiming for will inform the strategy that will be designed to reach them. This is a process that ideally should involve the whole of the organisation yet innovation managers will have a key role in leading the conversation and asking the right questions.
  2. Leadership – Leadership, along with culture, are the two greatest barriers to innovation. Without the right senior level buy-in, a lot of innovation programmes end up dead in the water as innovation managers struggle to by themselves make it clear that innovation is part of everyone’s job description. It is then up to senior management to send out the message to everyone that innovation is a business priority.
  3. Management – To be a key part of an organisation’s innovation efforts, managers have to feel like they are enabled, empowered and allowed to innovate. Innovation managers have the crucial role of supporting them in this process, by rewarding their innovation efforts and helping them look beyond current deliverables.
  4. Culture – As mentioned above, organisations need the right culture of innovation to succeed. Innovation should be a by-product of a great place to work and can only be achieved when people are passionate about innovation. Innovation managers help improve culture by sending out a clear message throughout the business that innovation is part of everyone’s every day job and by rewarding the most motivated employees.
  5. Process – Driving an idea from its outset up to implementation isn’t an easy task. It is in fact, a huge challenge for most organisations. By introducing the right processes to capture and evaluate new ideas, innovation managers will be helping the organisation direct innovation towards successful ideas that will bring results back into the organisation. There is a caveat though, as the process won’t be efficient if the right questions aren’t asked or the right problem is unearthed.

There will be plenty of other things that organisations can do to optimise their innovation programmes as each organisation will have their own needs and structure. By starting with these core steps, innovation will feel less like a battle and more like an inclusive strategic initiative embraced by the business as a whole. The rewards will be reaped by innovation managers – helping their organisations develop effective innovation programmes with momentum and showing the results they set out to achieve.

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