By PJ CHAN
PJ Chan works closely with one of Kotter International’s oldest clients, and she’s experienced first hand the failure that follows a project-managed approach to innovation. Here she details why you cannot “force” innovation to happen, but rather, how you can shape your corporate environment so that innovation can be possible.
Innovation is a big corporate buzzword, and it’s one of the hottest topics. That’s because it’s one of the biggest mysteries to business leaders. A study from Accenture, “Why Low Risk Innovation Is Costly”, revealed that fewer than one in five chief executives believes their company’s strategic investments in innovation are paying off. Because of the high percentage of failure, nearly half of the executives surveyed said their companies were less likely to risk implementing breakthrough ideas.
While some companies are wildly successful with their innovation attempts, we also know that at least 70% of change efforts fail and, by definition, innovation ranks as the biggest change effort out there. The question is: What are these unsuccessful CEOs and their people doing wrong with their strategic investment in innovation?
Innovation only happens in the right environment, one where everyone is not only allowed to innovate, but they are actively encouraged to speak up and bring new ideas to the table. This may sound like common sense, but it is far from common practice.
How do you create an innovative environment? While I can’t prescribe how to make your organisation innovate, these tips can help you breed a culture that contains innovation in its DNA:
- Innovation only comes by invitation. Invite people to bring forth their new ideas. True innovation takes place when people are free to raise ideas, take ownership of them, and then implement them. If people are required to ask permission for every step they take, they will stop asking permission.
- Innovation is not a solo sport, it requires a group of players with skills specific to the effort. Many companies appoint an innovation department or hire a chief innovation officer, which can make innovation just another stovepipe in the organisation.
The message this sends to your organisation is that innovation is “their job” and “not mine” – siloed off. While an idea may come from one individual, it’s the cross-functional creativity, trust, and collaboration that bring innovation to life.
- Encourage everyone to put their ideas to test fast, fail fast, and then reiterate. If people wait for perfection before they put the idea to work, the effort will lose steam before it ever gets off the ground.
- Value the lessons taken from failure as much as your successes, and apply those lessons toward each new attempt. This makes it safe for everyone to innovate. The idea is not to encourage failure but to foster innovation that leads to winning success as rapidly as possible.
- Ensure this behaviour gets modeled at every level, from the very top to individual contributor. That means the senior leaders must be actively involved, not just mandating the change.
- Resist the desire to project manage your way to innovation. It cannot be generated by focusing solely on budgets, resources, and timelines. If you try, you can guarantee your innovation investment will be wasted.
You can even get a little, ahem, innovative with your strategy for encouraging innovation.
Consider offering awards for innovative attempts – both ones that may have failed, like the Heroic Failure Award, and even silly, risky ones that led to a breakthrough like the Golden Goose Award. Or, set an example by taking the Marshmallow Challenge with your teams, which teaches that success comes only by trying often, failing often, revising, and trying again.
Once the focus changes from winning to trying, your company will go from incremental gains to game-changing innovations.