I have been working in the innovation space since 2001 and have either researched or worked with leaders from over 50 different organisations.
Listed below are what I believe are the best and most effective practices in innovation:
1. Leaders consistently communicate a ‘why innovate story’?
The first task of any leadership team is to define innovation and as importantly communicate to the rest of the business why the organisation should embark on this journey.
The ‘why innovate’ story should be compelling, believable and create a sense of urgency.
It should be a head and a heart argument.
For many packaged goods companies, for example, their why innovate story is to remain relevant to consumers with the rise of private label brands.
2. There is an explicit and well understood innovation plan.
It is remarkable how many leaders and managers embark upon an innovation initiative without a formal plan.
If you are making an investment there should be a formal, agreed plan of how the money is to be invested.
The innovation plan should include an innovation benchmark, a vision, goals (e.g. 40% of our sales must come from products less that three years old) milestones and how innovation is to be measured.
3. Adopt an experimentation mindset.
One of the major features of an innovative culture is the adoption of an experimentation mindset.
This means that every manager and leader should be testing at least three new things at any one point in time.
They do not have to be big things—it could be a new way to run a staff meeting, for example.
Try and design your tests so they are simple, easy and quick.
A marketing director at a recent workshop I gave committed to developing a test pipeline for his team for the up-coming year.
4. Reframe failure as an opportunity to learn
One of the biggest barriers to innovation is the fear of failure and the related attitude to risk-taking.
Adopting an experimentation mindset will help to overcome this but failure needs to be framed as an opportunity to learn and grow.
In fact, if a leader is not failing at something they can become too comfortable and may not push their personal and business boundaries.
5. Look inside and outside for ideas
Innovative leaders aim to create a constant flow of ideas across the business.
This means asking employee for ideas as well as talking to customers and looking at different categories and industries.
The very leading edge companies are also working with their suppliers and partners to create innovate, mutually business building ideas.
P&G, for example, have appointed an innovation director to look outside their business for big ideas.
Their aim is to have 40% of their innovation to come from outside their business within the next five years.
6. Focus on changing behaviour first
Innovation like any change program is difficult. Most leaders support innovation but for many that is where their commitment ends.
To overcome this I suggest that leaders aim to change their behaviour first.
Much like trying to lose weight—you can talk about it but the best way is to just go for a walk. Some innovation behaviours might include:
– Have innovation as one of the KPI’s for the year
– Establish up an innovation fund for revenue growth ideas
– Share both wins and lessons learned with other leaders
– Capture ideas across the business
– Encourage formal gut-feel time in meetings
7. Create an idea receptive culture
Innovation is about an exchange of ideas and emotions-but for too long most of the attention has been directed at the people that create new ideas.
Leaders have to redirect their energy to recognising and rewarding those people that are open to new ideas.
The important point is that leaders themselves must be open to those left field ideas.
To do this sometimes requires the use of what I call creative conversation tools e.g. ‘yes and’ rather than ‘yes but.’
8. Learn and use a new tool kit
Asking people to be more innovative and imaginative whilst providing an intention is not helpful if you do not supply a new tool kit.
These skills can be learned and will improve through practice.
You will need a new tool kit to create, enhance, evaluate and test ideas.
The old tool kit based on reason, logic and analysis will often lead to incremental gains but should be complemented with a new tool kit based on harnessing the imagination of all employees.
For example, ask for a business as usual, different and radical solution for every problem.
Or try blitzing problems using our new Blitz tool.
I have not found an organisation that is proficient in all of the eight best practices—how does your business stack up?