Following on from my last post suggesting the way to move innovation forward, it was to ‘take the different innovation hills, one at a time, for innovation advancement” I used a military metaphor of “taking the hills”.
So what are the hills we need to take?
There are plenty of innovation hills to attack but here are ten suggestions that would advance the cause of innovation and establish its territorial importance in the organization somewhat.
Some hills maybe on first glance, seem not so important but they all move towards setting up the winning conditions for innovation to become a core within organizations. Some are sending clear signals of intent; others show the fighting commitment necessary to take that hill because it is strategically important.
Hill one is by abandoning quarterly reporting
Thank heavens there are organizational leaders beginning to push back on the obsessive need of reporting results every three months. A number of multinational businesses, such as Google, Unilever, Coca-Cola and National Grid have signalled the end for Quarterly Reporting in order to halt short-term relationships with investors. This is such a psychological hill to regain to signal a better focus on the longer-term,
Steve Holliday, CEO of energy company National Grid PLC, recently stated quarterly reporting encouraged short-term thinking and behaviour, stating, “Chief Executives and investors must move beyond financial value as the only recognised metric of business success.”
Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, when announcing Unilever’s approach to reporting, “If you buy into this long-term value creation model, which is sustainable, then come and invest with us. If you don’t buy into this, I respect you as a human being, but don’t put your money in our company.”
The second hill is trying to regain stability in organizations leadership
Let’s get some stability at the top of our organizations. Through this focus on longer-term value creation it might allow the C-level a better chance at considering the strategic effects of ‘rushed, responding to the short-term’ can bring. They need motivated people and the limited talent will go elsewhere if they feel the conditions laid out are too risky and uncertain.
Stability in leadership and strategic direction are important to innovation, The tenure of CEO’s has got dangerously short and as they have become increasingly incentivised to gain their reward on their time in the job with a direct consequence that more radical innovation gets ignored or relegated.
Hill three to take- making innovation not just the addition to the day job.
Innovation to really work, to become sustaining, has to be integrated and central to the daily job. Innovation needs to lead each person’s thinking. Let’s do away with those often separate focused activities of managing (exclusively) through efficiency and effectiveness and add in innovation. Innovation should not be a ‘bolt on’ afterthought, it needs integrating into each person’s daily role.
Hill four- stopping the fad and fashion of innovation
How often do we hear that innovation is in our top three priorities yet leadership is concerned over their innovation success rates? Innovation swings through this fad, popular to trot out when needed and pushed back when times require ‘swinging’ cost cuts. These cuts take out any slack within the system, freeze the hell out of what is left and then the leadership can’t understand the lack of commitment, of trust, of engagement.
This hill is vital to capture and plant the flag of innovation to announce it has become a core driver of growth, performance and valuation and we will hold this hill at whatever cost.
Hill five- the ability to understand and stimulate innovation
Survey after survey senior executives are only “somewhat”, “a little” or “concerned” in the decisions they are making around innovation. What does explain this gap between aspirations and eventual execution? Innovation as a force is hard to build but it becomes impossible, if you do not immerse yourself in it. To sustain innovation you need to create ongoing capabilities, then scale to build the momentum of overwhelming forces that deliver lasting impact around innovation.
Hill six. There are no best-practice solutions, this is full of booby traps.
Those organizations that rush to copy others simply forget they are uniquely different. Simply copying and being selective on taking others best practices enables those others to always be ahead. What you think is a best practice has most probably moved on. If you are busy chasing your competitor to get ahead you have to change this best practice crutch and exchange this for more modern fighting equipment.
Base your own practice on ‘good’ practice, or ‘emerging’ practice and explore ‘novel’ practice with greater confidence. These allow you to scan the practice horizon but intelligently assessing the terrain in better, more adaptive ways, to see what you can learn to deploy to give you your advantage. Avoid the best practice hill, you will find it full of booby traps that will ‘bog’ you down in your longer-term advancement if you blindly stumble onto this hill.
Hill seven- taking explicit steps to foster an innovation culture
Creating the conditions, the environment for innovation to take hold allows for growing trust and increasing commitment. If executives listen to their people’s ideas and value them, it brings growing trust; it pulls individuals together in a collective identity. This offers more as an innovation culture of trust than monetary incentives. People go that extra yard, push their bodies and go to extremes if they believe.
Hill eight- Ensuring you have a formal integrated innovation plan
Approaching innovation in an ad-hoc fashion delivers occasional success and the potential for plenty of failures. By integrating innovation fully into the strategic management agenda, in the vast majority of senior level meetings encourages a more structured approach to innovation. Innovation should be consistently managed, tracked and assessed as a core element of an organizations strategic agenda. This is a hill that provides that essential higher ground.
Hill nine- senior leaders need to explicitly lead the innovation battle.
If the leadership of organizations is not seen to be explicitly leading and fully involved and committed to innovation it sends the wrong signal to the troops. Being visible, being engaged, and being as committed to taking the innovation battle on makes a world of difference.
Hill ten- Winning the hearts and minds of all those around you
The failure within organizations is that innovation is foremost a peoples game. All the technology, processes, frameworks mean nothing unless there is utter engagement and commitment in what we do. To protect and encourage people that make bold decisions signals the fear of failure is part and parcel of innovation. Encouraging behaviour of ‘wanting innovation’ inspires trust and belief.
Winning the battle for innovation
Laying out the conditions, explaining the context, communicating the ground rules and governance gives a sense of clarity. By knowing the objectives, the taking of all these different hills becomes easier. Who is leading your charge, what hills does your organization need to take to give innovation the liberating effect it deserves?