People, motivations and a well-designed innovation framework

We still do not seem to understand all the linkages that make up innovation. We just continue to struggle because we don’t connect all the essential parts together. We need too. I think there are different components that when combined can form the innovation ‘glue.’

Let me suggest some that can be combined well within a broader framework I think is emerging from work I’m currently working upon and being conducted in a collaborative effort showing increasing promise.

People are the last great innovation frontier and great connectors

People are essential across all of innovation and its useful production; innovation does not work unless you have full engagement, commitment and desire from the people involved. Everything else we provide in tools, techniques and methods only enables and supports that one vital cog in the need to turn the innovation wheel, our people, and their commitment to ‘generate to innovate’.

Innovation is the last people-centric process.  While many other business processes or functions have changed consistently over the decades, innovation has been placing more demands on its people than any other business process or function and as yet, we cannot automate this. We rely on engagement, on relying on people wanting to be involved, sometimes we simply just seem to hope with the lack of support or encouragement they often seem to get!

How do we make this happen?

We do try to support our innovating people through attempting to automate the innovation idea process as we require them to generate ideas, to evaluate ideas, to judge ideas, to select ideas and to develop new products and services from the original mass and deluge of idea generation, that can seemingly be kicked out from a plethora of search options.

How we then set about managing these through the innovation process always does need a lot of human intervention and sorting.

Automating the process can only go so far.

We must provide real, powerful linkages that associate what we see with what is needed to be achieved. Alignment to organization goals can be terribly illusive if we don’t have really good innovation frameworks and understandings. We often generate innovation just for the ‘sake of it’ and this is a real pity and can produce gross under utilization of the assets we have available, to make our innovation efforts really count.

Little of the work associated with innovation can be truly automated, and much of it requires active, engaged, trained people in order to do the work effectively, otherwise it labours and dies in the back of some research lab, or buried in some files held on a marketing person’s computer

So are we providing motivations enough?

Innovation, however, should ultimately result in benefits to the organization and this is where we often get a little caught up. We focus on the organization not the people who make it up. We tie metrics and measures to broad organization goals and let’s be totally honest, do those buried in the boiler room relate, honestly?

Of course offering benefits or incentives should align to strategic goals, and therefore can be measured in terms like revenue growth, share growth, market awareness, clear differentiation from competitors’ products and services, recognized leadership position in a market place and many other factors.

Yet it is of more importance to establish clear innovation goals that are far more touchable,and pertinent to our own working domain. We need to work far more on  constantly evaluate innovation returns on each persons contribution within their immediate space, using measures and metrics that are attuned to their innovation activities, certainly beyond the ‘simple’ ROI, as many roles don’t get measured this way.

You need to measure their progress and equally drive corrective actions on their contributions that are, perhaps very granular but where the individual involved can have measured their personal contribution.

We simply don’t work hard enough at this defining, refining and realizing for their personal advancement and idenitification in innovation activities enough. We always seem to seek to consolidate the bigger picture, not break it down into the minuscule parts that contribute to the whole and really work at cascading this back up,  is it so difficult?

We measure innovation in different ways, through hard, quantifiable targets but also in how we influence and make things happen.  Executives need to shape innovation through a mix of incentives that promote inspiration, offer motivation and generate excitement. Highly extrinsic transactional drivers must be combined with more intrinsic transformational aspects.

Executives must also establish timely, appropriate innovation milestones and measurements based on metrics defined by that person’s contribution. Of course innovation metrics must align to corporate goals and expected outcomes but the intrinsic nature of innovation is far more relevant to the individual and these often motivate them far more, than ‘hard’ measures.

These hard measures are often based on, for the individual, nebulous goals set high in the clouds of the organization. We need to find out what would work on the ground, at the grass root level, to engage each person and motivate them to contribute to innovation that does delivers into the need of the organization, that is well-articulated, crafted, connected and understood for them.

Innovation that is well designed can achieve Strategic Alignment

Executives need to consciously work daily for alignment of their agreed goals, so as to fit resources and activities together in novel ways so as to ensure all the assets that can be deployed are well deployed, to their most productive use for innovation.

There is for many, a lot of effort going into this already but it often without a cohesive innovation framework. We need to look at this comprehensive approach far more.  I seriously doubt that many managers can claim they are in possession of such a comprehensive framework today that constructs innovation and fully aligns its constituent parts.

We get caught up in politics, compromise, unhealthy alliances, ambition, silos and greed all seem to often kick in, I’m sure we all could name a few others. We struggle all the time for alignment, yet it is critical for ongoing success, yet many firms lack really well thought through innovation strategies or linkages between it, and connect to the overarching strategy of our organizations.

Then we begin the chase, like the dog getting more frantic in trying to chase its own tail while going round in faster circles until it simply gives up. The smart move is in sitting down, so we all can achieve the end result of aligning innovation to your organizations goals and strategy and then really work through how to do it well and not chase our tails. We do need to apply a lot more thought to connecting the parts of innovation really well.

Alignment begins when innovation is strongly linked to strategic goals, and continues as people, activities and funding are aligned to the goal of consistent, sustained innovation.  Innovation is uncertain, unusual and risky.  The only organization that can manage innovation effectively and consistently, is an organization that is designed and aligned to sustained innovation.

Aligning resources and directing the focus of the organization is the role of senior executives, so innovation success starts with vision, engagement and commitment from the most senior executives and then working through all the combining elements that make up innovation so it can integrated into a clear innovation framework . From my research there are critical linkages that when combined will make this happen.

Can we combine all innovation elements for strategic organizational success?

I wrote recently in a blog “From a buzzword to the imperative” ( http://tinyurl.com/8wluhbz) that I keep coming back to the leadership of innovation; we need to move it from the peripheral to a more central one for innovation to be constantly successful.

Wherever possible, executive should actively engage in innovation, to demonstrate commitment. When the organization sees that executive management is actively engaged, they understand the importance of innovation, they become motivated, they become aligned through a growing identification but they need this explained, to be framed so they know where, why and how they fit into this bigger picture.

Simply by communicating the purpose for innovation, innovation successes and innovation activities are some of the top roles for senior executives but it has to be in a well worked through in some really coherent ways, offering a comprehensive framework and not piecemeal as most organizations tend to do. You then eventually get to the point where this engagement, commitment and effort brings the organizations people together and they begin to value and relate to this consistent framework.

This then becomes a common platform for innovation to be housed under and is gradually developed into the common language that becomes central in good communications and practices across organizations. These forces that combine place  innovation in its appropriate context to deliver on the strategic goals and aspirations set.

I believe we can get towards this ‘point’ with some thoughts and structures can make an enormous difference to innovation. I feel if we can gain some much-needed traction on bridging the clear leadership gap on innovation for building for the long term success they certainly seem to crave for, out of innovation, then we can generate the sustaining growth for their businesses that combines short term needs with long-term goals.

Let’s unfold the thinking even further in the coming weeks.

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Interpreting the Strategic Discussion for Innovation

The struggle for innovation alignment is one of those real challenging issues that are seemingly very hard to resolve, or so it seems. I’m not setting out a comprehensive solution here, well not in this blog, of the suggested ways to address this strategic/innovation alignment issue, as that is far more complex. All I will offer at this point of time is this alignment concern is becoming increasingly top of my mind.

Constructing an innovation conversation framework

What I am offering here is an innovation conversation framework, on how we can approach different strategic value propositions, and where we might need to debate these across the organization, as the points of impact so we can make this move towards a higher degree of innovation alignment.

If we take the three ‘classic’ strategic thrusts of product leadership, operational excellence or customer intimacy, just for illustrative purposes here, then we need to make clear the potentially different emphasis points within any suggested innovation approach that we should take. We must, within any innovation approach, be clear on what and where we should be placing our primary focus.

Aligning innovation within a strategic conversation framework

This framing can be most useful to remind people who are involved that there are significant points of difference. There is a need to agree and align on what we are driving our innovation activity to support any selected strategic direction. This framework can really open up the discussion. It can begin to show the possible implications and challenges ahead.

Equally some might argue that you actually need to combine all three, well I’d certainly want to question that really hard on whether this is possible all at the same time. I would really doubt it, if you just consider some of the aspects I’ve laid out within this framework above.

If it is still demanded, and some leaders can be just that, demanding,  I would suggest you really do need, even more, a framework to remind you of the critical differences and what aspects need clear focus to deliver to the distinct value proposition parts. Each strategic value proposition has significant implications to plan and work through.

Having a top picture in mind certainly helps

Having a top picture of the where to place your emphasis makes some sense. I’m not saying these shown are the ones you will have within your boxes but all I’m offering here, is a suggested framework that captures the key strategic emphasis points, so as you can engage in a deeper discussion before you launch yourself in blue yonder.

This framework can help you to contribute to achieving a greater alignment between the strategic direction (product leadership, operational excellence or customer intimacy) and the key innovation aspects that help to align to this that the organization will need to think about and work through.

Does it make sense to you?