If you are working with a startup company, innovation is what you do for a living. However, if you don’t work for a startup, you will face a certain amount of organizational inertia when trying to inject innovative ideas. And the path of innovation can be littered with stumbling blocks, everything from, “That’s not how we do things here” and “Good luck getting that past [legal, regulatory, upper management, etc.]” and even “That’s not your job.”
Don’t be disheartened. There is a way to innovate if you divide the three main challenges into categories—specifically, priority, process, and personality—and remedy them in a systematic way.
Overcoming each of these obstacles in turn will make innovation progressively easier. Soon you’ll be leading the way for others in your company to change, build, and grow the business.
Addressing issues of priority means you’re pointing out the need for innovation that others don’t see--particularly when key decision-makers are only updated during semi-annual meetings.
If you have a particular innovation in mind, you can establish a proper sense of urgency; for example, processes that were cemented five years ago may be slowing development down today (and fortunately for all concerned, you happen to have the solution).
But if you simply want to foster a more innovative environment, one good way to do so is to incentivize it. Many managers tend to focus on targets that drive their bonus percentages. If it tracks toward a bonus metric, managers will make it more of a priority. If your management chain is amenable, try a showcase/contest format with mission-oriented parameters to inspire your team. Encourage your stakeholders to enter.
Or better yet, just ask your team what projects they want to take on that would help the company grow. The more inspired, ambitious people in your group will enjoy the opportunity to flex some creative muscle.
Addressing issues of process will make it possible, from an organizational standpoint, to get those changes implemented.
Different companies maintain the status quo in different ways. Before you start, you need to know what hurdles stand in the way. Whether it is a penchant for new ideas to be talked to death in committee, or reams of paperwork that must accompany any new unknown, you must have a clear idea of how your organization will respond to your new idea—and plan accordingly.
Check in with the Risk Manager if you have one, or if you don’t, an experienced peer who has successfully made changes in the past. He or she will likely have a unique perspective on previous initiatives and how they were accepted—or ignored. If nothing else, they may catch some possible points of contention you missed when devising your plan.
Armed with knowledge of prior changes, one can work around “analysis paralysis” by getting sponsors higher up the chain. Be prepared to take on some of their suggestions, and remember to acknowledge the company’s rules.
Getting an incubation-type initiative together (with executive sponsorship) is also a great way to entrench innovation as part of company culture.
Lastly, with priorities expressed and processes established, it should be easier to address the more people-oriented obstacles.
Specifically: People hate change. Even change that will ultimately benefit them, a particular project, or the business in general.
Start by learning as much as you can about the leaders in the organization who embrace innovation, then be sure to keep them in mind when you are looking to make changes. Meanwhile, onboard managers, who then in turn can onboard their teams.
If there are not enough senior leaders willing to innovate, you may need to persuade them. Getting them on the same page as you may be as simple as explaining how this new plan benefits them...
...or by gently reminding them that if you don't grow your intellectual capital, a competitor will grow it for you.
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