5 Strategies to Drive Innovation Initiatives Forward in Your Company
It seems as if organizations ask their people to innovate, but then end up blocking it from actually happening.
This post is relevant to all change agents, corporate innovators and coaches that are hired to inspire, support and help teams innovate in organizations.
You might have been in a similar situation. I have at least a couple of times...
You are ready to innovate with your team(s) and bring new corporate ventures to market. You might have set up a hub, designed an end-to-end innovation process and written a playbook.
But somehow bringing the ventures to market doesn’t go as smoothly as in the case studies. Your teams have produced great pitches and business models, but now they seem to be stuck, unable to get to the next step. The people you need to collaborate with are not convinced and the customers are not accessible.
In every part of the company, the teams run into roadblocks and immovable obstacles such as…
1. Teams get stuck in endless problem/solution discovery as stakeholders tell them that the problem they are solving is too small, the business case looks bad and they don’t have time to help.
2. Sales teams are not providing access to customers, as they are only incentivised when a deal is closed.
3. No access to relevant customer data, because the team doesn’t know what to ask for or the data isn’t readily accessible.
4. Traditional waterfall processes focused on delivery prevent teams from experimenting and exploring different options to the same problem.
5. Solutions that require a change in operational models, such as business units working together, are rejected because there is no shared strategy and the divisions have different targets.
6. Little to no interaction with the business unit that will need to integrate or operate the business going forward, so the solution has no future “home” in the organization.
Suddenly bringing corporate ventures to market looks a lot tougher than expected!
You might conclude that the innovation methods do not work within your organization or industry. Innovation sounded fun but the organization is not ready for it. Before you give up on innovation completely, consider a different approach. Below are my learnings working with corporate innovation.
1) Less talking, more doing!
In the start-up world, an idea is good, but the execution is everything. In organizations, we tend to believe we can innovate behind the desk, or in PowerPoint. We say a lot of words, make a lot of slides, and hopefully get to a management buy-in meeting. All valuable and important exercises, but also a lot of time spent before the actual value is realized. Producing better slides is the fallacy of added work. It won’t bring you closer to a validated idea.
Instead of arguing your case try instead to find ways to move forward. Psychologists have found that action is the best way to change a person’s thinking. Show traction by talking to customers, getting letters of intent, hire outside talent to speed up development to promote the progress, both internally and externally. You probably still have to produce the slides, but now you have the evidence to back up your claims
“Action changes attitude a lot faster than attitude changes action” — Adam Ferrier
2) Be a momentum-maker
Momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. When two objects collide, the momentum of one object is transferred to the other, forcing the other to change course.
You create momentum for yourself and your teams by constantly moving forward. Getting things done in a larger organisation that by design is process-driven and risk-averse might seem impossible. But as long as you achieve a goal, even a tiny one, you create more momentum for yourself and the teams.
You probably don’t want to go for the bigger challenges in the beginning. You can think big, but you should start small to avoid analysis-paralysis and build up momentum. You need a certain mass and speed to make an impact on the bigger obstacles. Your initial goal should be to show progress, then tackle the bigger issues. The smaller wins will enable you to show progress and incrementally create more momentum for yourself and the venture teams. Instead of thinking you need to build an accelerator or innovation hub in order to succeed with corporate innovation, consider identifying an initiative that wants your help and help them succeed first. You can use that win to scale-up and help more teams.
3) Don’t rebel, be the cool-headed scientist
The processes and structures in a corporate restrict peoples’ ability to do things in different ways. You will hear NO a lot — don’t take it personally. Being an internal innovator is a careful balancing act between following the rules and straight-up rebelling.
You‘re passionate! Great, but if you don’t understand and appreciate the context you are operating within, you will burn out. You get much further by staying cool, learn how the system works and play the game to your advantage. This means internalizing the mission of the company, flowing and adopting the key behaviours of big corporations, e.g. leveraging KPIs, hierarchy and politics. Be deliberate in how you apply the innovation methodology (i.e. design thinking, lean startup, agile) and reflect on whether it will work in your organisation.
“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not remains a fool forever“ — Chinese Proverb
By working as a scientist, you will have the ability to be curious, ask questions and learn how the organisation operates. Why are we doing things like this? Could there be other, better way? Constantly challenge how things work, without the fear of looking dumb, experiment your way to success. As you experiment and learn how to innovate within the organization you can capture that as a bespoke playbook — a set of practices tailored to your organisation’s culture.
4) Find a sponsor and build a coalition
Increase your chances of success by building a coalition of impactful business leaders. You won’t get far without support from leadership and the business units that will operate the ventures going forward. Gain momentum by finding the right first sponsor within the organisation. The sponsor will need sufficient organisational credibility to be taken seriously, otherwise, you will be struggling to secure the required funding for future investments/initiatives. The right sponsor will be able to sell the vision, show the way and remove impediments.
Be deliberate about the problems your teams are tackling. The aim is to find a sponsor that will buy into the problems your teams are solving. This is best achieved by finding a clear fit with your sponsor’s goals. Also, be specific about your ask. You need to clearly communicate what you need to be able to, deliver otherwise how would they be able to help you.
5) Committed team members
You need full-time, dedicated team members with the domain-specific knowledge necessary to make fast, intelligent decisions. Train your teams in an agile and lean mindset if they haven’t been trained already.
Consider quantifying the team’s expertise in new business development, agile, lean startup and design thinking. Your company might have put all the tools and processes in place, and the teams might have familiarized themselves with the methodologies, but do they have the actual practical experience required to use them correctly? In essence, do the teams have real intrapreneurs, with the required mindset?
If you don’t have internal resources or sufficient competencies, get them from the outside as soon as possible. Your teams don’t have to know all the tools, canvasses, etc., but they must have the right mindset to be able to work around impediments, not give up, question the status quo, seeking new problems to solve and be willing to risk failure in order to address them. Consider hiring an entrepreneur-in-residence, a co-entrepreneur or a hands-on coach to join the team 1–4 days a week. They will help steer the team to build the right venture for the company.
Conclusion: Be a scientist, move forward one step at a time, build momentum and find the right sponsor.
If your teams act and show progress, this will impact the mindset of the leadership team, in return, they will support more action. When you have your first fully committed teams with sufficient leadership support you can proceed to the next challenge. Build momentum, one step at a time.
Above is inspired by many sources. Thank you 🙏