Friday, September 25, 2015

Starting an innovation initiative: An ABCD approach



Over the past half a decade, I have come across several companies who were interested in either starting or reviving a languishing innovation initiative. Unfortunately, many of them looked at the initiative as launching a series of innovation workshops. Of course, raising awareness is an important part of any new initiative. However, the workshop-only approach makes it much harder to sustain the initiative. Here is an approach I call “ABCD” that in my experience works much better.

Awareness: As I mentioned above, awareness on “what is innovation?”, “How to innovate effectively?”, “How to enable innovation?” certainly helps.  This can be achieved through workshops and knowledge sharing sessions. Apart from inviting internal and external experts to share knowledge awareness can also be raised by sending communication on useful links. Sharing of internal stories of both successes and failures may play an important role because people are able to relate to them more. Hence, internal blogs / presentations matter.

Bright spot: No new initiative gets adopted overnight. Chances are high only a few people join it enthusiastically. In such a situation the voice of “it is not going to work” can be high. What helps in such situations is to ask the questions: What is working well here? And, how can we scale it? For example, if a small percentage of employees give ideas in an idea campaign, we should go interview these people to understand, “Why did they give ideas?” Did their boss play any role? Was it about the reward?  Or was it more like an opportunity to do something exciting? Answers to questions might help in scaling the initiative further.

Challenge campaign: As part of the innovation activity, many companies revive or establish an idea box. For a technology savvy company this could be an intranet portal where employees submit ideas. In some places this is a physical box or a notice board with post-it notes. A typical complaint a few months after putting up an idea box is, “Oh, we are not getting any interesting ideas. Most of the ideas are incremental in nature.”  Incremental ideas play an important role in fostering a culture of innovation. However, if the goal is also to get big impact ideas, then the first step should be framing the business relevant challenges. With these challenges a calendarized campaign can be run inviting ideas in response to one or a few specific challenges. These campaigns not only improve the quality of ideas but also result in inter-departmental collaboration. Credibility of challenge campaigns rests on leadership sponsoring selected ideas for further development.

Dashboard: Any initiative needs a mirror that reflects the current state. Innovation dashboard serves that purpose. It may capture various pipelines (small ideas, big bets, prototypes, white papers, patents etc.), participation, business impact measures etc.  It may also capture event / workshop information (e.g. hackathon events, blogging competition etc.) The dashboard may evolve as the program matures. The dashboard is used to analyse the health of the initiative and design goals and interventions.

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