Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Best Practices to Bring out Innovation in any Organization

Business leaders today want to create a culture of innovation in their organization. Building a culture of innovation is not easy. Like all cultural changes, creating an innovation oriented culture will take time. Leaders must understand this and also understand that there are several steps of creative process before reaching the world of innovation. It takes strong leadership to build an innovative culture.

To build a culture of Innovation, leaders should implement to the following business practices, institutionalize them in the culture - by training managers in these practices and then doling out promotions and rewards to those who employ them (the following best practices) successfully.

Practice-1: Select the most creative individuals to lead the innovation efforts

Organizational innovation is dependent of individuals who can drive creative ideas into innovation. It is therefore imperative that the creative persons lead the innovation efforts. This is best done by selecting the "innovation champion". Innovation champion is the person who is creative, has adequate experience and leadership skills. The innovative champions must then be provided with adequate resources to develop creative ideas and carry it to innovation.
Leaders must explain this step clearly to all managers - so that they understand the stages of the creative process. It is vital that all managers understand the process of innovation and their roles in the process, else internal office politics can kill all efforts towards innovation.
Innovation champions must be chosen on the person’s ability to promote creativity within his group, capture the ideas and motivate the team to completion of the creative idea into innovation.

Practice-2: Create a Neutral Zone

Creative ideas requires lots of protection from the nay sayers when the ideas are in the early stage. This implies that the innovation team will need a kind of protective cocoon within the organization. This implies changing policies and procedures a bit, providing the tools and resources and ensure a hassle free work environment.

The innovation champion and the leader share the responsibility to go through the preparation stage and see that the group is adequately equipped. This "cocoon" must be protected from rest of the organization during the initial stages of its formation - else the business pressures will destroy all creativity among this group.

Practice-3: Give your innovators space & time to "play"

The innovation group will take some time to come up with creative ideas, play around with it and sometimes even mess up a bit. These activities may look like waste of time & resources. But during this incubation stage, these frivolous activities are all necessary to allow activating the deeper parts of the brain to solve a problem and make new connections. For a typical results-oriented executive, this can be hard to do - especially when the creative team happens to be a team of is expected to work in creating new blockbuster product or a dramatic business process. The senior executive who may have assigned the task may be hard pressed to let his innovative team have the time and space to produce truly transformative solutions. The key to letting people have room to "play" is to refrain from judgment of their activities or methods.
It is the responsibility of the leader to provide executive protection during the "play" time of the innovation group.

Practice-4: Resist the temptation to look for immediate results

As a leader if you are looking for immediate results, then you do not need an innovation team. Almost anybody & everybody in the organization can come up with incremental solutions or recommendations. There is no aspect of the business that can’t be improved through study and modification. If you are looking for immediate results, then opt for incremental improvements - improvements that can be executed by the existing teams in the organization.

If you are looking for a radical innovation, then the leader has to be prudent in setting deadlines. It is true that setting some kind of time pressure is essential to create focus among the creative teams and this will result in timely innovations. However, overusing of deadlines and results oriented management practices will kill all creativity. The best practice is to have close communication with the innovation teams so that leaders can develop an acumen for setting a beneficial timelines.

Practice-5: Give your personal commitment to implement the best ideas

Innovators seldom have any salesmanship. Given a choice they would prefer to work in isolation, play with their ideas and or generally rub others who are less creative the wrong way. Leaders who encourage innovation must act as the first line filter to test the best ideas and solutions, choose the ones that are that should be implemented. This must be done with consultation with the innovation champion and the innovation team. Once the ideas are chosen for implementation, then the real work of the leader begins.

The executive leader must commit resources of internal sales and marketing to promote the project within the company, build the ground support for the project and create the necessary momentum necessary to bring the new idea into fruition. This takes strong leadership skills: courage and persistence, and an ability to work the political and social process involved in getting others to adapt to innovation. Once the project is successfully implemented, the innovation team must be publicly rewarded to encourage other innovators and rest of the organization. Such public display by the top leadership will send the correct signal to rest of the organization about the value & importance of innovation.

Practice-6: Build the creative talent

Leaders who encourage innovation must also take a personal interest in building the necessary talent required. Leaders must be involved in selecting the members for the innovation team - even in the recruitment process. In addition, the innovation team may require additional training and skill enhancement. Executive leaders must take an active role in all phases of building this creative talent.

Closing Thoughts

Leaders who want radical innovation - must be willing to walk the whole nine yards. Making a statement or sending a memo or ordering a team to innovate will not deliver the desired results. If one looks at the most innovative organizations, (Google, Apple, HP, Toyota, etc), one can see several leaders within these organizations who are driving the innovations. These leaders themselves are not the innovators - but they know how and when to develop the creative talent and that brings about those wonderful innovations.


Julia Styles said...

It is necessary to have a system of innovation, and I like your ideas. If your creative thinkers need to speed up their idea generating process, they should check out brainstorming sites at my blog.

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