A culture of innovation is defined as a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an organization’s willingness and ability to innovate in order to create new value for customers, employees and shareholders. For large organizations, such as ones in the utility industry, to truly establish a culture of innovation, leaders at the middle management level must first and foremost be willing to stand alone and step “outside the box” to drive innovative thinking. In addition, these leaders must become a follower when they see an individual challenging the status quo. These traits will inspire innovators within the organization to innovate and will give others permission to join the movement.
This hack was written as one of the requirements to obtain the Innovation Mentor Certification at CIMp. The CIMp program is part of iVia, The Way of InnovationTM, founded by the University of Notre Dame, Whirlpool Corporation, and Beacon Health System. Learn more at http://innovationcertification.nd.edu/.
Most organizations have gotten on the innovation band wagon. Members are often told, “innovation is important, we must support innovation!” Senior leaders have directed employees to “make it happen.” Yet, all departments within an organization have their operational priorities. This leaves department leads to make the difficult decisions as to whether to support innovation or meet their operational goals. Innovation is not an “anything goes” proclamation. As a result, department leaders need to be armed with the tools and techniques required to lead innovative thinking to ensure that innovative ideas are not dismissed because of these two competing directives. Department leads committed to change culture will require courage to create an environment where individuals are willing to innovate on what matters.
Willingness to innovate on what matters
An individual’s willingness to innovate is a personal choice. We cannot force someone to share their creative ideas. Therefore, as a leader, we must create an innovative environment by clearly acknowledging the need for innovation and defining the types of innovative ideas that will be supported. Acknowledging the need for innovation is a critical first step in creating a willingness to innovate on what matters. To acknowledge this need, there are three requirements which must be satisfied: 1) defining innovation; 2) articulating intent; and 3) establishing criteria. First, the term “innovation” must be formally defined. Most organizations that are committed to building a culture of innovation have drafted a specific meaning for the word innovation. An example of a definition for innovation is as follows:
“Innovation is aligning our passion for collaboration with an enthusiasm for solving customer and business challenges; exploring new ways for improving existing processes; and creating a customer centric culture dedicated to continuous service and success.”
Creating an innovation definition like the one above is important because it establishes an alignment of people, resources and activities with an organization’s strategic direction, and it provides a scaling mechanism for innovative teams. Unfortunately, most organizations make the mistake at stopping at this point. However, to fully create a willingness to innovate on what matters to an organization, it is not sufficient to merely define innovation. We must go further and take the next step which is to communicate our intent for innovation. Innovation intent is an organization’s desired purpose for innovation. An example of innovation intent is outlined below:
The intent of innovation is to create a competitive advantage by:
• cultivating a culture where individuals are willing to share their ideas,
• connecting ideas to leadership’s priorities,
• building an organization that supports the individuals who have creative ideas,
• establishing simple processes that help individuals get their ideas from inspiration to implementation,
• investing in capabilities that enable an individual’s ability to innovate, and
• learning from our prior experience to continuously improve an individual’s opportunity to offer an idea that creates value.
The last step required to acknowledge innovation as important is to establish criteria by which an organization is willing to invest in supporting ideas through their innovative processes. The innovation criteria provide the specific factors an idea should address and ultimately the means by which it will be evaluated. An example of innovation criteria is listed below:
An innovation must help drive the organization to accomplish the following:
1. Deliver a proactive and personalized customer experience.
2. Leverage new and evolving technology to transform operations.
3. Bring value-added products and services to customers.
Acknowledging the need for innovation by defining innovation, communicating innovation intent and establishing innovation criteria sets the foundation for a willingness to innovate. However, this is merely one part of a two-part process. To build on that foundation, the second part requires the defining of the types of innovation that will be supported. At this stage, it is necessary to align an organization’s innovation strategy with its business strategy.
It is extremely important for an organization to align their innovation efforts with their business strategy because failure to do so establishes innovation as optional in the minds of the employees who are trying to decide whether or not to innovate. For true alignment to occur, it is imperative that we ask ourselves, what is the difference between business strategy and innovation strategy, and why is it important for them to be aligned? Examples of definitions for both business strategy and innovation strategy are as follows:
• Business strategy is “a mindful decision and commitment to a coherent direction aimed at achieving specific competitive business outcomes.”
• Innovation strategy is “a mindful decision and commitment of where to focus innovation efforts.”
Taking the steps to make a mindful decision of where to focus an organization’s innovation efforts such that it supports the commitment to a coherent direction, which is aimed at achieving specific competitive business outcomes is important because it:
• provides focus for innovation teams
• drives more, and more strategic success
• leads to ideas that relate to one another
• helps prioritize ideas
• leads to building a platform of related concepts and future offerings
• guides exploration into technologies, insight mining and idea generation
• aids gaining approval to advance concepts as they are aligned with and organization’s business strategy.
Department leaders, who take the time to understand the relationship between acknowledging the need for innovation and the importance of aligning innovation strategy with the organization’s business strategy, will be able to provide clarity on what is important to the organization for individuals willing to innovate. This will help eliminate the need to choose between supporting an individual’s willingness to innovate and their department’s operational goals. It will further demonstrate that these two goals are not mutually exclusive but rather can and should co-exist. All it takes is a little leadership courage.
Once the need for innovation is acknowledged, and innovation strategy is formed, aligned to business strategy and communicated, an organization may find:
1. Individuals and/or teams may start to submit innovative ideas to support a department’s operational priorities.
2. A department’s operational priorities align to the organizational innovation efforts.
3. An organization’s innovation efforts align with the overall business strategy.
4. A department leader can facilitate a team through the innovative processes to generate ideas and effectively advance them without having to choose between supporting innovation and meeting operational priorities.
This hack focused on the first two steps of a four-step journey that will help organizations build a culture of innovation. The steps include:
1. Organizations acknowledge the need for innovation.
2. Leaders create the willingness to innovate on what matters
Additionally, the following will complete the innovation journey:
3. Leaders create an ability to innovative thinking
4. Innovation is embedded in the way organizations do business.
1. Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy by Michael Hughes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO8MwBZl-Vc
2. Collective Genius, The Art and Science of Leading Innovation by Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove & Kent Lineback
I want to acknowledge my colleagues at Exelon for providing additional insights and examples while creating this Hack.
I would also like to thank my fellow CIMp members for their support.