- Mix of people/skills. If you’re reviewing technical ideas, should the entire idea review team be engineers? Likewise, if you’re reviewing financial processes, should everyone be an accountant? My answer is no. Your team should contain a mix of people/skills that are germane to the types of ideas that you are reviewing. If you’re reviewing lots of technical ideas, then it makes sense to have a larger number of technical people, however, a healthy balance of other skills, such as legal, financial, and marketing will provide better results and align with the personality of the organization more clearly. Besides, many people who are accountants today may have been engineers yesterday, in a previous job and/or organization. It’s not unusual at all to find people with very diverse backgrounds and experience and in fact you should seek them out. These types can add depth to your team and will often see ideas from a completely different (and better) perspective. You may also want to consider rotating people on/off the team frequently. While you may give up some of the productivity you’ll gain by having a consistent group, by rotating more people, you’ll keep the program fresh, and you’ll involve more of the organization. For many, this visibility is both an experience and an opportunity to be seen as a contributor, and can provide future benefits for the organization. Additionally, it opens your idea review process up for more people to see how the process works someone who might feel the process is unfair, would gain an appreciation for the intricacies and difficulties in making decisions.
- Reward. For many organizations, reviewing ideas is just another to-do among an already long list. While many will feel the intrinsic need to be fair and committed, others will lose this feeling quickly. Some rewards can be easy, like recognizing the team periodically, giving them additional titles, and (as mentioned earlier) giving them some accountability and control. However, you may want to consider other rewards, such as team lunches, apparel, or other small tokens.
- Commitment. Obvious, but easily faked or eroded. Make certain that each member not only has the mentality for the commitment, but also put in place safeguards to ensure it. For example, get the idea review team out of the office to a neutral location. I can’t tell you how many times that someone will pop their head into an idea review meeting, and ask one of the members, I’m sorry, but can I talk to John for just a minute? Inevitably, the interruption is longer, as John usually must attend to something urgent. It’s really hard for me to believe that anyone in the company can’t have a few hours without interruption, even the CEO. Make sure that they have some interest in pushing some of the ideas to completion the idea that is first submitted rarely is in the final form and usually requires a bit of help to move it forward. Oh, I forgot my laptop, or I didn’t have time to… This goes hand in hand with commitment. If they can’t remember the tools that they need, or don’t have the time to prepare for the meeting, they’re doing not only the review team, but all of the idea submitters an injustice. Make it clear what needs to be done beforehand.
- Authority. While it may seem obvious that the idea review team is supposed to review ideas, the end result may not be so obvious. Will they have the final say or will they have to get their recommendations approved by some other group? If they must get their approved ideas approved again, you’re taking away some of the respect (and prestige) out of the process. There’s no question that some ideas require further deliberation before they can be implemented, but if every one of the ideas must go through an additional step, then you really don’t have a review team. Instead, allow the review team to approve ideas within certain parameters, such as money, time, or cultural impact. That way, you’ll keep the review process intact as well as reducing the need for two teams to review every idea.
Improving Innovation: Company Culture.
An interesting paradox exists: Most companies fear change. Yet, they have to resist fear and take serious risks in order to innovate. How do you change that culture of fear that pervades most companies?
Change can be a tremendous opportunity, but there are no guarantees – it can also backfire and cause terrible consequences like profit loss, wasted time and resources, public humiliation, and other dismal failures. On the other hand, fear itself also causes companies to pay out lots of money for quick fixes to problems they should be solving permanently and internally.
So, how can you be sure you’re doing the right thing? Start by basing your innovations on sound principles, rather than on the latest trends, untested methodologies, and spaced-out ideas from self-dubbed “thought leaders.”
One thing is bankable – if you want to beat the competition and own your respective market space, your company will not accomplish this if they operate on a culture of fear. Don’t let the anxiety of ‘being different’ hold you back from delivering new products and ideas. Just test the waters properly first and always follow a sane, proven methodology each and every time.
Culturally speaking, how do you start encouraging innovation, rather than stifling it? Allow your employees to have some time to work on their own projects and improvements, and give them credit for doing so. When it comes to moving ideas and programs through development, eliminate as much of the red tape as possible. Meetings, talks, seminars, studies, reports, and ‘documentation-for-the-sake-of-documentation’ – all of these slow people down.
You can fast-track certain projects with a ‘Just Do It’ policy – that is, allowing certain ideas to circumvent the normal process if they come with a strong enough business case and fast-to-prove ROI. Keep in mind that budgeting a small amount of money for these quick-turn projects is crucial. Putting tools in place to streamline certain parts of the process is very important, but make sure these are planned and implemented with strong processes behind them.
Maybe most importantly, you’ll need to communicate from the top down and let everyone know that innovation will be the priority from now on. Get visionary leaders in place that know how to look at the larger picture and leverage the feedback.
Minimize the fear and get your culture right and you’ll see the wheels of innovation start rolling.
Great article from Nilofer Merchant, author of The New How, about employee feedback and the proverbial “Air Sandwich”. See what happens when leadership sets unattainable goals without first getting a “reality check” from their staff on the front lines.
Nilofer has worked with tons of huge tech companies like Autodesk, Adobe, Symantec, and VMWare, helping them create and implement innovation strategies. According to her, employee feedback and a company-wide systemic approach to dealing with innovation, are necessities.
Flagpole is an important first step in gathering feedback from employees and other audiences. We can help you implement a straight forward strategy for ideas and problem solving across your company to avoid the “Air Sandwich”
In some of the most successful companies today, Innovation is constantly being pushed forward by collaborative groups. Whether formally organized or not, teams like this use a variety of tools available to share knowledge in a non-hierachical fashion.
You might call them ‘Communities of Practice’ or even ’Innovation Committees’ at your company, but their function is to meet regularly to openly discuss topics and information germane to their business. The goal is to solve problems through communication and to promote new ideas among the members.
Long before companies recognized and formalized any modern approach to innovation, one American forefather created what is recognized as the very first collaborative group. Benjamin Franklin organized a group called Junto in Philadelphia which consisted of selected people from diverse backgrounds and varying occupations. They met regularly, usually in a tavern, to have discussions and try to solve the political issues of the day. Franklin felt that a braintrust of people with different perspectives would solve more problems faster than any lone individual ever could. The small, dynamic club discussed anything from philosophical questions to community problems, political issues, and business affairs.
Franklin’s Junto obviously didn’t have cool web 2.0 tools or email to faciliate the sharing of knowledge. They did their thing in an open forum that met weekly and listened to eachother speak about mutually agreed-upon topics. The key to their productivity was strong organization and a feeling of equity among its participants. They followed a formal order at meetings in which everyone had the floor to share thoughts in a respectful environment. Does your company do this for it’s employees?
Imagine what you could do with a similar model using the tools available today. That’s what Flagpole’s (www.flagpole-software.com) all about!
You can easily implement a simple, standardized process for sharing ideas and knowledge within your organization. Your “Discussion Topics” will become the ”Challenges” that you share outwardly. Your ”Junto Members” are your employees or coworkers, who will share their unique perspectives to help you build on ideas and solve problems.
In many companies, innovation is only focused on finding ways to directly improve the product or service they offer. In reality, there are many opportunities to innovate that you may not even be thinking of.
By analyzing the entire breadth of the customer’s interaction with your products, you’ll uncover new strategies for differentiating hidden aspects of your offering from your competitors’. You can begin to do this by asking customers (and employees that interface with customers) key questions like these and analyzing the findings…
- How do customers discover their need for your products?
Are customer aware that you can satisfy their need? Do they even know they have a need in the area that your product or service covers? There may be a better way to create the feelings of need or desire for your solution.
- How do customers find and purchase your offering?
You may need to make your product easier to search for, find, order, or purchase. Can you make the availability of your product more prominent or your advertising more ubiquitous?
- How do customers make their final selection?
Maybe you can find a new way to help your customers narrow down the possibilities, or make it easier or more convenient for them to make a selection in your marketplace.
- How is your product or service delivered?
How does it get in the hands of the customer and what happens once it’s there? Can you make this experience better, faster, or less costly for them or you?
- What is your customer using your product for?
Can you change or add new ways for them to use (or reuse) your product?
- What are the difficult things about using your product?
Can you make this experience better? What are the common Customer support issues? Can you change something to make it easier to use?
- How is your product supported or repaired?
Can you change the methods of fixing products or resolving issues? Can you eliminate some problems entirely? Would spending money to change or redesign something now save you a lot in support costs?
These are just SOME of the many areas you can improve by learning more about people’s experiences and interactions with your company’s offerings. It all starts with gathering feedback and interacting with customers and employees. They KNOW what the problems are and they WILL tell you if you ask.
With Flagpole (http://www.flagpole-software.com), you can present questions like these to your audience to get honest responses that could help you innovate in new areas that your competitors aren’t even thinking about.
When it comes to implementing any new innovation, no matter how rock solid the value proposition or business model, there is no guarantee that it will be successful. That’s because innovation, by definition, disrupts the status quo. In short, change scares people.
Customers, employees, partners – they could all resist (or flat-out reject) your latest effort or breakthrough simply because it’s different than what they’re used to. That’s fear of change, and the way to overcome it, is by educating the “fearful”.
Customers – Companies need to be creative, but forthright about how they educate consumers and clients about new products. While it’s not prudent to use your new product marketing efforts to explain every implication and nuance of a new offering, that information needs to made available to the public at large, even if it contains some negative connotations.
Create a space on your website where customers can take a deeper dive into the product, answer their concerns, and learn the details honestly from your company. Much better to do this that to have a competitor or disgruntled customer exposing bad information that you tried to hide, and simply can’t refute. Companies need to be proactive and cover all the bases in their communications with the public.
Business Partners – When you introduce a new idea or product to market, your partners may fear consquences that your organization is not even aware of. If the product is seen as a revolutionary replacement for something they already offer, or something that closes the gap between your existing product and a service that they provide, then you could have a mutiny on your hands.
Smart innovative companies keep the channels of communication clear with partners to expose any potential oversights or conflicts of interest. Create proactive communications materials that offer all the facts, explanations and comfort to your partners. Make sure you have lots of personal contact with them before and during the rollout, and schedule meetings to discuss any objections and feedback they have. This way you can uncover any unseen negative aspects of your new offering, and smooth over any rough spots before they strike out on their own, or begin looking for another company to cohort with.
Employees – Some of the strongest resistance to change you’ll ever encounter can come from the inside – directly from your employee base. Trying to implement a more streamlined process in your organization, or taking something away in an effort to save money, is risking serious consequences to morale and productivity.
Companies that do these things successfully do so by making a concerted effort to communicate to employees that management is fully aware of all the threats a new innovation poses. Don’t try to enforce an overt “Do it or else” policy, unless you absolutely must. Instead devise ways to “enlist their willing participation”. Put employees in charge of projects and give everyone a stake in suggesting or voting on the ideas and programs your company implements.
One of the ways companies have achieved major success in this area, is by implemeting and ”all-hands-on-deck” approach to innovation. You can easily get this jump-started with a system like Flagpole (http://www.flagpole-software.com) where employees (and even customers and business partners) can have their input, submit ideas, leave feedback, and interact. You’ll find that by listening to your stakeholders, and empowering them to help you solve internal issues, they’ll feel more invested in the outcome. Everyone gets excited to see their own seed projects and programs gain acceptance and come to life.
Up until recently, the standard formula for most companies to innovate probably consisted of a closed-loop, if not clandestine, team of individuals to brainstorm and develop ideas. While some great projects will undoubtedly come out of this approach, the ‘innovation group’ can only do so much. That fact alone could become a barrier for a very large organization trying to solve a host of internal problems.
In the software arena, of course, there exists the movement of Open Source development. It’s powerful because it invites users themselves to get involved and to essentially become “co-producers” of the products they are consuming. The pride of ownership that comes from seeing the project as “your baby”, and watching it grow and develop, is fulfilling and inspires a sense of loyalty among participants. What if you could do that, in some respect, for your company and its products?
Although Open Source has never become the industry coup some may have predicted, the concept is a strong one that can be applied to other industries: By letting “outsiders” get involved, you’re able to pool the talents and unique experience of the best people you can reach, in addition to the specialists in your own Innovation Team or R&D group.
When companies open up the innovation process, great things start to happen. You increase the likelihood of finding the “good” ideas: the ones that are viable, core to your business, and will produce ROI. Now you’re gathering input from folks that offer unique perspectives on your business – maybe an approach to a problem that your “usual suspects” would never even think of. Finally, and no less importantly, you’re spreading goodwill and increasing loyalty among the participants. Customers continue to buy from companies that understand their wants and needs, and employees need to know that their input is valuable.
Invite others to help solve your problems and contribute to your products with Flagpole (www.flagpole–software.com). Flagpole is an easy-to-implement web tool for gathering ideas and feedback from your audience: employees, product users, partners, and suppliers. Flagpole guarantees that our product will provide you a return on your investment (ROI), or we’ll refund your costs, 100%. We also offer a free version so companies can get started immediately with absolutely no risk.
It is said that the more you know, the more that you can do with what you know. That’s why using research to breed innovation is essential for your business.
A corporate Research & Development department is an extremely important resource, but they typically tend to focus on near-term and short-term opportunities: The day to day improvements, the launch of a new product, the “low-hanging” fruit, as it were. A true research strategy involves a long-term approach and commitment to understanding the ways your market will change over time. In other words, putting research into practice means looking into the future, well beyond your current business model, to find new ways to impact slow and steady growth. This may require road-mapping your business according to new ideas, expert projections, and sometimes even major paradigm shifts.
Unfortunately, research such as this can be both expensive and difficult to perform. Many companies in this economy have been forced to cut spending in every department, and usually one of the first to be affected is the research team. However, a shortsighted decision to save money now by axing research, may truly hurt your business in the long run.
Research does not have to be a huge expense, though. Customer Feedback is an excellent way to gather information, discover trends, and predict the future of your industry. Managed efficiently, it can provide an enormous competitive advantage. By staying in touch with your customers’ wants and needs, you can find out a great deal of knowledge that can be practically applied to your business.
Acquiring feedback can be as simple as launching a web-based tool like Flagpole. Flagpole deploys quickly and creates an easy-to-use sharing ground for ideas and suggestions from your customers. You can directly ask them all the questions you need answered by issuing challenges. Your employees can also participate by submitting their own answers and ideas, and by voting and commenting on those received from your customers. This will begin to build strong and meaningful interactions between your company and your user community. What you gather from these interactions and ideas will undoubtedly help you predict where your market is heading, and where your company needs to be to stay ahead.