Marketing departments, by their very nature, are populated by some very creative people. Ideas are the stock-in-trade and there is a process for taking those ideas from birth through to fruition.
The same is true in R&D, but what about other parts of the company — the accounts department, or HR, for example – and what about partners and suppliers, don’t they too have great ideas and shouldn’t they be heard?
The fact is that organisations can tap into a battalion of potential innovators.
Ideas can come from multiple sources, but first they need to be sourced effectively, then they need to be assessed and then managed.
Arthur C. Clarke once said: “New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!”
This demonstrates at least two of the challenges in getting ideas up and running, but even if the process is punctuated, the end result is likely to be worth it.
Ideas are important. What company doesn’t want to be innovative and forward thinking?
However, sometimes the rush to innovate ignores broader company objectives such as growth plans and brand strategies. Innovation tends not to work successfully if it is viewed in isolation or constrained into a single business function.
The other temptation is to source ideas from a limited range of employees – the leadership team or marketing department, for example – but whilst they can build a culture of innovation and set tangible, actionable next steps, this approach fails to take in the value of engaging with all stakeholders.
Knowing where you are going
It’s important to consider why innovation is necessary, and what the outcomes should be. Is the priority decreasing costs and improving efficiencies, or introducing new business models or new products and services?
If organisations share these questions with the wider business, the answers can give everyone a common goal to work towards.
Different companies take different approaches to initiating and implementing innovation, some are more mature than others, so it’s crucial to start at the beginning, define a strategy and choose goals.
Process and tools
Now there is the issue of how to source and assess ideas. The first task is to make sure that everyone in the organisation can play their part, and this can be most easily achieved through good communication, and by appointing advocates for the programme.
Asking people for ideas is not a licence to invite complaints, so companies need to consider the innovation language that is used to engage with them. Focusing on negatives won’t work.
Instead, set challenges and ask them for their solutions. These can be very simple, or more complex. For example, the Head of HR at one of our clients simply set a challenge to come up with ideas for improving the forms his department used.
How can these ideas be gathered efficiently without getting lost? One way is through an off-the-shelf innovation or idea management solution, which has the advantage of being designed to capture, evaluate, prioritise and select ideas.
This has many benefits, not only allowing organisations to give their innovation efforts greater reach and visibility, but also enabling fast deployment of those ideas into actionable results.
Brimming with ideas
Idea platforms are easy to use and the process of inviting people to engage with them means that they attract input. So, it is a good idea to kick off with initial projects or challenges that are focused and targeted.
Organisations can be experimental, there’s no harm in getting it wrong, as long as it’s a learning process, and each step takes them closer to building that all-important innovation culture.
It’s also crucial to not take on too much. Requesting, receiving and implementing ideas will bring about changes, and these have to be managed pragmatically so the results can be measured.
When choosing the ﬁrst projects it’s a good idea to take the organisation’s unique environment into consideration. Does it support and enable the overall innovation goals? What could be the barriers to implementing the ideas?
One approach is an ‘ideation challenge’ – this uses the idea management platform to engage the wider organisation in a focused challenge, potentially with prizes or incentives for successful ideas. Another is a ‘hackathon,’ during which potential proof of concept solutions for a selected focus area are hacked and designed. Keep in mind, hackathons are not just about ‘tech’ or new products, but can be used to identify new marketing strategies or business delivery models.
Measurement is important and it won’t stifle the creative nature of innovation. Key stakeholders in the business can be engaged to deﬁne a consistent set of metrics for evaluating what is working well and what needs to be altered.
These will probably change as the innovation programme develops, and they should take into account not just the individual projects, but the entire process including the culture shift, behavioural changes and feedback in the organisation.
For many companies, the goal is to become innovators on a daily basis, rather than every now and again. Developing this culture produces and nurtures ‘EveryDay innovators,’ but to get to the point where ideas can be sourced, assessed and implemented – whether in 10 days, or longer – organisations need clear goals, processes, communication and measurement.
Being innovation-ready is a journey, and the final destination is well worth the effort.