Innovation may be standard operating procedure at venture capital-funded startups and tech goliaths such as Apple, Amazon, and Google. But it’s often a struggle for organizations in “conservative” sectors, such as insurance, banking, or government.
Leaders of these organizations must find ways to balance the tensions of their industry, complying with complex regulations or aggressively managing risk, while also encouraging people to innovate in order to create more value for their customers.
These organizations must be deliberate in adopting pro-innovation behaviors and changing their culture so they can still operate efficiently while also finding ways to innovate.
Here are 6 key practices that can add some quick-and-creative innovation, even in industries or sectors considered “slow and stodgy.”
1. Ensure that senior leaders truly buy into the idea of innovation. It’s not enough for the top management team to nod their heads when the CEO says, “be more innovative.”
Senior leaders need to put their money, and their behavior, on the line. The most concrete way they can support innovation is by funding innovation activities and protecting them, even during hard times.
2. Define what innovation means for your organization. It’s not just creativity. Innovation is a business discipline that creates value for customers in new ways and earns a measurable return.
Focus on key value drivers for your organization, which might be things like logistics expertise (Amazon), customer service (Starbucks), or innovative products (Apple). Look for ideas in line with your business strategy.
3. Teach people to innovate. Generating new ideas is only part of innovation. Managers may need to unlearn innovation-quashing behaviors — which are often unconscious — and adopt new ways of evaluating fresh ideas.
4. Track innovation efforts from beginning to end. Just because it’s creative, doesn’t mean you can’t measure and monitor it. Organizations should track inputs (how many new ideas are being generated) as well as outcomes (the ROI on the innovative ideas that are implemented).
5. Look for quick wins. Even with senior leaders on board and modeling innovation-friendly behavior, it’s easy for a corporate culture to fall back into its old practices. By finding and implementing “quick wins,” leaders can cement their organization’s commitment to innovation.
Pilot projects are a good way to manage the risks of innovation while still giving them a true trial in the marketplace.
6. Recognize success and thank people. Innovative organizations explicitly thank people for their ideas and contributions — even for ideas that aren’t implemented.
A thank-you can be anything from a hand-written note from a senior executive to an annual awards ceremony to honor innovators.
While it’s harder to innovate in some industries, leaders always have the choice of going against prevailing assumptions and choosing to build more innovative organizations.
That choice itself is an example of innovation.