4 Ways to Drive Growth-Unlocking Internal Innovation in Your Organization
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Few things are better for business than heading an organization that’s always at the cutting edge of innovation. Not only will you make more money selling the new product or service, but it will also cement your position as a thought leader among your customers. When you think of innovative phones, don’t you think of Apple?
Innovation is not about the products and services of a company. It’s about what happens internally behind the scenes, which is arguably at the heart and soul of everything else.
Why internal innovation matters
You probably don’t need us telling you why innovation is important. According to the Boston Consulting Group in 2015, 79% of respondents thought innovation was one of their three biggest priorities. Likewise, a 2014 survey of 500 senior leaders by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found that 94% of organizations believe innovation is crucial for success. Yet, although 77% of these firms were trying to improve innovation, just 14% felt they were achieving success.
Companies often focus too much on making changes to products or services. These are great sources of external innovation. But what about internal innovation, which can be defined as changes made within an organization (e.g., adapting the hierarchical structure)? It is often overlooked.
Both types of innovation can help companies grow, stay ahead of the curve, and create a niche. Internal innovation is more cost-effective and more accessible because it involves making long-lasting changes. Once the people in a team have the tools they need to succeed, you free them up to create breakthrough after breakthrough.
Now, let’s get on to the good stuff. Innovation is all about action. Here are four ways to get it moving:
1. Create a culture of experimentation
By definition, innovation involves trying new things that may not have much precedence. There’s a high chance that you will make mistakes or fail when you try something new. This is combined with an organizational structure in which individuals are striving to rise the ladder by succeeding consistently, and it’s easy for people to shy away innovation out of fear that it will harm them. It’s the responsibility of leaders to create a culture where the opposite happens, and everyone in an organization feels actively encouraged to experiment.
This is possible by leading by example. It makes it easier for leaders to share their failures and successes with the company. If you are willing to try new things, you can also celebrate small successes.
2. Use data to detect inefficiencies
*Innovation is often about finding a problem and then finding a solution. How can you identify these problems the most accurately? Data.
Collect data on your current processes, such as what happens in your meetings, how long different processes take, or what exactly different team members spend their time doing. Is there an area that is particularly inefficient? If so, find out how to fix them.
Naturally this analysis will require some data literacy. You may need to train your staff for best results.
3. Encourage bottom-up ideas
When we hear about a major innovation in a company, we often think of the CEO or other executives as the ones responsible. They are often the people featured on billboards. In reality, though, the people who are best at coming up with solutions are those who are the most familiar with the problems — and that can mean low-level employees.
Unfortunately, most organisations don’t offer these people any opportunity to share their ideas or make them feel valued.
Leaders have to create a culture that encourages this, once again. Make it a part of your business meetings to allow people to offer their suggestions at the end. A form that is always open online could be an option for people to submit their ideas for discussion in the next meeting.
4. Don’t be afraid of new technologies
When you are familiar with a technology and can’t picture life without it, it’s difficult to look at someone who refuses it. Imagine speaking to someone from the year 1990 who was reluctant to use Excel and favored pen and paper — you’d almost certainly feel frustrated. It’s tempting to give up when we’re at the other end of the technology change and are confronted with a technology that we don’t fully understand.
On an organizational level, this can feel particularly daunting, since adopting new technologies could result in weeks of disruption as staff are trained and new equipment is installed. However, technology is essential to prevent you from being left behind.
Another note: Be patient with employees who are afraid of new technology. They might be technophobic, especially when they are not in a technology-centric job. Do they need additional training?
Innovation is yours to take. You may need to adapt the strategies to your particular organization. However, one cornerstone principle remains: We’re better off embracing change than shying away, and your organizational structure is the perfect means to do exactly that.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.