Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Some thoughts on making innovation live and breath

Pick up any Management magazine today, or look at the events on the conference circuit and you will see a plethora of articles about “Innovation”. It is the latest mantra and, in this tough economic climate, Management Teams are looking to it as the way to differentiate their product or service. They read about Apple, Google and Tesco and look to these organisations for inspiration and whilst lessons can be learnt from successful organisations, it would be a mistake to simply lift what works at Apple and put it into a bank.

The Innovation Beehive works on the principle of stimulus – look at successful organisations, unpick the principles of why they are successful and then apply those principles to your business.

There isn’t the space here to write about all the building blocks that go into creating an Innovative organisation, but I want to share a couple of key learnings. And if you want to know more, then give us a buzz.

All the organisations we have visited have one thing in common – as well as making lots of money (!), they have clearly defined and communicated a “Higher Purpose”. We call this freedom in a gilded cage” – an articulation of their reason for existing that is more that about profit and a clear communication to staff of what is and isn’t on brand.

One company that constantly innovates is Ikea.. They exist:

“To Create a Better Everyday Life for the Many People”

This is far more inspiring than, “we exist to sell inexpensive furniture”. It’s a real duvet chuck statement – a reason to get out of bed and go to work on a Monday morning. If we unpick it further, it creates a unique organisational lexicon – “the many people” is uniquely Ikea – it sounds just sounds like Ikea. Additionally, this Higher Purpose can be translated into an employee, customer and product proposition – whilst building the gilded cage, they have created a Vision that works for all parts of their business.

Ask yourself – do I have a Vision that inspires my people? Is it about more than money? Are we doing well and doing good?

Following on from the Higher Purpose, Innovative organisations are clear on where their Innovation is going to come from.

The Ritz Carlton believes that the best innovation happens at a local level; when it responds directly to guest’s needs. They empower their staff with $3000 to make things right for the customer, without the need for management approval. Staff are constantly looking for ways to improve the guest’s experience, whether it is fixing something that has gone wrong, or delighting them with unexpected surprises. We heard about a chambermaid who noticed that the guest was putting the nightly pillow chocolate in the bin, along with several Snicker wrappers. She realized that the guest loved chocolate – just not the one supplied by the hotel. So the chambermaid went out to the local Seven Eleven and bought a mini pack of Snickers and, every night, placed one on the guest’s pillow. A tiny service Innovation, but a great wow for the guest.

Proctor and Gamble have developed a whole innovation system – they call it Connect + Develop. In 2000 they set themselves the goal to source 50% of innovations externally. They had 9000 in-house R&D experts, but believed this strategy would give them access to over 2 million scientists worldwide. Today, this ‘open source’ innovation programme has resulted in some of their most successful products including Swiffer Wetjet and Crest White Strips. They publish their big opportunity areas annually and anyone can submit an idea though the Connect + Develop website. Alongside this they have worldwide ‘scouts’ that search out the latest thinking in service, technology and product devices from university labs, small businesses and venture capitalists.

Ask yourself – do I have a structure in place to drive Innovation? Does all my Innovation come from the centre? What ideas lie outside my organisation or with my employees?

All the innovative companies we have visited have a real buzz about them – a real energy. In part their physical environment drives this. Environment can either drain you or provide you with energy. And energy is the key to innovation (and employee engagement). The best examples of organisations that drive Innovation is where they provide places for creative activity, places that stimulate, spaces for reflection, spaces for collaboration and spaces to play. All these spaces live and breath the Brand – whether it is Innocent’s grass filled offices, P&G’s dedicated off-site Innovation Centre called The Clay Street Project or Virgin’s Headquarters, where bold graphics communicate the company philosophy (“Screw it, Let’s Do it”) and an informal meeting room called “The Love Room” create a sense of play, brand values and creative spirit.

Ask yourself – what does our physical environment say to our staff? How is it influencing behaviours? Does it drive the behaviours we need to win in business?

Innovation is a system. I have described three elements of that system above. To really live and breath innovation you will need to look at many other components – Leadership, Communication, Recruitment, Reward and Recognition, Skills and Customer Closeness.

But if you start with the three above, you will begin a journey that is exciting, financially rewarding and will give you a real duvet check on Monday morning

For more on this check out “I wish I worked there! - A look inside the most creative spaces in business” by Kursty Groves

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