Getting better at anything requires discipline and innovation is no exception. One of the best ways leaders can instill innovation discipline is through an Innovation Intensive. Let’s take a look at what it is, why it matters, and the steps required to make it a success.
What exactly is an Innovation Intensive? An Innovation Intensive is a dedicated period of time during which a team, function, business unit, or entire enterprise will focus efforts on raising the bar. Raising the bar is very different from “fixing.” Fixing is about getting things back to where they were before or keeping things on track. Examples might include activities related to dealing with a safety incident, legal dispute, late deliveries, personnel issues, supply chain disruptions, or any number of things that consume the time of leaders.
“Leaders recognize the value of dedicated time for activities that lead to success. They carve out time for planning and budgeting. They regularly review talent for emerging leaders. Why wouldn’t leaders (those who really want to excel) not be just as disciplined about innovation efforts?”
Why is the discipline important? Innovation is the lifeblood of any organization. Innovation is what keeps an organization relevant. It plants the seeds for future success. If leaders are not planting those future seeds, then they may find themselves unprepared for inevitable changes. Plus, it is a lot less embarrassing for leaders to have the discipline to stay ahead of issues today than to be caught flat-footed in the future. There are many companies who were once innovative, but lost their edge. Companies like Sears, FTD Florist, Blockbuster were all innovators in their time. One wonders what might have been if they had stayed more innovative and made better choices when they were in strong market positions.
Here’s how you put it together:
- Determine a time horizon. For a small team, the intensive may be as short as a month. For larger teams, the intensive may be as long as quarter. An enterprise might consider two quarters. The magic is not is the time itself, but that there is a clear period on the calendar in which the activity will take place. As far as when, the best time to start an intensive is after a strategy session or at the end of a strategic planning cycle, while the strategic initiatives and plans are still fresh.
- Select the group. The group may be your own team, a senior leadership team, a functional group like HR or Safety, or the entire enterprise. It is best to include people that are close to the issues and have first hand knowledge of challenges. Also consider if there are key groups who, if they collaborated more effectively would have an out-sized innovation impact. This varies widely by company, but might include operations and engineering, for example.
- Plan and follow all the steps. Innovation, just like any other discipline has discrete steps. While leaders want to move fast, don’t miss the key elements. Moving too fast on innovation can cause issues that can be avoided with a little structure. Any innovation effort should include ideation, evaluation, development, selection, planning, and execution. Following the steps need not be onerous, but you will do yourself a favor to hit each one before moving to the next.
- Communicate progress. It is fairly easy to get people excited about raising the bar. However, that enthusiasm will rapidly wane if they have no idea what ever happened to their ideas and their efforts. Make sure the people that were involved know 1) where the team is in the process (ex. are we getting ideas now or are we working on developing those idea?) and 2) what actions are being taken.
- Monitor results. Keep track of the efforts that were initiated. Innovation (even in the form of intensives) is a process, not an event. Make sure you have a system to track the status of ideas and progress to realization. Innovation is applied creativity, not just being creative. Make sure the creative efforts and progressing towards tangible improvements.
A couple tips to get the most out of the discipline:
- Stay strategic. While all improvements are welcome, not all improvements are strategic. Let people know the areas where impact would be most meaningful. That is why after a strategic planning session is a great time to initiate some intensive thinking about ways to raise the bar.
- Innovate collaboratively. Every organization has two or more key groups that make ideal innovation partners. In the energy sector these are often field operations and engineering. In other organizations that might be R&D and Sales or Safety and Production.
- Be inclusive. Include a wide group of people, especially in the ideation phase. The more inputs and perspectives, the better quality ideas will be generated and (not surprisingly) adoption of ideas will be dramatically easier.
- Don’t delay! While starting an innovation intensive after a strategy cycle is a good idea, delaying for some ideal future is a bad idea. Just like savvy investors don’t delay making investments in their retirement accounts, organizations cannot defer good innovation discipline to some perfect “non-busy” future. It will simply never come.
Leaders recognize the value of dedicated time for activities that lead to success. They carve out time for planning and budgeting. They regularly review talent for emerging leaders. Why wouldn’t leaders (those who really want to excel) not be just as disciplined about innovation efforts? Follow the steps outlined above a you will make great strides to raising the bar for your organization.
For more ideas about how to raise the innovation bar in your organization, get a copy of the ebook Ridiculously Innovative: Generating More Ideas Faster to Grow your Business or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time to discuss.