Innovation management – doing it right

The most important things to get right in your innovation management programme

Innovation departments are still defining their specific set of tasks and duties. And when I talk about innovation departments, sometimes that means ad hoc groups of people who come together to bring structure to strategic change at an organisation.

We’ve found team members in various departments: like product, research and development, IT, communications, HR, and others, which means there are a huge variety of skill sets and backgrounds that you have to coordinate. So as the innovation discipline begins to develop its own best practices and expectations, we’re trying to learn: how do they use their time, what are their duties, what roles do they need on the team and what sorts of tasks do they complete?

Well, our customers have provided us with answers to these questions and although the list of duties and responsibilities is considerably longer and more complex than this, we’ve boiled it down to a list of five things that an innovation management programme should do, with a particular emphasis on the one thing you MUST get right.

1) Create a resource database of ideas

That means collecting ideas and becoming responsible for them. Not every idea, of course, is high quality or ready for production, but the collection is not just about finding the best ideas. It’s about nurturing ideas into bigger and better concepts or keeping not-quite-ready ideas in a place where they can be leveraged when the time is right.

Maintaining this database and making it valuable is the place from which many other duties stem. Obviously, customers who use idea management software have this virtual idea location easily defined, but the teams themselves need to put in some work to maintain it. Having some always open, ongoing campaigns for blue sky ideation as well as time limited, focused campaigns helps drive urgency and participation to get a mix of ideas.

For example, the innovation team at NASA solicits problems from across the organisation and turns to the crowd for solutions. But after nearly eight years of running these challenges, even the ideas that aren’t selected are searchable and sortable so that anyone who has a challenge can first explore the living database of ideas and if they don’t find a solution, they can launch a new challenge question.

2) Define and align KPIs

If you’re asking team members to be responsible for innovation, you have to make sure that they know when they’re doing it and that their contributions are being tracked. For example, how are you going to get someone in your marketing department (whose KPIs are associated with lead gen) to care about contributing their ideas to your programme? You have to make sure that participating in the innovation programme is one of the criteria that they are evaluated by.

One of our healthcare customers, TriHealth, did this by putting idea contribution and development into every employee’s annual review. Programme participation in that initiative was nearly 100 per cent. But doing this right also means recognising and rewarding those who generate value, in this space as well and reporting on the success of good ideas over time.

3) Communications is absolutely imperative

In fact, after ten years at IdeaScale, one of our most downloaded resources is still our innovation communications plan infographic. And communications is a big job. It means articulating the value of participating in the innovation process and socialising good ideas that are happening in one part of an organisation with the entire organisation, so that everyone can get better together.

This means celebrating successes publicly and also talking about failures so that everyone can learn from them. Our best customers are experts at multi-channel communication and inspiring the crowd to participate. One of our more creative financial services customers, Banchile Inversiones, hired a live comedian to visit their offices to encourage team members to share their ideas.

Western Australia Police made the default computer background for their employees an invitation to view their idea database. A military customer nominated their best ideators to the Smithsonian invention exhibit – their employee won, so now even the general public can learn from their creation. But one thing is for sure – when it comes to communications, email must be part of your strategy. Not your whole strategy.

4) Research and train team members

One of the most shocking findings from our annual customer discovery is that more than half of innovation teams have trained less than ten per cent of their workforce in any sort of innovation best practices. This seems like one of the biggest opportunities for supercharging an innovation programme.

Innovation training empowers team members, because it offers a shared language for innovation, sharing their research findings, tools for brainstorming best practices, mentoring them in developing a business case for a fresh idea and more. The more you invest in your intrapreneurs, the more likely they are to help you co develop valuable solutions.

One of our integrated services customers, who excels at mentoring ideators, brings the idea suggester through the entire development process (building a business case, prototyping, testing, re-working)… even including helping them prepare a final pitch for the highest level executives in their company. This empowerment not only improves innovation outcomes as the entire workforce starts to learn about how to develop ideas, it helps advance employee engagement, as well.

The most important thing…

And what’s that number one thing innovation management programmes must get right? They must define a repeatable process that aligns good ideas to resources. In other words, spend time developing a process that surfaces good ideas to decision makers with influence.

In an assessment of our most successful customers (those who stated that they had met or exceeded all of their innovation goals), 81 per cent said that they did have a formal process for idea management, but only 30 per cent had a dedicated budget for implementing ideas.

How is it possible that they successfully achieved their goals without any budget?

They were experts at taking institutional energy and using it to influence leaders who already had budget. For example, one of our process superstars had a defined innovation funnel that helped them source advocates and feed ideas to the appropriate parties. After an initial assessment of idea desirability, a small team would analyse the idea for an appropriate team member to investigate the idea in more depth or attach it to a larger concept.

Monthly meetings to check in on each stage kept this whole process on track, and they implemented hundreds of ideas without any defined budget, because the best ideas were helping to solve problems that those departments already had (or would have on the horizon).