Businesses that are innovating regularly (and well) are the envy of those who know innovation is important, but not how to “get there.” A host of challenges can stand in the way – not least of which is a lack of understanding of the process of innovation, and how to jumpstart that process within an organization whose leaders may not be entirely sold on the need for a system.
What’s required for building an innovation program that works, and how do innovation champions get naysayers on board? Is there a class that companies can take to learn how?
There’s this: Corporate Innovation 101: How We Got Started – our latest Google Hangout where the above questions, and many more, were answered by a phenomenal panel of experts. These folks have lived through the start-up process to run successful innovation programs worthy of the envy mentioned above. Who are they?
- Kuhan Milroy – Sr. Director of Social Business Innovation, SAP
- Ieasha Taitano – VP Innovation and Design Thinking, LPL Financial
- Courtney Wood – Director of Innovation Management Services, TCS
The discussion covered key components of challenges faced when starting an innovation program, and how to solve them. Here are some highlights:
With Proof Comes Support
Even with companies that claim to want to innovate, selling an innovation program to key executives can be difficult. “I haven’t run into a situation yet where the exec sponsors were like, ‘Yeah, c’mon in, shake stuff up!'” Says Taitano. “So almost always we’re going in there selling our value. And trying to get them to trust us despite their gut telling them it sounds scary.'”
And this is a common challenge. What’s the solution? Proof that structured innovation works. This requires diving in, finding people who have a problem to solve and are excited that you can help them and then solving their problem.
Results are what will convince the C-suite, as will getting the trust of the people THEY trust – so approach them first when you’re looking for problems to solve.
And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. “There are still a lot of opportunities outside of engineering,” notes Milroy, “So especially like in marketing and sales. Those areas are just untapped. Nobody seems to think that finance is a place you should go to get innovative ideas.” But there’s no limit to where innovation can happen.
The Right Personalities Make All the Difference
Having team members who can sell the program internally – to the C-suite and beyond – is crucial because innovation can cause a lot of anxiety.
“One of the most important roles for somebody who’s in the position of evangelizing or pioneering innovation – your biggest job is going to be realizing what people’s anxieties are,” says Taitano, “and help them individually manage those anxieties away.”
Also identifying the “natural entrepreneurs” as Wood calls them, and nurturing them is important. Like Millennials. These ‘digital natives’ – for whom all of this is second nature – need to feel like they’re part of the business process.
Adds Taitano, “You need instigators and mavericks. You need people who understand that a maverick is a role, not just a personality trait. It’s actually the way people interact with each other. They can use that energy and turn it into something good and positive.”
And you don’t need a large team – you need the right folks with the energy to rally the rest of the organization.
Wood suggests, “You want to look for folks that have done design thinking, that have been in new venture development, that have experience in lean innovation or lean agile development, particularly when you’re thinking about the conversion or the back end of the innovation life cycle. Not just ideation, but then converting those ideas to value.”
Thinking ahead to the value you want from your innovation program will help you find those perfect team leaders – the type who can energize the rest of your organization and continually prove the merits of your innovation efforts. When you have that, you too can be the envy of everyone else.
And that’s really just a small part of what we covered. Listen to the full Hangout Corporate Innovation 101: How We Got Started for insight that will get your innovation program started on the right track!