In the Moment

Innovation Checkup: Are you ready to innovate?

Erika Bailey

Innovation. It’s a craft and a journey, not just a lightbulb moment or breakthrough product. Business people use this word a lot, but often struggle to find a way into innovation work. Is it about ideas? Is it about creative people? Better spaces? Years of experience have shown my colleagues and me that establishing a clear understanding of an organization’s readiness to innovate can be one of the most important things an organization can do on their innovation journey. 

Upon becoming a full-time member of The Moment in 2014, one of my first (and favourite) responsibilities was to lead the creation of our Innovation Checkup that assesses an organization’s readiness for innovation. With the Checkup, we wanted to:

  • develop something that new and existing customers could use to do a baseline scan on their organization’s readiness to innovate
  • suggest starting points for organizations
  • start better conversations within organizations about what it really takes to innovate

Since creating the tool, clients tell us that simply doing the Checkup has been helpful to understand what the elements of innovation readiness are. They also tell us that it reveals how much they don’t know about their own readiness, especially if a number of people took the Checkup and received contrary results (different people will have varying vantage points, and differing access to innovation elements). Follow up conversations with us are usually centred around what each element looks like when it’s really working — enabling innovation efforts.

This post is intended to help with a deeper understanding of each element in preparation for the Checkup, or as a follow up read.With that in mind, you may want to take a few minutes now to take the The Innovation Checkup now and receive your results. It only takes about 5 minutes. That way, you can apply the information below to your own results, to greater effect.

The Innovation Checkup structure:

The structure of the innovation checkup is based on 3 critical innovation areas that are required for innovation readiness. Thus, the Checkup uses the following categories:

  • Questions about culture (the patterns of behaviour and norms that pervade your organization);
  • Questions about infrastructure (the policy, leadership and plans that support innovative efforts); and
  • Questions about activity (what you are doing to build innovation capacity, capability, and results).

High marks in one or more areas suggests that your organization is set up for innovation success. A low mark in any area shows that something may be impeding or derailing your innovation efforts. The Checkup gives you a baseline indicator: what’s helping you? What might be your way?

The thinking behind this tool is inspired by the work of Langdon Morris,Edgar Schein, complexity science, and the experiences of working with our clients.

Now onto the details.

The Checkup gives you a baseline indicator: what’s helping you? What might be your way?

Innovation Culture

Innovation culture is built over time and will make or break your innovation efforts. This is often why companies choose to segregate or incubate innovation. Let’s keep this work safe from our regular, traditional ways! While that can be an effective strategy for certain types of innovation efforts, you may still find that outputs from incubated efforts are blocked by the dominant culture of your organization. Paying attention to culture can really pay off. Here are the cultural elements we focus on:

Prototyping and Testing Innovative organizations work in short, inexpensive learning cycles. They prototype and test ideas before significant investments are made, to maximize learning opportunities and product/ service success. Waterfall project management norms may suggest a barrier to innovation work, or at least some friction with iterative practices. Good innovation work yields both successes and inevitable failures. Iterative processes and project management keep those failures as small and manageable as possible for as long as possible, and foster the learning environment that innovators require.

Unusual Suspects Innovative organizations seek out expertise, and place real value on unusual perspectives and knowledge. The boldest of us will seek out very disparate views, and even people we consider “contrary” to our points of view, just to ensure we have looked at all sides. Organizations that engage unusual suspects tend to form multi-disciplinary teams, and openly seek out lessons from industries different than their own for learning and inspiration — keeping them away from boring ideas that lead to only incremental improvement.

Collaboration Innovative organizations solve problems by collaborating across silos, hierarchical divides, and roles. They value and demonstrate a commitment to collaborative tools. They tend to work big on the walls and show works in progress, inviting others to contribute. You can see evidence of good collaboration in the physical environment (look for Post-its as a clue but not the end goal), and in relational patterns (trying stuff out together, seeking input and ideas).

Embracing Change Innovative organizations are not attached to the status quo. They seek out “the new” and are willing to tear down beliefs and products/services that are ‘sacred’ or untouchable. They are open to re-imagining their purpose when necessary. They may ask: Are we a car making company? Or are we here to move people…however they want to be moved?

Trust and Safety People in highly innovative organizations feel supported in taking the smart risks necessary for great innovation work. Leadership does not punish (through monetary or social means) those who challenge the status quo, or those who encourage new ways of thinking and doing. Patterns in highly innovative organizations leave people to consider viability, feasibility, and desirability of innovative ideas instead of worrying about their job security for suggesting something wild.

The Checkup gives you a baseline indicator: what’s helping you? What might be your way?

Innovation Infrastructure

Innovation infrastructure is what holds your innovation work up, and supports its progress. It may seem like the boring part of innovation readiness (space, policies, benefits, etc.), but without it, we allow traditional policies and structures to undermine our innovation efforts. It is often the easiest thing to address, if given time, scope, and commitment from the top. Here are the infrastructure elements we focus on in the Checkup:

Strategy Innovative organizations have a clear innovation strategy, which outlines the who, what, when, how, and why of their innovation efforts. Countless clients come to us with the word innovation in their business strategy, but no clear idea of how to make innovation a real practice, producing real results. Building a good innovation strategy may involve strategic foresight, research, and co-creative sessions, and almost always includes the development of an innovation portfolio.

Workspace Innovative organizations have flexible, customizable, and sometimes playful working environments that can be reshaped to fit the needs of collaborative work. Organizations who are building their innovative space, may be transforming their spaces into being more conducive to collaborative work, taking down paintings, and putting up white-board paint on walls, or removing cubicle spaces and creating cross-functional working pods. Others create space from scratch that enables innovation work to flourish. People in innovative organizations not only have the space, they use it.

Rewards/ incentives Traditional incentive programs tend to be at odds with encouraging innovation. Innovative organizations have rewards and incentives that make innovation work (including inevitable failures) worthwhile for people, when it comes to recognition and/or compensation. Some incentive programs stifle innovation work, because they focus merely on siloed success, and reward nothing involving cross-functional learning, failure, or development of new products, services, and business models. A status quo incentive structure may drive even your most ambitious innovators back to the old ways of doing things because it rewards only those things.

Resource readiness Innovation organizations make innovation work a budgeted and resourced business activity (not “side of desk”). So often, we find clients thinking of innovation as an extra project that is piled onto an already full calendar. Tied to a lack of incentives, a lack of resourcing support can signal the death knell for innovation, or relegate it to the realm of incremental improvement.

Leadership Effective innovation leaders are knowledgeable about innovation principles and work. They publicly sponsor the work, and avoid blocking new ways of doing things. They stay the course through changes to innovative work patterns, and avoid giving up before positive results can be measured.

Innovation Activity

Our point of view on capability building is based on the belief that we learn by doing, and that action leads to new ways of thinking more easily than the other way around. Innovation Activity is an accelerator for innovation culture, and requires the innovation infrastructure supports. It creates stories that create social proof so that innovation practices and spread. Here are the activity elements we focus on in the Checkup:

Capability building Innovative organizations know that innovation capability is not a given in every workplace, and that as the innovation field evolves, their people need to keep pace with innovation knowledge and skills. People within innovative organizations are constantly evolving their skills through training or real work applications of new approaches. People are both aware of, and are practicing with innovation principles, frameworks, and tools.

Customer Centricity Innovative organizations put customers at the centre of their work. They use tools and methods that keep that focus squarely on the customer. They engage in good design research to understand customers at a deeper level, with both quantitative and qualitative tools at the ready. They engage in problem finding activities, surfacing untapped opportunities in the marketplace.

Co-creation Innovative organizations co-create products, services, and processes for and with the client or end-user. Wherever possible, customers are invited to co-create solutions in person or in virtual environments, allowing for design artifacts to take shape and reveal new insights about customer values and behaviours.

A closing thought

Remember: innovation is a craft and a journey. Savvy leaders see it as such, and take seriously the work of making an organization ready for that journey. Like any good design effort, start with discovery. How ready are you really?

Now it’s your turn! Make the most out of this read by taking the Innovation Checkup, now. Then pass it on to your colleagues so you can get their perspectives and start a great conversation!

This piece was originally posted on medium.com

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