5 ways to foster a culture of innovation in your business

Leigh Jenkins
Marketing Manager | Enterprise Europe Network
29th March 2017

For many businesses creating a culture of innovation throughout the organisation can be a challenge, particularly when there are teams dedicated to new products or they operate in an industry with tried and tested new product development mechanisms.

Whose responsibility is innovation?

Innovation is often seen as solely being the job of R&D teams or managers, however in the most highly innovative businesses everyone is empowered and encouraged to innovate. Google used to be renowned for their ‘20% rule’ – every employee was encouraged to, in addition to their usual projects, spend 20% of their time on what they thought would benefit the company most. This may not be practical for all businesses but the principle of empowering employees to come up with new ideas, and have those ideas put forward for filtering and selection, is sound.

All employees know their different parts of the business so might it be worth facilitating their sharing of ideas for a bit of cross-fertilisation?

Your customers might have the answer!

Whilst only a bold business might directly ask their customers what they should be doing differently or what products they should be developing, the discipline of being close to your customers and understanding what their pains are is a good one. Whether you actually ask customers if there is something that would make their life easier or simply reflect on what they are saying, there can be valuable intelligence here.

You need to make sure that you have a robust and appropriate way of analysing the information and deciding which ideas to go after though.

Innovation isn’t just about the new great thing

We are all aware of the six-monthly cycle of iPhone updates along with the publicity and hype that aligns with the latest products and the next great thing. Many organisations, including the RNLI, have teams focussed on identifying what the innovation landscape will look like in ten years’ time. The next killer product may well be what your business needs or your business model is about, but this doesn’t always have to be the case, particularly when you engage with your customers.

Incremental innovation in products, improved internal processes and manufacturing enhancements to enable increased quality or reduced cost can be equally valid innovation routes.

But if you’re looking for the next great thing . . .

Then don’t be afraid to fail, but fail early. Try out a number of potential new products but have a robust project management process that kills projects that just aren’t delivering before they consume too much resource and burn too much cash. Highly successful businesses often have a number of early-stage R&D projects on the go but only the most successful ever hit the stores.

The ‘minimum viable product’ is one of the current en vogue concepts – the idea that you launch a product (or test a representative version of a potential product with real customers) early in order to gain real-life feedback whilst you continue to innovate. This can be seen most readily in software products and apps where they are launched with a minimum set of features with more added as time goes on but the concept can well be applied to other types of product.

Communicate and celebrate successes!

A key part of more widely engaging your team in innovation is to keep their enthusiasm and inspire them to continue coming up with ideas. Be sure to tell them what has happened to anything they submit for consideration, give them feedback and congratulate them. When new products are launched be sure to recognise everyone that contributed and remind staff on the purpose of the business – remember the story of JFK asking a NASA janitor sweeping the floor what his job was. “I’m helping put a man on the moon" was the response!

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