The world today moves at the speed of constant innovation. Some innovations are large, like a new product idea; some are small, like a new feature — a button added or an enhancement to an existing product. But every improvement establishes a new standard that consumers come to expect and sets them apart from competitors. For continued growth in this environment, staying innovative is the key. A consistent, sustainable level of innovation across the organization is how a growing company remains competitive.
But to draw the most use from constant innovation, you need a plan. Otherwise, you get a bunch of people in a room throwing around too many ideas and becoming disheartened when a million are rejected before one is good to go. With a framework in place for analyzing which ideas are worth carrying out and a clear education about how everyone can drive company objectives, teams can work autonomously to carry innovation through to execution.
Three Ways To Let Teams Innovate
To cultivate innovation from more parts of a company, leaders need to enable employees to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and, through the lens of continuous improvement, see opportunities to showcase innovative ideas everywhere and risk as part of that critical process. Team members need to feel like they have the autonomy to take the initiative and drive innovation, but leaders can give them that autonomy in several ways.
1. Directed Innovation
This approach gives senior leaders a ton of autonomy in achieving a high-level objective. They identify a business area to explore and build a product in, not thinking about scale but about building fast and iterating until they find the right fit to match the objective. Then, once they land it, they hit the scale button.
2. Incremental Innovation
This is a more generous version of directed innovation. Leaders empower individual teams in a domain area, like payment or checkout on an e-commerce site, with the autonomy to assess the given data and knowledge to innovate with speed while keeping client needs in mind. It may be more directed because people still operate under the constraints of a specific scope, but less directed in that the teams have the autonomy to innovate existing technology as needed to serve their customers.
3. Grassroots Innovation
In this style of innovation, leaders stay open to hearing ideas from teams across the company, but it needs structure. A common example that companies use is “Hackathons,” or events where teams can collaborate and harness their creativity to generate new ideas. However, they still need to figure out how to choose which ideas to run with and take them across the finish line. To create an environment open to hearing great ideas from every corner of a company, we also need the tools and framework to assess if the innovation is worth the investment.
Approach Constant Innovation With a Plan
Innovation grows a business and helps it stay ahead of the competition by making optimal use of the newest technologies, and all three types help keep companies constantly innovating. Companies that continuously pursue incremental innovations and improvements in products and operations deliver increasing value to their customers with greater efficiency. Establishing a culture of consistent innovation ensures the most cutting-edge products respond to more consumer needs. Still, to maximize the growth and development benefits, companies need to approach it with a strategy in mind.
1. Ensure team clarity on objectives.
Educate staff on the business goals, strategic direction and metrics for success to structure their thinking around innovation. Ensure clarity at all levels of the organization around team autonomy, so everyone knows how much of their innovation and accomplishing it is under their control. The proper guardrails in place from the start — training and education about the business, its goals and objectives — will help people structure their thinking.
2. Establish safety around the autonomy to innovate.
For maximum innovation, give teams full autonomy to present their ideas in a safe environment. It often takes several unsuccessful ideas to land on one with potential, and no company can afford to waste time exploring a million wrong routes. They might feel their new ideas are too crazy and, after a string of idea rejections, shy away from revealing them because they expect they will get thrown away. To avoid this environment potentially demoralizing the team, set the right expectations and priorities around innovation from the start.
3. Create a strong framework for investing in good ideas.
For constant innovation to be most effective, prioritize time and resources to create a framework that weighs the strategy and goals of the company against the amount of effort required and revenue gained to assess which ideas are worth it. Once identified, move in a more formal direction and start to give that good idea more shape. What are the tradeoffs? What is the cost? How does it add value to our strategic objectives? How is it connected? — The framework should assess all of these issues and provide a support structure that enables people to get those answers and follow an idea through to execution.
Innovation invariably comes with risks — expenses, instability or, potentially, success — but innovation makes the difference between stagnation and growth. Give teams the autonomy to innovate and the understanding that constant innovation takes resilience but also sets more people up to take the lead. To make the most of a culture of innovation, spread it throughout your team and generate more ideas from more places. Then create a framework to filter out the promising ones. By the end of the process, you’ll have an abundance of innovative ideas to help your company grow.