I visit so many service organisations where the word innovation just doesn’t seem to exist. The general notion is that because the firm neither owns or makes anything tangible then innovation doesn’t apply here, Sure it can be bought in as an ‘add on’ and ‘enhancement’ to the service but it’s not part of what the organisation does. Either that or its relegated to the product development team.
Not surprisingly these are the very same organisations that are just following the curve, which is OK for now…but one day the curve may be too steep for them to keep up and, why would clients come to them unless they are market or industry leaders? Unless of course the price is cheaper, in which case low price will be their differentiator. Not a great position to be striving for I hasten to add.
Airbnb is a great example of an innovation in the accommodation sector. They neither own nor rent any properties and yet within 10 short years, the company is valued at more than Hilton Hotels and Hyatt combined. Organisations that are deemed experts, luxury brands and have been in business for decades.
So just what is innovation and why should organisations sit up and listen?
Professor John Bessant, in his article for the Telegraph explains innovation as the creation of value from ideas. This can be value for customers, supply partners, internal colleagues – it’s basically anything that improves someone’s position and as such everyone in an organisation has a role to play. It has long been recognised that those that actually ‘do the doing’, ‘meet with customers and business partners’ are better placed to spot where improvements could be brought it and where value could be added to their work as well as the stakeholders they interact with. Organisations such as Virgin are often held up as the shining examples of organisations that encourage idea sharing and who listen to and empower their staff, but for many a smaller organisation these giddy heights are seen as unobtainable. After all SME’s don’t have the manpower or financial resources to adopt the same principles do they?
The thing is, neither did Airbnb or Uber when they started. But by adopting a culture that not only allowed innovation to have a place at the table, but positively welcome it and built it into business as usual, these firms are now leading the way in their respective industries.
What prevents otherwise outwardly successful organisations from being truly innovative and building a strong platform for future growth and success?
John Kotter, Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School and respected thought leader in the field of business, leadership and change, developed this model
demonstrating barriers to change (and hence innovation) in his book on Leading Change (Kotter, J.P. (2012) Leading Change. Boston: Harvard
Business Review Press).
Sadly, I have to concur that where change and innovation (and usually growth) is absent, the traits shown above are usually evident within organisations and sadly the leaders are oblivious to the role they play in creating this model and these obstacles. I often hear that ‘the team isn’t capable, committed, interested” or similar. My answer is always – ‘but you employ them!” You and you alone are responsible for the culture of your organisation, the calibre of staff employed, chartering the course the organisation is heading in, providing the tools and resources available to conduct your business and the processes they follow.
How to implement a Culture of Innovation
Is it possible for existing organisations to create a culture where innovation becomes the norm? Where ideas develop continually, and staff are empowered to act on these and bring them to fruition without a minor war committee taking place? And where change is not a dirty word, but a natural flow for the business?
It’s actually not too difficult where the will exists from senior management and, most importantly where there is clear direction for the organisation and trust in its
employees. Theory suggests that norms which promote innovation include: – teamwork; effective group functioning; speed & urgency; flexibility & adaptability; and a sense of autonomy; celebrating imperfection.
Subtly and sympathetically follow the advice here and you won’t go far wrong.
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