Innovation. We want to innovate. Everyone tells us we need to innovate. Everyone else is innovating and we need to keep up to them. If we don’t innovate we will be left behind. To this end, many companies are hiring Innovation Officers, Innovation Directors, or God forbid a Chief Innovation Officer. Some companies include Innovation in their name hoping to imply they are innovative just by having that name. Governments are adding Innovation to a Ministers Portfolio name in the hopes that they may generate Innovation. Even in my own city, Winnipeg, they hired a Chief Innovation Officer and are trying to innovate.
So what is the problem? Surely it is a laudable goal to innovate, improve, and excel? Absolutely it is. The unfortunate fact is that the way people are addressing innovation has very little chance for success.
Innovation processes can’t simply be overlaid on a corporate structure that wasn’t innovative in the past and Innovation will occur. In the case of the City of Winnipeg, a call went out for people to submit their ideas and those ideas would be reviewed by the Chief Innovation Officer, the Chef Administration Officer, Chief Corporate Services Officer and Chief Transportation and Utilities Officer.
Oh boy, where do I start on this one? Lets use bullet points:
- The people at the highest level are talented individuals but probably are not aware of Innovations required throughout the corporation. They are going to miss a ton of great ideas.
- What is the Strategy that Innovation is required to address? What are the objectives? A general call for Innovation will probably generate a lot of wasted time as Innovations are submitted that aren’t a priority and people will wonder why their submissions weren’t chosen. (Unless a meeting is held to do a retrospective on every submission, but my experience is that doesn’t happen in these Innovation Beauty Contests)
- If the Culture of the corporation was not open to ideas in the past, people may be hesitant to submit ideas formally via email. Some ideas may highlight inefficient processes that could implicate co-workers. So people are likely to just not respond. (especially if they would implicate supervisors and managers who hold power over them)
How to Innovate
So how would I create an Innovation Culture?
- Just that. Realize that it isn’t about generating Innovations in your current corporate structure. Innovation is about a change project to change culture profoundly.
- Invite people from across the corporation to participate in the Strategy Creation. If that isn’t feasible, at least communicate the Strategy in a meaningful way after it is decided. (i.e. a face to face meetings and not just sending a Strategy document out for people to read)
- Engage the people who are interested in face to face Innovation meetings where groups can submit, discuss, and shape Innovation ideas with their co-workers. These sessions need representation from front-line staff, supervisors, managers, and executives.
- Ongoing efforts to create a culture that is a safe culture for new ideas and suggestions. This is important. You can’t have Innovation if you don’t have a culture of Safety. You can’t have an open door for Innovation and a closed-door for everything else.
This would be a start, but it isn’t guarantee. It takes hard work and lots of communication between people and time. But there is no shortcut to Innovation.
Especially hiring a Chief Innovation Officer.