DOs of strategic innovation work

In many organisations, innovation is a rather fuzzy word to the extent that there is a lot of confusion as to what innovation actually is and is not. People may interpret the word ”innovation” differently in different parts of the organisation — and as such, although strategic focus is often put on innovation initiatives from executives, people in the organisation are often not sure how to act on it because of this confusion.

So why is this? Because naturally speaking, just like all other strategic initiatives, it must be clear to the organisation exactly what is meant by innovation when focus has to be put on this. So how do you go about this?

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

Start by defining what innovation is

People may interpret the word ”innovation” differently in different parts of the organisation — and as such, although strategic focus is often put to innovation initiatives from executives, people in the organisation are often not sure how to act on it because of this confusion.

So why is this? Because naturally speaking, just like all other strategic initiatives, it must be clear to the organisation exactly what is meant by innovation when focus has to be put on this. So how do you go about this?

To make sure that the organisation is clear on what is meant by innovation in your company, you must define exactly how you define innovation to begin with:

1) What do you mean by innovation?

2) What type of innovation are you talking about when you talk about innovation?

To start your innovation work right, it must be clear to the entire organisation what exactly innovation is in your company — and what role it is supposed to play depending on what type of innovation is meant when you say ”innovation”. Are you trying to improve your products, your services, and your way of working or acting in the market to stay competitive? This is almost a prerequisite to exist in markets today as competition is a reality in all areas of business. So you need to manage current business with focus on incremental improvements to do and act better than you did yesterday.

On the other hand, if you are trying to create the business of the future, you will need to focus in on what you imagine will be at the core of your business in the future. In that case, the central assignment for you is to look at how you can act differently to create new business or extra revenue and growth for your company.

As you can tell, the two types of innovation and their definitions are so different that they require different skills and methodologies. So the definition of innovation and what type of innovation you are focusing on is a key foundation for the strategic work with innovation in the organisation moving forward.

Find out how you want the two types of innovation to co-exist

In every company, both types of innovations will probably take place. However, to ensure that the two can co-exist and thrive in an organisation, the key from a strategic viewpoint is to be clear about exactly how much emphasis you want to put on each of the two types. Do you want your organisation to put its main focus on incremental improvements and innovations, thus allocating budget and resources primarily to initiatives in this direction? Or, do you want to dedicate a substantial budget and resources to new initiatives focusing in on creating the business of the future?

Determining the split of activities dedicated to both types of innovation is important for the organisation to be able to focus and allocate its resources according to the overall strategic objectives. So, the most important question you need to ask when pointing to any strategic initiative and innovation: How much time, budget and effort are you willing to allocate to it?

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Put your money where you mouth is

I believe we all know this expression — and it’s an important one to keep in mind when discussing strategic priorities and innovation initiatives of any type. If you are not able or willing to allocate resources in the management team, dedicate employees across the organisation to the project as well as a allocate a budget, chances are that your initiative will crash before it is even off the ground. So think thoroughly about how many resources you are willing to allocate to your innovation initiative — and how much support and attention you are able to dedicate to it. All strategic initiatives need visible support from management to be able to get the right focus from the rest of the organisation — and chances are that the support is key to keep the initiative going in the right direction further along the way.

So, in my opinion, when it comes to strategic innovation, do:

  • Dedicate top management time to the initiative.
  • Involve top management in the project to maintain buy-in on the initiatives and create an understanding of what it takes to carry out the innovation work.
  • Make sure there is management support and involvement in all stages of the project.
  • Align expectations with management to agree on the key objectives of the initiative.
  • Spend time creating a clear understanding on all levels of the organisation what the definition of innovation is in your organisation — and which resources you are dedicating from each of them.

Stay focused, get feedback, communicate and adjust

Once the strategic direction of your innovation initiative has been defined, the focus of innovation has been agreed upon and resources have been allocated to the project, now comes the hard work of engaging the team, focusing in on the objectives, getting feedback from the team as well as the rest of the organisation. Communicate clearly and adjust along the way to stay on track for the desired results.

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Lene Lindstrøm Olsen

Nerdy and passionate about strategic and cross-organisational business development and innovation. Equipped with a somewhat bad sense of humor.