How To Democratize Innovation Within The Organization?

How To Democratize Innovation Within The Organization?

Gokul Ranganathan, Partner Consultant, Erehwon Innovation Consulting, 0

As a firm believer in the potential of innovation, Gokul has the ability to seamlessly move between the business context of creativity and human element involved in making breakthroughs happen.

In the last decade, the way organizations embrace innovation has significantly changed. From important to ‘urgent’, from nice-to-do to ‘must’, from side projects to a slide in the 5-year ‘strategy’ presentation, from a skill to an organizational ‘value’, its a healthy recognition that one cannot do without innovation. The love for it is out there for us to see, so much so that organizations and leaders seem to have an unwritten code - that not using the word innovation in a company-wide email, town-hall or in strategy discussions is bad. The Why? behind innovation has gotten well-established over the decade.

However, the biggest challenge that leaders and organizations are grappling with is the How?— How to orchestrate the play of innovation? How do I, as a leader, unleash innovation within teams, across levels? How to enable them to create quantum impact?

The most effective and powerful way would be to democratize innovation within the organization - where innovation is not an isolated function or a privileged professional club restricted to few, but a liberating cause and agenda for every single team and its leader to play with.

Before decoding the ways to democratize, some myths deserve to be busted:
Myth-1: Realities of today need urgent solutions while innovation is for the future with no connection to the current and its a long drawn process.

This belief often restricts the benefits organizations can reap from innovation. Innovation is a ‘means’, not an end. Its a tool very much applicable to finding transformation solutions for challenges of current business as it is for creating an amazing future possibility.

Sounds utopian? Here are some examples: A leading auto company launched their brand new vehicle at the peak of recession and achieved sales 30 times their initial target. A top solar power company increased the power generated/acre by a factor of 12X. A manufacturing company tripled the plant capacity without adding a single manpower. All these teams leveraged innovation to identify powerful solutions for their urgent business problems, not over months but within days.

Myth-2: Innovation is limited to the strategic lot and to select-few functions or high potential individuals. Its not a game that everyone can play.
This is a self-restricting belief. Innovation can happen anywhere and everywhere. From customer facing innovations to internal; core-functions to partner functions like HR, procurement, admin.

A HR team reduced the lead time from induction to fully independent deployment of a new employee from 6 months to 10 days with multi-fold increase in the quality. Purchase team saved raw materials worth INR 50Cr/annum - a direct bottom line impact. An admin team came up with innovative ideas to make the corporate office relocation, from city centre to suburbs, an enjoyable experience than a trauma, in a city notorious for its traffic.

Here are four key levers to set the ball rolling for democratizing innovation:

1. Build the Demand for Innovation
Organizations end up focusing on the supply of ideas without generating the demand for it, leading to long-shot, disjointed and irrelevant ideas.

The business leader has to develop a new persona for democratizing innovation

Set the true north with the innovation portfolio - from front-end to back-end, strategic to operational for all teams and functions. Such a portfolio also ensures direct business impact, for it answers: What are the critical, urgent business problems which need transformative solutions? What breakthroughs are needed for quantum business impact? Where do we need to unearth new opportunities?

This ensures that every team has a clear innovation agenda which they need to work towards.

2. Make it a Parallel Game
Innovation cannot happen at the cost of day-to-day operations and the latter always wins over the former in priority. Then how to ensure the balance?

Answer lies in creating a clear, transparent twin-track approach that balances the business-as-usual with the innovation agenda providing a navigation path for the teams. The twin-track approach must extend all the way from goal setting, pursuit method to review, execution and recognition. They are two parallel games with two distinct set of norms, structures and processes.

3. Create a Differentiated Engagement
Innovation is a pursuit of the human spirit and only then success comes through. The human spirit comes alive only when there is an emotional ownership. This can be built only through a differentiated engagement - an engagement that is refreshingly different & exciting at every touch point in the innovation journey - amongst team members, stakeholders, partners and customers. Architect some serious fun filled with organized chaos.

4. Shift the Leadership Persona
Last but most importantly, the business leader has to develop a new persona for democratizing innovation. The leader takes on the role of an enabler and facilitator than a mere enforcer - an innovation architect with a keen eye for the under current, proactively uncovering & solving the cultural disablers and a facilitator who enables the teams to navigate the fog.