Seven lessons learned about unlocking innovation

By Dave Hengartner, Co-Founder/CEO of Already, a SaaS startup that helps companies unleash the greatest asset for innovation: their people.

Innovation is the cornerstone of any successful business, but it’s not always easy to trigger. For nearly a decade, I have helped many companies deliver innovation programs and empower their employees to become innovators to drive growth and change. I’ve worked with companies of all shapes and sizes to identify what works, what doesn’t and how to take innovation to the next level. Along the way, I learned valuable lessons. While the list is endless, here are seven of the most important learnings I’ve gathered over the past few years:

1. Be a facilitator, not a gatekeeper

I know. This one can be difficult to achieve. While you would like to have control over the innovation process as it begins to unfold, it is extremely important to distance yourself from micromanagement and instead create a space for employees to explore and test their ideas independently.

By creating a culture that fosters independence and trust, you can empower your employees to take ownership of their ideas and validate them for themselves. This not only gives your team more freedom, but also shows them that you have confidence in their abilities. Your role is to guide and support your team as needed while giving them space to innovate and grow. I see myself here in the role of a shepherd, leading and enabling from behind.

2. Don’t judge ideas too early

Even if you were Steve Jobs himself, it would be impossible to judge raw ideas. Yet people still do it quite often: an idea campaign is launched, employees submit their ideas, and high-level employees decide which idea is hot and which is not. While “bad” ideas are rejected, “good” ideas are catapulted when the company invests a lot of money to validate them with customers. Not only is it an expensive process, but it is also a subjective process in which the individual behind the idea has no say and cannot prove the validity of their idea. Instead, everyone should have a fair chance to go out there and validate their idea by collecting real customer data and gaining valuable consumer insights within a specific time frame. If the idea does not prove valid after, say, two months, the idea will not materialize, but the business will have saved money and the intrapreneur will have gained invaluable tacit knowledge throughout the process. process.

3. People over ideas

Employees are a company’s greatest asset. And what’s even better than a regular employee is a motivated employee who is committed to making an impact, driving change, and continually challenging the status quo. A motivated employee can also inspire other employees. One idea can also have a domino effect in that it can lead to other ideas that employees didn’t initially think of.

4. C-level support is essential

No one wants to feel alone when innovating and validating an idea. As much as the employee needs to be able to act independently without too much paperwork and someone watching their every move, it’s important to strike a balance between the two extremes. For an innovator to thrive, it is essential that they have a supportive environment where they feel safe and valued. They need to know that their work matters to the company and aligns with overall goals and aspirations. This allows him to be more motivated and can help build trust because he knows that senior management is behind him if something goes wrong. Management buy-in also ensures that employees have enough time to work on their ideas.

5. Avoid trying to sell just one method

There are many different methods that aim to guide and streamline innovation efforts. Methods such as “lean startup” and “human-centered design” are important for employees to know and apply. However, even the methods come and go and often depend very much on what is currently in vogue among innovation professionals and consultants. Additionally, some employees are also not interested in the buzzwords and fancy titles involved in some of these methods. They are convinced that their way of working has held up in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Therefore, they might not see the full benefits of learning a new method if leaders don’t present it in an easily digestible and engaging way.

6. Innovation should be for everyone

We all know them: those who not only dream but also do. Driven intrapreneurs are motivated and ready to take the road much less traveled to follow through on their ideas. However, as mentioned earlier, people are more important than ideas, and to make innovation a company-wide effort, it’s important to also involve those who don’t necessarily want to be the frontrunners. Instead, some of them will be ready to offer support and their specific expertise to those who want to take the plunge. Harnessing this can unlock powerful collaboration, allowing everyone to contribute to innovation efforts based on their unique interests and skills.

7. Think beyond corporate boundaries

Time and time again, I see large companies reluctant to reach beyond corporate boundaries to collaborate with each other. Yet, it can be a hugely successful venture, given the pace of change in all industries and the adaptability that companies must demonstrate, which often extends beyond their area of ​​expertise. Additionally, the boundaries in some industries are increasingly blurred, so it can be beneficial to connect and collaborate with other businesses.

Innovation is a complex and ever-changing journey that requires constant adaptation and experimentation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to launching an innovation program. The key is to be open to new ideas and learning, embrace a culture of experimentation, and find the recipe that works best for your business.

Leave a Comment