In this guest post, Dr Amantha Imber (pictured below), founder of innovation consultancy firm Inventium, takes a look a three main drivers she says any good business should have if they’re looking to stay ahead of the innovation pack…
Innovation has moved from being a buzz word thrown around by senior managers to being a cost of entry for many businesses. Indeed, the difference between a company that embraces innovation and one that turns a blind eye is often the difference between success and failure.
Australia’s most innovative companies have several things in common.
- Customers sit at the heart of innovation
Many companies falsely believe that innovation starts with an idea. Truly innovative companies understand that innovation actually starts with the customer. Employees within Australia’s most innovative companies are obsessed with understanding the customer and learning what their biggest frustrations are. These frustrations provide a focus for innovation, because if companies can solve customer’s problems, customers will give loyalty and pay money for these solutions.
At Australian Unity, Innovation Champions are provided with broad areas on which to focus their innovation efforts. Champions are active in observing and speaking to customers in order to understand their biggest pain points and to ensure that their efforts are focused around solving a problem that actually matters to their customers.
- Senior leaders walk the talk
Research into the difference between leaders at innovative versus non-innovative companies has revealed a key difference between senior leaders. At highly innovative companies, senior leaders see innovation as their job, and actively go out and speak to customers, generate ideas and experiment actively around those ideas. In contrast, at less innovative companies, senior leaders actually see their role as simply delegating innovation.Australia’s most innovative companies are filled with leaders who “do” innovation. They don’t just talk about it or pay lip service to it – they actually walk the talk.
At construction company Mirvac, all members of the executive leadership team have innovation within their KPIs. All of the executive leadership team have the KPI of enabling their team to contribute to innovation at Mirvac. The KPI is measured by people providing examples of supporting or enabling their team to achieve innovation objectives. In other words, executives at Mirvac can’t simply sit back and passively observe innovation from the sidelines.
- They carve out time for innovation
Innovation doesn’t just happen because a CEO announces it as an organisational priority. As obvious as this may sound, many organisations fail to innovate because they don’t free up time for staff. Australia’s most innovative companies deliberately allocate time for innovation to those who want to pursue it. Sometimes, this may be in the form of a 24-hour Hackathon. Other companies have embraced their own version of Google’s 20% time, whereby staff are given a set percentage of time to pursue innovation projects. And others have moved towards innovation secondments, whereby employees are given a full-time innovation position and their jobs are back-filled. While on the innovation team, the employee’s job becomes about progressing innovation forward, which may involve unlocking customer frustrations, leading ideation sessions, and running many experiments to iterate ideas before they are scaled.
Organisations who embrace all three behaviours are significantly more likely to be producing successful innovations to market. And for companies which haven’t taken on the strategies described here, it may be time to rethink how they are approaching innovation.
Dr Amantha Imber’s latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives.