Much information exists about the creation of an innovation environment or system, some of it good and some of it worse than bad. Hopefully I have managed to distill some of the good into four easy to understand steps.
#1 Find Sponsors And Partners
Any innovation initiative needs powerful and supportive sponsors. If you are going to deviate from the norm you need support that will allow you to do so as well as giving you the resources and manpower. Within a company this could be the CEO or another board member. Beware if your sponsor is simply a head of department. These people are subject to the whims of the board and organisational politics like the rest of us. If possible ensure that they too have a mandate from a higher authority.
If you are going to move quickly then as a company you will probably not have all of the technology and skills necessary. Seek out complementary partners. If your innovation programme is not on such a grand scale then your partners might in fact be other departments or project groups. Seek out those who are a good fit or the correct people within them. When working internally it can pay to identify ‘boundary spanners’ those who sit within more than one group. This helps with both organisational politics and knowledge transfer.
#2 Create A Common Language
Even within the same company, certain words or phrases can mean different things. Either adopt a common language/terminology and persuade those who use a different language to adopt it or create a set of definitions of your own. This might include terms for project manager, project plan, review and even engineer. If you you come across someone saying ‘whats that’? then you have identified a possible extension to your language. The aim is to promote clarity, avoid ambiguity and enhance knowledge transfer and the sharing of ideas.
#3 Create Awareness And Action
If you have a number of people to mobilise then awareness is what you need, and lots of it. Not only do you need to ensure that employees (and partners/sponsors) know what is going on (and what is expected of them) but these people also need to be aware of what others are doing (transparency).
Creating awareness could take the form of seminars and workshops or perhaps interactive sessions where people can play with the tools that they will shortly be using so that they become familiar. Also posters, signs, bookmarks, intranet, videos etc can all be used.
Aside from awareness you need some action. Without this any innovation strategy or programme is doomed to failure. It is all too easy to have endless meetings in a boardroom or other comfy place but unless someone actually does something you will never succeed.
#4 Evaluate Continuously
There is no need to have men with clipboards and white coats wandering around measuring everything but you do need to gather information about what is going on and how it can be improved or be made more effective. This is easier said than done since we are talking about a fairly abstract concept – ‘the environemnt’. However you are trying to create an enviroment in which innovation will flourish so try asking a set of questions such as what could we do better, what could we do more of, what could we do less of, what could we add or takeaway. Once you get started then you will soon find your own ways of gathering feedback. The only catch is that it needs to be carried out continuously.!