How many points does your innovation culture touch? Answer anything other than ‘every point within our organisation including customers, partners and supply chain’ and you haven’t got an innovation culture. You might have ideas, you might even have departments, which try and come up with new things but you don’t have an innovation culture.
The whole point of an innovation culture is that it infuses the entire organisation with the desire and power to do more and be more. It’s not just about coming up with ideas; it’s not even just about providing exceptional customer service, although that is a bi-product of being exceptional; having an innovation culture means that everyone and every process is geared towards creating something exceptional, geared towards driving innovation in order to enhance business performance.
One organisation, which understands this only too well, is Whirlpool. Recognising that 21st Century competitive advantage can only be obtained through creating an innovation capability, over the past ten years Whirlpool has undertaken a ‘worldwide effort to instil innovation as a core competency throughout the entire organization.’ This effort has included ‘redesigning business processes, training thousands of employees, building an innovation management system and changing the culture of the company.’
Sharing their story on Management Innovation Exchange last year, the senior team at Whirlpool made no bones about the fact that innovation was not just for engineers randomly finding a ‘eureka’ moment, nor was it a one-off event. Rather, innovation was an organisation-wide drive for continuous improvement and change. This creates an innovative business proposition, delivering a result which is:
- Unique and compelling
- Aligned to brands
- Valued by customers
- Sustainable, competitive advantage
- Differentiated shareholder value
Sadly, for every organisation, which is trying to implement a true innovation culture that hits every dimension of the business, many more simply haven’t ‘got’ what innovation means in the 21st Century. A survey in 2013 revealed that only 18% of executives believed that their innovation strategy was delivering a competitive advantage. There’s plenty of incentive; research from Bain revealed that organisations in the top quartile for innovation delivered a significantly higher growth rate than other companies and 93% of executives believe that long-term success will be dependent on their capacity to innovate. But in businesses, which are hidebound in process, in which silos rule and back office staff never meet, let alone care about customers, the barriers to innovation are huge.
The cold truth is that there is always an excuse if you look hard enough. Finding a reason for failure is much easier than sticking your head on the line and trying to succeed. And for leaders who are used to dictating, opening up processes to collaboration and agility is very alien. But there really is no choice. The word leader implies forward movement and in the business world of today, moving forward is synonymous with innovation. Technology, products, delivery; all can be had with a swipe of the mouse. What you invent today can be reproduced across the world tomorrow. The sole differentiator now is not in the ‘what’ but in the ‘how’. How you build new business models and create products in collaboration with customers so that they truly meet their needs, how you deliver those products and how you provide exceptional experiences.
In creating the ‘how’ leaders have to plan to infuse every part of an organisation with the innovation message. It doesn’t matter if an employee sweeps the machine room floor or sends out the accounts, orders the materials or talks directly to customers. Everyone has their part to play and everyone can play that part more fully through collaboration and engagement and a formalised innovation strategy and process. Only then will the innovation dimension touch the entire organisation and only then will the rewards flow and business performance be enhanced.
Everyone says they want or need to drive innovation but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few and you’ve got a question, email Cris at firstname.lastname@example.org or browse our site for more information.