November 13

Innovation Starts with People

Think of a process, any process. Even if it is fully automated it’s a fair bet that it started as a concept in someone’s mind, it was designed by people and people have an interest in the outcome. It’s the same for procedures, for reporting lines or in fact for any interaction within an organisation; everything has a people element.

So why when we look at our businesses do we talk about streamlining procedures, automating workflows or process optimisation?  These may be the end points but shouldn’t we start with people? If nothing else, we certainly should when we look to transform our business strategy and future outcome by building a culture of innovation. After all, the true power of building ‚real‘ innovation capability is not increasing the bottom line – it’s changing the lives of ‘customers’ (yes, they are people!) and more importantly is the power of innovation to save lives!

If you were in any doubt about the importance of people in business, then the increasing focus on areas such as employee engagement and leadership should provide a clue. Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report 2015 also points strongly to…

‘a “new world of work” – one that requires a dramatic change in strategies for leadership, talent, and human resources.’

It’s not surprising really, particularly when you consider the attributes required of a Next Generation Organisation. Let’s start with ‘Collaboration’. By its very nature, collaboration requires interaction between people, sharing ideas and knowledge and experiences in order to create a more resonating and unified solution. And if you’re looking to promote collaboration then empowerment, communication and trust all come into the mix. Or what about gathering genuine customer insight or ‘Intelligence’ as we call it? No matter how much you have bought into the ‘big data’ ideal, no matter how many facts and figures you know about your customers; developing genuine intelligence means delving beneath the surface of the data with a view to really understanding the drivers and influences which affect customers’ lives.

Then there’s ‘Adaptability’ or agility, speeding up the process by which you design and bring products to market also has a human aspect. If you follow the MVP (minimum viable product) route then unless you have genuine customer intelligence the chances are that you will bring a product which is unacceptable to the marketplace. And speeding up development by introducing processes such as design thinking, prototyping, parallel testing or combined iteration haven’t got a chance of succeeding unless your people are collaborating towards a shared end goal.

When we talk about leading for innovation, about the importance of involving HR in strategic change from the outset, it’s because unless the role which your people have to play is fully understood, your innovation strategy has no chance of succeeding. Leadership skills, organisational structure, strategy, training, development; all have to be reviewed with the people aspect of innovation firmly in mind. And don’t forget here that the people who matter are not simply your employees but also your customers, your stakeholders, your investors and in many cases the wider public. There’s nothing wrong with processes and procedures and workflows. Designed and implemented properly they can take care of much of the day-to-day minutiae of business, leaving people free to do what they do best. And what people do best is to develop ideas, interact and collaborate with a view to building real innovation capabilities which can drive real solutions can transform people’s lives and can shape the future.

For a deeper insight into our thinking on developing innovation capability through your people, check out our upcoming book ‘Building a Culture of Innovation – A practical guide for placing innovation at the core of your business’ due out on 3rd December 2015.


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