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Five Essential Elements for Effective Innovation

Hannah Page

Chief Operating Officer

Over the last few months our lives have changed – the way we work, shop, interact – the way we live!  And whether out of choice or necessity, some changes are here to stay. I lead a brilliant team who are responsible for delivering real and lasting positive change every day – they work with startups and corporate partners to connect, transform and integrate new solutions, through collaboration and shared learning. Over the last 12 months we have been working as a team to constantly innovate how we work and what we do to achieve maximum impact. This includes making small tweaks to our methodologies and delivery, all the way to making fundamental shifts in our operations due to Covid-19 where we are now successfully delivering all our programmes remotely and virtually.

Through the work we have done internally, as a team and through our 60+ global innovation programmes, there are five key things we have seen which you may find useful when taking ideas through to creating lasting positive change:

1. Be selective

Not every idea is brilliant and some quite frankly aren’t any good. As a team, we ensure everyone gets a say and we create space to criticize new ideas as well as praise them. We have a process which enables us to find and prioritise the most relevant ideas which we then implement together. For the startups that we work with this is key too. They may have 100 use cases they could work on with a corporate partner but during our labs they only have 10 weeks to demonstrate their value. Therefore, ensuring that they find the right idea to pursue – and that it is achievable – will translate into successful results from the programme for them.

2. Get the right people involved

It is really important that you get buy-in from the right people across an organisation. You want champions of the new way of doing something at different levels of the organisation from the people in the boardroom to the people on the front line delivering it. Through our programmes we ensure we get the right people involved from across the business and that isn’t always the people you might think. You want the idea to touch as many areas of the business as it can as people in different teams tend to come to things from different perspectives. Through sitting and working together with teams from HR, Procurement, Finance, Operations and Sales, you find solutions to all of the questions and/or challenges they have relating to the idea/ project you are pursuing.

3. Prioritise

When starting to explore a new idea some key questions to ask yourself and others… “Where does it fit in the wider company strategy?” “When will it be a priority and therefore when will resources – be that people or budget – be available?” Thinking about where this idea sits in terms of the wider business, but also the external world, is essential. We have seen far too many innovation projects fail because they haven’t been put in context. If the reality is that a project will not have a short-term impact it is even more important to show people the value you see it having in the future – setting you apart from others in your industry and being the first to try something. When exploring challenges, it’s also key to research and discover if there people already looking at this same issue and if there is an opportunity to collaborate rather than starting from square one.

4. Have a plan and redirect

At no point have you gone too far with an idea to not be able to change your mind. You should always feel able to recalculate and stop if needed. To create any new process, new product or even new business having a plan is of course essential – and flexing that plan is equally important. Building checkpoints into your plans where you can review, update and redirect what you are doing is not optional – it’s essential. Long gone are the days of 5-year business plans that sit in a drawer… the world is changing too quickly and being agile and reactive to the ever-changing situations is crucial.

5. Quantify the value

There is not much in a business you wouldn’t measure, and innovation is no different. It is important that you think through what you are trying to achieve and assign measurable targets. Whether the initiative  will have an immediate effect or one that will show results in years to come, it is essential that you set out criteria for quantifying the value you expect to ensure a return on investment. The value is usually quantifiable in monetary terms but equally innovation can be used to drive culture change within teams or organisations. That means you need to put some measures in place and keep monitoring and evaluating that value over time.

Innovation takes many forms. These five elements are purposely broad to enable you to translate them for your organisation. However, they will serve as a good lens and starting point for new ideas, processes, projects and businesses we work with and work on ourselves.