Supporting an innovation culture: Part 2

Best Practices to ensure that your FEI software implementation supports and improves your innovation culture

This article is part two of a two-part series on supporting an innovation culture.  In part one, we explored the ways in which an FEI software implementation can support, or even improve the culture of innovation within a company.  In this article, we will explore best practices approaches to making sure that the FEI software implementation actually does achieve an improvement in the innovation culture.

Many corporations have implemented enterprise software and have either never used the software (often referred to as “shelf-ware”), or have used the software but not achieved the promised results.  Through ten years of experience implementing Front-End of Innovation (FEI) Software in many of the world’s largest corporations, we’ve identified several best practices to ensure that the software implementation achieves the objectives that were set out at the beginning of the project.

Launch Failure:

Too often, enterprise software projects are launched without a thorough communication plan.  Companies do internal launch publicity when they release a new product to the outside world, but fail to take the same approach when launching new initiatives that will greatly assist the employees.  Since innovation is a cultural change for many companies, it is even more important to have an effective communication strategy when launching a new innovation program.  This is the golden opportunity for the CEO or senior executive sponsor to put his or her “seal of commitment” on the project.

This communication plan will start some months before the launch of the process/software and will be maintained over the years. This will create a sound foundation for a sustainable culture and innovation process. Communication is the lever that drives a strong participation rate, which is a key component to the success of an innovation process and a strong commitment of the project teams. There is no universal one-size-fits-all solution for communication because it must adapt to the corporate culture and strategy of the innovation process.  Inova consultant can share with you general best practices gleaned from a variety of successful approaches.  Make sure that your FEI software implementation plan includes a communication/publicity plan within it.

The “afraid to fail” issue:

An innovation culture can only thrive when people are not afraid to fail. Some clients realized that innovation is often an iterative process, where an idea that doesn’t immediately meet management’s objectives, could be of great interest once people will have collaborated on it. To create a positive innovation culture it’s important to enable each employee to contribute their ideas. This is not possible when they are afraid to fail. And therefore a commitment from the management showing the example and accepting failure (even facilitating “chaos” – to a certain extent) is key to the success of the implementation of an innovation process. Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “I have not failed 1000 times, but I have been successful in finding 1000 ways not to make a light bulb.”

The reward question:

The question of rewarding ideas and concepts is more a matter of communication than compensation. Above all, it is an incentive for the staff to participate and create a culture of innovation. The rewards have to be disconnected from the creative task; it should not be perceived as an entitlement but as an extraordinary reward and has to consider the company’s culture.  Rewards do not necessarily reflect only the estimated financial value of the idea. A well-designed rewards system also considers participation, the discussion around an idea, colleagues’ votes, topical relevance, etc.  From this perspective, what is needed is to try to acknowledge and reward as many people as possible to amplify the “buzz” effect.

The main consideration is to create a reward system linked to users’ intrinsic needs and corporate culture.  An interesting study from the Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT) highlighted that people’s intellectual performance decreases when there is a monetary reward. This can be explained by the fact that that creativity is the result of three main components: knowledge, creative skills and motivation. Motivation is further divided in two types: intrinsic motivation (they want to do it because they want to do it) and extrinsic motivation (they do it because they will get money – they do what the environment tells them to do). The MIT study’s author, T. Amabile, cited that the intrinsic motivation is a major component of creativity, while extrinsic motivation leads to less creativity. Therefore, if you want to foster people’s creativity, a good reward would be giving them the time, and budget to do something that they are passionate about. In an ideal world people would contribute because they want to, not because they have to (do not force people to contribute). Inova’s innovation consultants can share with you some examples of best practices in rewarding innovation.

Training:

Often, innovation processes are implemented without real training on “innovation”. Most of the time training is only focused on how users can perform their task in the process but not on what innovation is, the importance of being more innovative, where to apply innovativeness (link with the corporate strategy), etc. These questions build a strong basis for understanding what the company is expecting in terms of innovation and explain why it is using the process.  To do this, a strong commitment from management is important.

Our clients have appreciated the fact that when implementing  FEI software, training is not only focused on giving actors the competence level required to carry out their tasks in the process/software, but also the “whys and wheres” of innovation as it relates to their company’s strategy, goals and objectives.  This gives the actors (idea submitters, knowledge contributors, innovation practitioners, executives) purpose and perspective to their work, and results in deeper adoption of the software and the feeling that their work is contributing to the “greater good” of the company.

Strategy:

One of the most important objectives of implementing FEI software is to drive the innovation strategy of the company.  Our clients realized that, in order to improve the quality, cost and time to market (of the ideas submitted) an Innovation manager should supervise the operations as a whole. This person is key to the innovation approach of the company because he will measure the company’s performance through key performance indicators and implement corrective actions when required (launch specific challenges, launch communication campaigns, drive the training to be sure that the key messages are reinforced, assuring the quality and efficiency, etc.). During implementation, it is important for management stakeholders to come to agreement on what metrics will be used to measure and guide the innovation strategy.  See our recent post, “Innovation Metrics that Really Matter”, for a discussion on innovation metrics at a recent Frost & Sullivan conference.

Flexibility:

When designing an innovation process, supported by an FEI software implementation, it is important to build flexibility into the process.  In building high-rise buildings in areas prone to earthquakes or hurricanes, engineers have for many years worked with flexible materials and designs to “bend” and “flex” with the changing environment during these significant weather events.  It has long been known that rigid materials and designs can become brittle and will break under stress.  The same holds true with processes supported by software.  A rigid process will break under the pressure of competition, or a changing operational environment, resulting in frustrated users giving up on the software and resorting to other tools to supplement their work. Without the right flexibility, the software won’t support the innovation culture.

Flexibility in the process is established by working with two areas in combination:

  • Workflow:  the process that the idea will follow to be enriched and be turned into a concept (do not overburden employees to only provide excessively required detail in their ideas.  Allow them to start with raw ideas and then enrich them through the benefit of collaboration
  • Access rights and visibility: depending on their responsibility in the system, users will have different activities with different rights and visibility. These rights and visibility can change depending on where the idea/concept is in the workflow, making it easy for them to follow a process without feeling constrained by it.

The organization central to the innovation culture and the software supports the organization.  It is essential to implement the FEI software in a manner that “bends” and “flexes” to support the organization as it adapts to the changing environment.

In this series, we have explored the ways in which an FEI software implementation can support, or even improve the culture of innovation within a company.  We’ve discussed some best practices gained through Inova’s experience implementing FEI software in some of the world’s largest companies.  As the practice of innovation is continuously innovating itself, we would be interested in hearing from you on what some of your experiences have been while implementing innovation processes at your company.  Please feel free to continue the discussion here in our blog, or contact one of our representatives to explore ways in which Inova’s FEI software can support your innovation culture.

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