As a species, we’re no strangers to the concept of change. Most people alive today have lived in a constant and growing state of change throughout their lives. Then 2020 arrived, bringing a global pandemic, significant climate and social change, and a dizzying acceleration of digital and operational transformation. We’re all hoping for 2021 to be a relatively calmer year but even if it is, change is inevitable.
From a business perspective, this last year only heightened the demand for companies and their people to become innovation experts just to keep up. In this environment, the status quo is a recipe for stagnation at best, failure at worst. Rejecting the status quo and embracing disruption is the key to attracting and retaining talent, but innovation doesn’t come naturally to everyone in the talent pool. Fortunately, it can be taught.
A Use-Case for Teaching Innovation
Bravanti recently worked with a leading technology brand that had been highly successful at one time. To the admission of its executives, however, the brand had lost its innovation luster and mindset primarily because of the rise of disruptive competitors. As a result, the company struggled to foster an innovation-based culture and launch new products that would gain traction with customers. To rebuild an innovative culture and mindset within its workforce, the company sought a leadership development program for cohorts of high-potential senior managers across different functions (i.e., engineering, marketing, finance, and IT).
Bravanti developed an online technology platform on which the innovation curriculum resided. Throughout the five-month program, participants took a series of online modules that gave them digital badges/certifications in innovation and leadership. The program included a mentoring program and one-on-one coaching. The key to the program was the action learning project. Each team was expected to build business cases and innovative product prototypes that they presented to the executive team.
The program was very successful, resulting in some of the new product ideas receiving funding for further development and selection for the company’s product pipeline. In addition, within a year of their graduation from the program, a staggering 90 percent of participants were promoted within the organization.
This is just one example of how innovation can be effectively taught, learned, and applied for the benefit of both an organization and its people. However, the lesson goes beyond the concept of innovation to a vital trait for today’s successful companies: agility.
Innovation: The Key to Agility
The ability to be nimble and flexible, to anticipate and respond quickly to new opportunities and threats, is critical to surviving and thriving in today’s volatile and uncertain environment. Many large companies have trouble being nimble because they are risk-averse and hampered by traditional organizational hierarchies. While structure and rules are important, it’s worth examining how certain shifts in approach might create a more agile – and thus more innovative – organization. The ways things are going, companies may have no choice but to develop this muscle.
For example, company leadership might examine how the organization’s structure, roles and responsibilities could be modified to increase focus on the highest-value activities. There may be new ways to streamline work processes to drive greater efficiency, effectiveness, and communication. Finally, as outlined in the above example, companies should find ways to help their people build critical skills and capabilities, allowing them valuable professional development and career progression opportunities.
The Future of Corporate Innovation
Learning is at the foundation of innovation, but most learning institutions and educational programs don’t necessarily teach innovation. It’s up to forward-thinking organizations to challenge the status quo by investing in their people’s knowledge, competencies, creativity and passion. The result may be just that: results.