Driving internal innovation initiatives effectively at your Organization

About the author: Vivek Gupta is a Senior Consultant at Zinnov who works with the Engineering Excellence team.

That continuous innovation is the mantra for survival & success for organizations globally is now an established fact. Avenues such as setting up accelerators/ incubators, startups connects, leveraging the existing developer ecosystem, academic connects etc. can provide an impetus to innovation-related aspirations of the organization. However, these avenues, alone should not be seen as silver bullets to innovation woes or as alternatives to internal innovation within the organization.

Most of the organizations try to have it covered through a defined blueprint for internal innovation initiatives & programs. However, it is the manner of implementation of these programs where the actual-rubber-meets-the-road! Implementing such initiatives effectively can be challenging, especially for organizations that may be large in terms of headcount, or for entities that were established with a certain mandate in place, Example – Being a support Org. for the global HQ.  

How do you bring about a cultural shift, a change in mindset at such organizations that evolved with a certain DNA that was not necessarily attuned to innovation? How do you overcome stereotypes, pessimism with regards to failed attempts earlier at implementing similar initiatives?  How can you drive cross-team/ cross-BU collaboration across vertically aligned functions and teams?

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If these are some of the thoughts that cloud your mind, then there’s some help to follow!

  1. How to Increase awareness & know-how about innovation initiatives/ programs? – Start small in case program is just being rolled-out, probably with a pilot program or with a specific team or BU that you have generally found to be supportive towards such initiatives. Leveraging internal social/ collaboration platforms to spread the word about programs, using gamification techniques (Ex: Points system for top innovators/ collaborators, Badge-of-honor etc. for person contributing most number of relevant ideas etc.) can serve as great mechanisms to increase awareness and uptake of such programs .
  2. How do I rope in the right evangelists for such initiatives? – Try to identify someone from within a specific team/ BU who is willing to champion your cause. A person who has the ability to positively influence the team, a prolific innovator/ inventor, a role model for the team, someone with intrapreneurial tendencies etc. are typically the right set of candidates for such roles.
  3. Some of these initiatives failed in the past, How do I overcome pessimism surrounding the same? – This can sometimes be a difficult question to answer. Be candid about what went wrong last time around, what is different this time and what will be improved upon or done better. Provide clarity about roadmap of such initiatives with clearly defined outcomes. Specify the actual support on offer for ideators/ innovators through these initiatives/ programs (Example: Mentorship support, collaboration support, time-funding, monetary funding etc.). Evangelize any recent success story, emerging role models that emerged through recent pilot programs etc.  
  4. How can I enable collaboration across large, vertically aligned functions & teams? – Create provisions for frequent connects between innovators & potential collaborators. Provision for both online (emails, social platforms, virtual connects etc.) & offline (one-on-one meetups through forums such as Hack days, Expos, poster presentations etc.) forums, diligently track status/ progress on your efforts. Encourage ideators to be specific about nature of collaboration that they seek for their ideas. Example: Specify whether they need dedicated time off, help with idea roadmap definition, SME support, hands-on support in terms of development & testing etc. Seek feedback from innovators & collaborators to improve collaboration-driven initiatives on regular basis.
  5. What about rewards & recognitions? Are monetary/ material rewards & recognitions the right tools to motivate potential innovators & drive participation in innovation programs? – Although a popular tool, material rewards & recognitions may not work with those who may have moved up the Maslow’s hierarchy! For some ideators, visibility for their ideas and opportunity to showcase them at the highest level within the organization maybe highly motivating. Aim to create opportunities for ideators to showcase their ideas to relevant stakeholders such as CxOs, Site leadership, Product Managers, sales & marketing teams. Peer recognitions (through memorabilia, badge-of-honor, SWAGs etc.), providing multiple opportunities/ platforms to showcase, seek feedback & refining ideas can also serve as the right motivation for innovators.
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