Imagine you just completed an innovation program, but things went terribly wrong. So wrong, in fact, that the boss won't allow anyone to use the term "innovation" in any context. You and your colleagues spent a lot of time, money, and effort only to realize that you did not get what was promised. What do you now? How do you reboot your innovation program?
Here are some tips:
1. Conduct a Post Mortem: Despite the pain, you should thoroughly examine the "dead body" to understand what happened. How did we get here? What stimulated the initiative? What were our assumptions going in? What changed? How did we identify potential consultants to work with? How did we vett them? How did we select one to work with? Did we have the right team in place? Were we using the right method?
2. Take Stock in the Positives: No effort is a total waste no matter how miserable. You should take the time to identify the positives. What did we gain out of the effort? What did we learn? What were we hoping to gain and didn't? Is that gap still relevant? What did we take away that we can leverage? Did we get anything that can be leveraged in another part of the company?
3. Refresh the Palate: Members of your team paid dearly to be a part of their program. They suffered the opportunity cost of being away from their work. In return, give them a rest. Let them recharge and catch up. People need to flush the bad experience out of their system before considering the next one.
4. Create the Burning Platform: What is happening in your business over the next 12 to 18 months? Is it growing? Contracting? What changes do you anticipate in your competitive position? No industry is completely calm and stable, though some are more turbulent than others. You need to spot an inflection point in your business where technology, regulatory or other forces are looming. Then, you need to sound the alarm, create the burning platform, and gain alignment from your leaders to anticipate the problem with a new innovation initiative.
5. Propose a Pilot Program: Reduce the risk of a new innovation program by testing it first. A short, pilot program that addresses a specific product or service line helps you understand whether a new method is right for your company. Pilot programs help keep your costs in line, and they help you reduce resistance to adopting new methods.
6. Syndicate!: Initiate the next program with the support of other departments. Enroll other divisions to share the risks...and rewards...from the pilot. Ask peers to chip in part of the expense, even if it is a small amount. By "syndicating" support of the pilot program, you broaden the exposure to a successful outcome.
7. Emphasize Skill Building: To stay competitive, companies must include innovation in their competency models. A competency is a persistent pattern of behavior resulting from a cluster of knowledge, skills, abilities, and motivations. Competency models formalize that behavior and make it persistent. Use the pilot program as an opportunity to partner with your Human Resources colleagues to create an innovation competency model.
8. Create Lasting Support Systems: Not only must you reboot the innovation culture at your company, you must also create the support systems to make it stick. Can we continue to use a method without consultants going forward? Are there training aids and tools to help teach others? Can the pilot program be extended to a general training program? What is the retention rate one month out? Six months out? How many people could be trained within your current budget cycle? How do you continue to build innovation muscle?
Cartoon courtesy of Doug Savage at www.savagechickens.com