Though most businesses pay lip service to the idea that innovation is key to success, they turn shy when it comes to approving real projects. Gartner analyst Kathy Harris explains how to put new ideas into practice.
A lot of my discussions with Gartner clients focus on the obstacles in launching an innovation programme. I sometimes find myself in point/counterpoint conversations on their big obstacles around funding, people, processes, etc. You know the story - "We tried that but..."
If you really care about innovation and you really believe it's critical to your organisation, here's a simple game plan for a grassroots effort. This is dependent on you and your commitment to making innovation happen. You'll need some courage and creativity to succeed. Customise this freely and enjoy the ride.
Don't worry about funding at the outset. Funding is needed when you have great ideas to develop. Ask any organisation, even in the midst of a recession, if they are willing to fund great ideas. You can count on a 'yes' for anything that cuts cost, increases revenue or increases the timing and quality of critical output. Focus on these objectives in the short term.
The critical success factor in a grassroots effort is a few great, credible people. Assemble a small team of volunteers who care about innovation as much as you do. Seek out people who have credibility with their immediate managers and executive leaders. Credibility means they're productive, collaborative and influential within the scope of their role and job. You (the leader) and at least half the other team members must have high credibility to drive and succeed in a rapid grassroots effort. Keep the team small - I suggest five to seven people - and their credibility high.
You'll need a sponsor to help you move quickly and navigate the organisation. It could be someone in your management chain or an influential manager in another part of the organisation. Before you approach a potential sponsor, consider how your success will enhance the sponsor's credibility and goals. Be prepared to communicate how your innovation efforts will contribute to the success of the organisation, the sponsor and your team.
Pilot and time frames
Map out a game plan for a grassroots pilot project that commits to low time and high impact. This is where your credibility looms large because you're going to ask for management support, use some of the organisation's best people and commit to delivering results. So, be specific and boldly propose the following:
- We request approval for this team to spend the equivalent of one day per week for the next 10 weeks on an innovation pilot - specifically generating and evaluating ideas.
- We'll commit to delivering five high-value, implementable ideas that are well-aligned with current business needs (cutting costs, generating revenue or improving delivery of critical output).
- Our first step will be to confirm the business focus for ideas and develop a rapid ideation and selection process. We'll commit to involve at least 100 other employees in generating ideas.
- Our sponsor believes in us and the value of this effort to the organisation. We'll work with her/him to track and manage this process.
- At the end of 10 weeks, we'll assess results. We'll propose and ask for approval of appropriate next steps depending on the outcome of the pilot.
Kathy Harris is a vice president and distinguished analyst at research firm Gartner.
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