Many IT and business leaders are keen on driving innovations that can help their organizations generate new revenue streams, increase market share or improve organizational efficiencies. But being able to do so on a continuous basis requires companies to create an environment that encourages and cultivates innovation across different levels.
Of course, this is easier said than done. According to a 2010 study conducted by Ernst & Young, while 82 percent of the 263 entrepreneurs who were surveyed believe that the ability to innovate is vital to the future growth of their organizations, nearly half of those polled say that creating innovative ideas becomes harder to achieve as their companies grow in size and complexity.
Here are some recommendations for helping to create an environment that nurtures continual innovation:
1. Senior management must regularly communicate their support. Managers and employees need to know that company leaders support their efforts to drive innovation. This includes communicating a willingness to take risks and that failure will not be punished but instead learned from. Frequent communications and examples of successes achieved or even failures that have generated new knowledge can help gain buy-in and confidence from employees who are accustomed to more of a risk-averse culture.
2. Establish some structure for innovation. This isn't to suggest an overly bureaucratic or quality control-driven top-down approach to governing, monitoring, and measuring innovation but rather creating some type of organization behind innovation efforts. For instance, it's been well-documented how Google engineers are encouraged to spend up to 20 percent of their time on company-related issues that interest them.
3. Encourage ideas from across the organization. People in a variety of different roles from across the enterprise should be urged to offer ideas not only for new products and services but for new and potentially better ways of doing things. Time should be set aside in team meetings or even formalized brainstorming discussions where people should be emboldened to speak up and share their ideas.
4. Cultivate workforce diversity. Organizations that have a variety of people from different backgrounds are more likely to generate a wider range of ideas. Company leaders need to establish goals and track progress on workforce diversity on a regular basis.
5. Leverage the extended organization. Take advantage of relationships with customers, business partners, suppliers, distributors, etc. that can offer unique perspectives on product ideas and processes. In some cases, ideas can bubble up based on their own successes and failures in their own markets or relationships with other companies.
What are some other ways to foster and maintain an environment of continuous innovation? What are some approaches that work well or tend to fail?