Making Business Innovation Part of the Job Description

Business innovation means something different to each company. For some, it’s all about the product: To innovate, an idea must bring something new to the market. Others view innovation as change: If incremental improvements are made, it’s innovative. There’s also the concept that innovation is the application of knowledge, resources, or goods in a new, fresh way.

Because the term is hard to define and its meaning differs from one organization to the next, it has become a challenge to set expectations for innovation. And without expectations, innovation can’t be measured.

That’s why companies must create a practical definition of business innovation. You must understand what it means to manage and measure systematically. Only then can your company forge a culture of innovation — one that trains employees in the methodologies of unlocking and using creativity to succeed in their jobs.

But business innovation isn’t just about ideas; it’s about determining how those ideas benefit an organization, putting resources in place to develop those ideas, and teaching employees what to do with those ideas once they come to mind. In other words, it’s about making innovation part of every employee’s job.

Business Innovation Is Everyone’s Job

One obvious way to make innovation everyone’s job is to add a line item to job descriptions that lists innovation as part of the responsibilities. This challenges employees to find new and better ways to operate. These are the people closest to your customers, so it stands to reason that they would be your best resources to drive business innovation.

Then, incentivize innovation efforts in performance evaluations. If employees innovate on a consistent basis, give salary increases or extra incentives and perks. These should be visible to other employees so they see innovation pays off.

On the flip side, when employees consistently fail to innovative, they should be coached and trained on the business innovation process. Give them the tools to succeed. If they’re still unable or unwilling to innovate, they should be separated from the company.

Both tactics send a strong message that innovation matters. Making innovation a part of everyone’s objectives will help encourage and foster the right culture.

Is It Possible to Measure  Business Innovation?

With innovation as part of the job description, leadership must create the means to track and measure it. However, only 22 percent of corporate leaders made innovation part of their performance metrics, and some would even argue innovation can’t be measured or managed.

That’s untrue on both accounts. The innovation process is measurable; so is its manageability. You just need the right tools in place. These often include the following:

Determine What Counts As Innovation

Most companies hold a product-centric view of business innovation: If it doesn’t relate to a new product (or a new process of getting a product to market), it’s not seen as innovative. And that sort of thinking often passes right down to employees.

To create a culture of innovation, redefine what the term means at your company. Look at all the areas where employees could potentially get involved. Go beyond product development to determine where someone could add value.

Then, invest in upgrading the skills necessary to innovate. Hold leaders responsible for the innovations coming from their teams. Get everyone on the same page about what business innovation looks like.

Track Behavioral Changes

With everyone coming from the same place, you can now begin to measure business innovation through changes in behavior. Establish interim metrics to gauge their rates of growth — or lack thereof.

For example, how many brainstorming sessions were held over a certain time period? How many ideas resulted from those sessions? What about the focus of the sessions: Were people trying to solve the right problems? Were the solutions for the right users?

Brainstorming is all about quantity, not quality — that comes later. It’s important to keep the pipeline flowing to gain useful insights.

Monitor the Flow of Business Innovation

Don’t get hung up on the metrics used to evaluate more established initiatives; something so new can’t compete with the status quo. Instead, look at output. Monitor the flow of ideas.

How many ideas were generated? Of those ideas, how many were new, bold, or creative? How many were acted upon? How many resulted in tangible benefits? Look at the flow of ideas from a variety of angles.

If a session produces little more than an idea or two, it’s a sign that people have yet to adopt an innovation mindset. Of course, it could also be a sign that more investment in innovation skills is necessary — or incentive is lacking.

Review End-State Measurements

Inevitably, business innovation should impact the bottom line. Review the outcomes of an innovation effort. Evaluate the number of products launched or the number of processes implemented. Calculate cost savings or revenue improvements. Even something as seemingly simple as the percentage of employees trained on innovation can tell you a lot about your efforts.

Focusing too much on the quantity and quality of ideas in relation to the financial implications on your business takes the effort out of the equation and makes business innovation difficult to measure reliably.

Never forget business innovation is the result of people thinking in new and different ways; that’s where you need to place your attention. Otherwise, you’ll never come close to measuring innovation — let alone creating a culture where it can thrive.

Steve Blue is president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, where he blended multiple technologies to transform the 60-year-old manufacturing company into a highly innovative global powerhouse. He is an author, a speaker, and a nationally recognized expert on leading change and showing companies how to double and even quadruple growth.

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