Companies say they want to innovate… but are they truly committed? Since so much in an organization inherently works against successful innovation, an organization has to truly be committed to the innovation effort to move beyond a list of “good ideas” into successful commercialization. How can you tell if your organization is truly committed to innovation? Here are some signs to look for.
First, risk-taking is a necessary part of innovation. Companies that support innovation realize that some projects will fail — and they don’t punish employees if a project is pulled. Indeed, some companies, like W. L. Gore (makers of Gore-Tex® fabrics) even go so far as to throw a party when a project is killed. Throwing a party to toast its passing acknowledges the worthy effort and buoys employees to try again.
Second, innovative companies give their employees time to pursue some projects of their own choosing. 3M Corporation and Google call this 15% time and 20% time, respectively, allowing employees to devote a portion of their time to self-initiated projects. Self-directed projects spark intrinsic motivation, which stimulates creativity.
Third, innovative companies realize that innovation doesn’t take place in a vacuum or as a solo effort. They support learning about innovation, such as by providing coaches and feedback on innovation efforts. For example, Whirlpool trains some employees to be innovation mentors – “i-mentors” – and tasks them with identifying promising new product ideas from across the organization.
Fourth, and hand-in-hand with #3 above, companies committed to innovation invest in innovation training that builds a common language for innovation across the organization. This kind of training turns innovation into an organizational competency, like Six Sigma training does. The training can be a formal in-person program or one that’s delivered over the web. The point is to create a shared understanding and terminology that lets employees easily talk about innovation with others in their organization, even if they are in different departments or divisions of the organization.
Finally, companies committed to innovation have transparent, systematic processes in place to capture, prioritize and promote innovation initiatives. Companies that are higher on the innovation maturity scale typically use a portfolio approach to viewing the initiatives in their pipeline and selecting those that fit best with the company’s strategy.
In short, the above five signs show that an organization has the values, behaviors and processes in place to encourage, support and execute on its innovation efforts.