Innovation is a hot concept today – known by many but understood by few, and that’s the bottom line. Innovations, like any other valuable outcomes, require a framework and processes to produce. Innovations are not simply a collection of good ideas. Innovations are ideas that add significant value to the organization and its customers. Value can be measured; therefore, the results of innovation processes should be measured to ensure the resources expended for the effort are properly used and that the goals of the organization are achieved.
Much like the Sterling or Baldrige frameworks, the Innovation Framework has seven categories – six for processes and systems, and the seventh for results. Following is a brief description of each:
- Scalable Platform: Leadership drives the system, but innovation requires both top down and bottom-up approaches that support organizational strategies. Top down only creates an environment in which employees feel required to comply with stifling orders to innovate. A bottom-up only approach is like a suggestion box – usually empty after being ignored by leaders because ideas are not linked to organizational goals or strategies.
- Organizational Structures: Mechanisms must be in place to collect, review, choose, and promote ideas for implementation. Ideas that are not feasible today may be tomorrow, so a mechanism must be provided to “bank” ideas for future consideration.
- Employee Engagement: Employees at all levels need to be engaged. Organizations with strong strategic planning processes, well defined work systems, and staffed by capable employees are more likely to adopt innovative thinking than those without.
- Idea Management System: Key elements of an idea management system include an innovation process deployed throughout the organization. Methods to evaluate and choose ideas, and a logical, accessible location to store and share innovations for replication and future consideration are necessary for the success of the process.
- Targeted Innovation: Innovations are mostly triggered by challenges. These usually come in the form of KPI gaps, external threats or opportunities, or needs at the operational level. When focused on a business need, smart ideas have a greater chance of being implemented.
- Lessons Learned: A common mistake is to not manage the backend of innovation. Ideas that are not deemed feasible or effective today may have promise in the future. The decisioning process should be sufficiently documented so somebody can “pick up where you left off” sometime in the future.
- Results Confirmation: The challenges that trigger innovation have rewards or consequences that are measureable. Recognize those who had a role in the success, and consider incorporating innovation as an element to the employee performance management system.
An innovation framework is a necessity for innovative thinking to take hold in an organization. It requires leadership and employee engagement, structures, and process. Most importantly, by understanding the connection between innovative ideas and organizational goals, innovations are more likely to be implemented and, add significant value to the organization, its customers, and the employees whose inspirations produced them.
Bob Seemer is the President of ets, inc., a Florida-based consulting and professional development firm and 20 year member of the Florida Sterling Council Board of Directors. Mr. Seemer is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and has certified thousands of professionals in the application of performance improvement methodologies.