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Transformation through Strategy and Innovation

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One of the most frequently asked questions we get from
clients is how we can help them transform their organization to become more innovative and create a culture of
continuous innovation that enables strategic renewal. A simple question but a
big challenge. It touches the fundamentals of why anyone would want to start a
business. Businesses exist because of opportunity and opportunity is why we
innovate. But what enables successful innovation, how do we embed that
innovation culture (innovation
culture ' everybody wants one
)? Much has been written about it and based on
20 years of working with clients we have our own views how to achieve this.
When people read or hear about successful companies that
pursue one good opportunity after another they admire them and try to
understand how they do it (innovation = admiration).
The Apple's and Google's of this world, the Lego's and Virgin's they all have
great stories to share and each is a worthwhile company to study [1]. But
benchmarking, copying or emulating doesn't guarantee success; on the contrary
it often leads to disappointing results. If the ambition is to transform your
organization into one where innovation is at the core of what you do then there
are better ways.
We believe that there are three key elements that
businesses' should focus on to address this challenge:
create a clear purpose for the organization
use that purpose to make innovation happen from
day one
and make it stick in your organization
Often companies state their ambition in numbers, e.g. market
share, % growth, margins etc. But the problem with numbers is they very seldom
excite most of us unless we're discussing world records.
We would argue that most people do not get out of bed in the
morning to win a percentage point in market share. They need a clear purpose (HBR: Strategic Intent, Gary
Hamel, C.K. Prahalad
) to connect to on a more emotional level, something
that is engaging, exciting and provides a compelling reason and a clear
direction to seek opportunity for the business.
A purpose should describe what the company aspires to, an
ambition it wants to achieve. It should be clearly linked to opportunity
because that is at the heart of why we're in business anyway. And the ambition
needs to be stated at the right level. On a recent project I have heard Gary
Hamel tell a group of senior executives, 'you will never exceed your
ambitions', meaning that if you set it too low you won't stretch people's
imagination, set it high enough and people will realize that business as usual
won't get them there, they will need to innovate to achieve it (no innovation
without aspiration
Our strategy should inform in detail about that ambition or
future state, it gives us direction and drives us to make clear choices (say yes to strategy
' how to make tough choices
) about where we will play and how we will win.
This is why strategy and innovation are very closely linked (what
does strategy have to do with innovation anyway
). Opportunity informs
strategy and strategy drives choice on an ongoing basis about which
opportunities to pursue and which to ignore.
Opportunity drives innovation whereas processes and
organization enable innovation to happen efficiently and repeatedly. Yes you
need to design processes, develop capability and the right organization that
supports innovation in the longer term. But innovation is initially about
generating excitement, about realizing people's ideas (talent needs
to see their ideas realized
); it has the power to mobilize teams to focus
on delivering something new and of value to the business. People generally do
not get excited about processes and organizational design. Starting with that
kills any momentum you may have generated.
Instead we focus on running innovation challenges that
activate and execute our strategy. These challenges range from what we call
early stage (broader opportunity areas that need to be explored) to late stage
(specific ideas we want to realize) and from management innovation[2] (new ways
to organize, lead, coordinate or motivate) to front line (engaging the wider
organization or even beyond for ideas).
So rather than focusing on a 'grand design' which you
probably won't get right the first time anyway it is better to start
innovating, building momentum, removing obvious roadblocks along the way and
learn what works best in your situation and circumstances. Designing how to
innovate should be an iterative process while you are delivering real results
for the company, activate the strategy and motivating people to fuel innovation
with their ideas, creativity and persistence to make it work. That is the
greatest learning you will gain and it will help to fine-tune the innovation
system to make it stick.
Making your strategy and innovation stick will ensure that
what you have started is built to last and in time allows you to evolve with
changing circumstances, i.e. strategic renewal.
Innovation Challenges are a great way to start to make your
strategy stick, build momentum and communicate real results to the business.
Innovation Challenges are highly participative, engaging activities, which
enable us to develop capability in organizations from day one (capability building: learning
by doing
). When teams work on innovation challenges they will learn and
adopt new behaviors through specific tools and techniques and understand the
principles that support them (principles of innovation part 1part 2). The
principles help teams to adapt approaches to suit their particular needs.
We believe that systemic challenges require systemic
solutions and capability building is but one element of that system that we
address through innovation challenges (learn by doing) as well as running
specific micro skill modules. Other elements include portfolio management,
innovation processes, organizational structures, metrics, leadership
development etc. Making it stick is absolutely necessary to embed and scale
innovation across the organization but it shouldn't be the starting point of
your effort to transform your company. Focusing on strategy and innovation help
you to start that journey.
Like this topic?
Attend BEI Back End of Innovation 2014 in Las Vegas, NV in October! Learn more
about the event here:  http://bit.ly/1obdENY
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About the
Author: Michel van Hove is a Partner at Strategos. His
experience includes strategy and business development, managing client
relations and leading teams through innovation change programs. Since joining
the firm in 2004 he has led strategic innovation initiatives across a wide
range of sectors including energy, telecommunications, consumer electronics,
and food and beverage. - See more at:

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