Many organizations have started to set up innovation teams, innovation labs, and other innovation structures to introduce business innovation initiatives through operational innovation. However, I have worked with senior operational executives that are unable to motivate their innovation teams to translate these innovations into operational and commercial business outcomes.
On many occasions, I’m asked how I can assist them to create a more result-focussed innovation approach, which doesn’t interfere with the 'innovation flow', but will ensure that the operational innovative solutions will directly benefit the bottom line.
In most instances, I’ll review the following five key criteria items that innovation leaders and their teams should adopt to ensure that operational innovation delivers the desired results.
Cross-functional innovation teams
True operational innovation will be created through different viewpoints, experiences and skills. Any effective innovation team should have operational skills from the required function and the aligned functions. This means that when there is a focus on finance innovation, the operational innovation team should consist of all the functions that have a direct, and potentially, an indirect relationship with finance to deliver effective operational innovative solutions that will impact the operational value chain and ultimately the business outcomes.
Cross-functional enterprise innovation leadership
Any effective innovation team should have the right leadership and direction. The difference between operational and enterprise innovation leaders is the leadership approach. Enterprise innovation leaders that are focussed on delivering the right innovative solutions should have the following 3 main leadership skills:
- Cross-functional hands-on experience across the end-to-end operation value chain to understand operational and enterprise impact,
- A teaching and guidance leadership style to get the best of his/her innovation teams instead of directive leadership,
- Collaborative leader within the wider organisation to influence operational change across the business. The enterprise innovation leader should be respected and appreciated in the organization
An enterprise innovation leader can be classified as an indirect or servant leader that will use the strengths and weaknesses in their teams to deliver fit-for-purpose innovative solutions. Their leadership role will be to act as a navigation system that knows the desired business result (the final destination), however, depending on the 'traffic conditions', bottlenecks and other challenges, the innovation team will be able to take the most effective route to get there.
Any innovation initiative should be simplistic, assessed and validated to meet the desired business results
To ensure that any operational innovation delivers the organization's goals, it’s crucial that innovation solutions are focussed on simplicity. Early in the innovation solution development, at the 'minimal viable solution' stage, there is a need for and assessment or validation to review the level of complexity and what impact the operational innovative solution has on the desired business results. Only by simplistic innovative solutions that directly link with the desired business results, the innovation team is able to increase the maturity of the operational innovation solutions to continuously add value to the business.
Operational innovation metrics
Measuring is the only way to ensure that the innovative solutions continuously progress to meet the desired business results. As with all processes, including the innovation process, it’s crucial to measure progress. The innovation team should early in the innovation solution process measure the innovation progress towards these business results.
Don’t be afraid to terminate an operational innovation solution
Operational innovation solutions will fail and succeed. This is part of the innovation journey and should be accepted. It is, therefore, important to continuously validate points three and four. As businesses evolve, the desired business results might evolve and/or the progress metrics might change. It’s therefore imperative to continuously validate if the operational innovation solution will deliver the desired business results.
If the operational innovation solution doesn’t meet the desired progress metrics or starts to move away from the desired business goals (and therefore results), it’s imperative to 'kill' the innovation solution and:
- Capture the innovation solution details to ensure that the innovation effort is not wasted
- Conduct a short 'lessons learned' session to ensure that future operational innovation solutions are more aligned
- Store the operational innovation details in a shared document management environment for future reviews. It might not be an innovative solution now, but it might be suitable in x months or years
These five key criteria have allowed innovation teams to focus on delivering business results through fit-for-purpose operational innovation initiatives. If you’re looking to validate if your innovation teams are set-up to succeed and deliver result-focussed operational innovation, please start with these criteria.