It’s no secret that innovation plays a huge role in gaining competitive advantage. In today’s increasingly competitive business world, companies that fail to innovate risk being left behind and, in the worst case, face extinction. Yet, despite this, the structure and culture in many organisations actually stifles innovation, leaving them unable to quickly react to new ideas and opportunities, and places them in danger of being outpaced by smaller, more agile, disruptor companies.
Smart businesses are recognising the need to coach innovation and nurture the development of a culture that embraces intrapreneurship, but many lack the necessary in-house expertise to successfully run an intrapreneurship program and effect cultural change. This is where the services of an external innovation coach can make a huge difference.
Here, we take a look at the role of an innovation coach, and look at some practical ways in which organisations can create a culture that embraces intrapreneurship and advances innovation.
What do innovation coaches do?
Innovation coaches, like the mentors you will find at the Academy for Corporate Entrepreneurship, provide hands-on support to help your organisation grow its innovation capabilities. They are able to provide coaching at all levels of the business, from individual projects right up to to executive-level strategy development, and through all stages of the innovation cycle. Here is a brief overview of how an innovation coach can help:
Innovation audit for innovation consulting
An innovation coach will often start by working with you to assess the current position of innovation within your business. This will allow you to set a baseline from which to track the progress of new innovation, and the impact of any corporate entrepreneurship training or other initiatives.
Develop the infrastructure for continuous innovation
Innovation should be approached as a continuous cycle, as opposed to a one-off project. An innovation coach will help to define your company’s vision and create an innovation strategy that aligns with your overall business strategy. They will also set goals to ensure that everyone in the organisation is continuously working towards achieving that vision and strategy.
Identify the most appropriate frameworks, methods and tools to coach innovations
Every organisation is different, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach that will address a company’s innovation gap. A good innovation coach will be able to customise training programs and bring in cutting-edge frameworks, methods and a toolbox to suit the individual needs of your company.
Facilitate the identification of opportunities
There is likely to be a wealth of inspiration and ideas within your organisation, but it can often be difficult to extract, organise and develop those ideas without the input of a skilled, impartial facilitator. At AfCE, we use ideation workshops to select and define ideas, filling in any gaps to make them more compelling, and help you select the best team to execute them.
Guidance through the journey
As well as guiding you through each stage of the process, the external perspective of an innovation coach can be invaluable in helping your team stay on course and avoid common pitfalls, such as shiny object syndrome.
Combine innovation consulting with a conscious shift in culture
Innovation consulting alone is not a silver bullet. To achieve results on a long-term basis, it must be combined with a conscious effort to change the culture of the company to one that promotes an intrapreneurial mindset and celebrates innovation. Here are five tips to help you develop that culture:
Make time for creative thinking
Companies that run hugely successful intrapreneurship programs, such as Google, 3M and Lockheed Martin, all share the common factor that they actively make time for employees to think creatively. Google in particular, allows employees to devote up to 20 percent of their time to pursuing new, innovative projects, which has produced winning products like Gmail, Google News and AdSense.
Give employees permission to make mistakes
Allowing employees to make mistakes means that they have the freedom to be creative and explore experimental ideas outside of their comfort zone. Some companies do this by incorporating a discussion of what went wrong into their weekly meetings — not to shame or embarrass employees, but to create an open dialogue of what happened and how they can learn from it.
Teamwork is essential in harnessing creativity, and putting employees together who have diverse work and cultural backgrounds will add different perspectives. The result of this is more unique, unorthodox ideas, rather than the narrower field of view that tends to come from having a team of similar, like-minded people.
Recognising and rewarding employees for their contribution, whether publicly praising them or privately compensating them, creates positive reinforcement and is an excellent way to coach innovations. This is vital in creating a culture that values and encourages intrapreneurship. Statistics show repeatedly that rewards over penalties typically lead to more successful outcomes. If your company has been leading with tactics like removing team members from projects for lack of innovation, rather than offering incentives for exemplifying inspirational and pertinent processes throughout its run, then you will have a difficult time achieving your objectives. Also, you must remember that employees or even freelancers who feel as if they are important to their department, and consistently produce work that is appreciated and perhaps praised, will put forth more of an effort. This is yet another area where innovation consulting can help achieve goals.
Create a team of the right type of people
Successful intrapreneurs share certain traits and characteristics, such as being naturally curious, passionate and not afraid to challenge the status quo. Identifying the right employees to create an innovation team and supporting them with a skilled mentor to coach innovations, significantly improves the chances of success. When looking for members in your team that stand out as intrapreneurs, consider those who are consistently:
- Always taking initiative
- Available to take action
- Thinking outside of the box
- Taking on a leadership role when needed
- Team players
- Mentoring new team members
- Taking responsibility for their work
- Finding solutions to problems
The standout trait to look for, however, is that intrapreneurs never need to be instructed to do these things. If a fresh recruit begins work on Monday, by Wednesday, an intrapreneur will have shown him or her the ropes, along with specific tips or tricks to make their acclimation simpler and more effortless. And as the new team member receives praise or even reward for a job well done, an intrapreneur will never feel threatened by their achievements.
A thriving, passionate team will inspire and motivate other employees, producing a positive cycle and accelerating the rate of cultural change. All of these things will lead to surprising growth within the organisation.
Develop your employees to coach innovation
Once you are on your way to creating a more entrepreneurial culture, and have an innovation program up and running, the next step is to ensure that these become embedded in the organisation and continue to grow. Many companies make the mistake of putting in the initial hard work, but then failing to capitalise on it.
Keep performing the techniques that you learned from innovation consulting in the first place, so as not to easily sink back into comfortable patterns that may not have been as challenging, but were failing to produce the desired results. Remember to stick with a basic plan when inspiring new ideas, including:
- Brainstorming: Gather your already identified intrapreneurs together on a regular basis to discuss new ways to create out-of-the-box processes that will be fresh to the industry. Don’t be afraid to discuss topics that will shake things up, or may not be feasible. That’s where the next step will come in to ensure the validity of your suggestions.
- Begin Discovery: Even though you may be eager to begin implementing a creative protocol to a troubling project, don’t forget to set aside a time for discovery. In simpler terms, this means turning your “what if” scenarios into tangible real-world tests that can be executed on a small scale to better gage the outcomes that may be expected when completely put into place.
- Testing: One of the best ways to coach innovations is through the proper testing. Select a few sample scenarios that fit well into your project and begin to test the results on a few sample accounts or projects. Keep this data to refer to often, as it may come in useful even after the idea has been formally implemented within your organisation.
Employees who performed well as part of a successful program should be developed to take on mentoring roles, and provided with more training to enable them to coach innovation from within the company. In doing so, you create a cycle of experienced mentors who can guide the next cohort, and keep innovation thriving within your organisation.