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PHOTO: Diz Play

From modernizing products and processes to developing new technologies and business models, innovation is necessary for organizations to compete.

And yet many companies drop innovation programs at the first sign of failure. It’s easy to give up on innovation when it doesn’t yield results overnight, but without a solid commitment to it, companies are missing out on substantial long-term value.

So what are some of the key foundations that companies must establish to capitalize on their innovation practices, regardless of industry or business objectives?

Develop a Culture of Innovation

First and foremost, innovation can only happen when a company’s culture allows for it.

The most valuable innovations come from individuals with the freedom to experiment, so organizations need to make it possible for all employees to experiment, share ideas and innovate without any fear of failure.

In every department, people have ideas for improvement, whether at an individual level or an organizational one. Some of those ideas will become the company’s next great innovations, so it’s vital to provide time, space and platforms for employees to develop ideas, test them or at least share them freely.

Not everybody is confident about their ideas. If there is any self-doubt, people will keep ideas to themselves, which doesn’t help anybody improve. Organizations can overcome this by offering their teams a safety net, encouraging them to be proactive and propose new ideas in judgment-free meetings or communication channels dedicated to sharing ideas.

Not all ideas are good — in fact, most ideas don’t lead to any successful innovations — so it’s really a numbers game where the more ideas you have the more good ones emerge from the pile. No matter how bad the idea, though, it’s important to never punish mistakes or belittle someone’s ideas, as this will stop innovation in its tracks.

Related Article: What You Can Do to Build an Innovative Ecosystem

Chase Innovation, Don’t Wait for It

While culture is the bedrock of a strong, innovative company, the business value won’t become apparent without following through on the best ideas and actively pursuing worthwhile innovations.

It helps if companies take an iterative startup approach to testing, which involves validating hypotheses by graduating some ideas into actual products or improvements at an organizational level. Upon completion, it’s possible to track an idea’s value and connect it with business objectives, providing a top-down view of the impact of each innovation.

Aside from internal sources of innovation, organizations should also pay close attention to the needs of their clients, vendors, competitors and the broader market to identify opportunities worth executing. Take it a step further by immersing yourself in different domains, which will force the emergence of new ideas.

The rule of thumb when chasing innovation is to search for as many ideas as possible related to your areas of interest and then filter them out based on viability. Again, it’s essentially another numbers game: the more avenues you open, the more great ideas flow inwards.

Related Article: Innovation Is No Laughing Matter

Deal With Pushback and Reluctance to Change

Even with the right culture in place and a proactive approach to innovation, there will always be challenges and hurdles to deal with en route to the benefits.

For instance, change is not often welcome when employees have relied upon certain processes for years. Dealing with bias or reluctance to change can be hard, so it’s important to highlight how new innovations will improve the lives of everyone involved.

In the software development industry, Agile methodologies sometimes make use of the spike concept, a special type of user story where the output is knowledge. That knowledge helps the team better understand a requirement, reduce technical risks, and more. It’s considered a valuable process of learning. By using spikes, developers can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. If the ideas result in a big improvement, all stakeholders can see it first-hand before approving it for production. This approach is a great way to build trust in innovation, overcome barriers to change, and further improve company culture.

Innovation is not only possible through software: it could be a small change to a simple process or a massive adjustment to the company’s business model. No matter what innovation looks like in your organization, it can only provide value if it’s allowed to happen. So give teams the freedom to improve and enable them to execute the changes they propose by removing any unnecessary red tape or approvals.

Related Article: From Control to Curiosity: The Starting Point of Innovation

Keep Innovation Tied to Business Objectives

On an organizational level, innovation initiatives need targets and goals that focus on achieving business objectives. Otherwise, it’s impossible to determine how they’re impacting the company.

Companies should hold regular retrospectives after implementing changes, along with keeping a written record of ideas and implementations, in order to go back, assess what was done, how it was done, and how any changes have helped reach business goals.

Innovation is about making things a little better, every day, so try to accelerate these achievements by fostering a culture of inclusivity and closeness, led by an overarching motivation to reach the objectives as a team.

Related Article: 7 Ways to Encourage Innovation in the Workplace

Bonus Advice and Closing Points

  • Enlist Innovation Champions and Advocates. Ideas rarely reach their full potential without someone to take ownership and follow through with them. Every innovation needs a champion who is passionate about it and can keep the wave of motivation high throughout the company.
  • Focus on End-Users Over Technology. It can be tempting for teams to want to get into the weeds on new technologies, but the final innovation is for the end-user, so it has to be customer-focused. Remove any ego because if the market or internal department doesn’t respond well it’ll all be for nothing.
  • Accept Ideas Will Fail. Even if an idea seems great and the first iterations look good, the final result may end up failing. It helps to take a startup approach and validate ideas with the market to prevent this. After a good response, take it to R&D mode, assign a budget, and manage it as you would any other product.

Organizational innovation means to constantly and permanently question how things are done, discover what to improve, and focus on the areas that will help reach business objectives. When introduced correctly, a culture of innovation will become a constant source of value within the company, so focus on building that long-term rather than implementing a temporary program or separate effort.

Once innovation becomes the backbone of your company, it’s difficult to ignore the widespread daily improvements.