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21 Innovation Essentials for Organizations

November 28, 2012

Stephen Shapiro, Linkage partner and author of Best Practices are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition has identified 21 factors that lead to cultivating a powerful environment for innovation. How do you and your organization measure up? Answer the questions below to diagnose the innovation potential of your organization. Ask yourself:

1. Surface and challenge assumptions
Are underlying assumptions/rules surfaced and challenged? Is the organization prepared to break with tradition? Are the root causes of problems identified and addressed?
2. Invest time and money
Are efforts adequately funded in terms of money and resources? Is time allocated for innovative thinking, reflection, and planning (15% rule)? Does the physical environment facilitate communication and collaboration?
3. Create a networked organization
Is your organization an “alliance-based network of capabilities?” Are procedural or technical standards used only where informal coordination is ineffective? Is data shared across the organization? Are noncritical capabilities outsourced? Are performance objectives aligned across organizations? Is decision making pushed to the lowest levels of organization?
4. Focus on goals rather than procedures
When delegating, do managers focus on “what” rather than “how?” Are clear goals and outcomes provided to avoid ambiguity? Is there a clear structure for managing commitments?
5. Employ advocates and owners rather than managers
Do process owners serve as advocates for innovative thinking throughout the organization? Are process owners empowered to work across relevant functions? Are the process owners chosen for their communication/management skills rather than their technical skills? Do process owners facilitate rather than dictate?
6. Get the right measures and incentives
Are stretch targets used to create a challenge? Are performance-based incentives and team measures used? Do the measures focus on outcomes rather than tasks? Are “fear based” incentives avoided? Are performance targets defined concurrently, or in advance of the business design? Are measures “balanced?” Are measures holistic? Has their impact on other measures been taken into account?
7. Use optimistic language
Are employees encouraged to stay open to new possibilities? Is “inclusive” language used? Is gossiping and politicking discouraged? Is negative, pessimistic language discouraged?
8. Get the right people in the right roles
Is everyone in the organization provided an appropriate challenge? Are people matched with jobs to minimize boredom or avoid their being overwhelmed? Do you only keep employees who subscribe to the values of the organization? Are jobs, roles, or tasks rotated to keep people challenged and growing?
9. Provide encouragement
Are efforts of individuals and teams privately and publicly acknowledged? Are people shown the result of their efforts?
10. Design for process flexibility
Are overly prescriptive processes avoided? Is technology used to enable innovation rather than prescribe procedures?
11. Strive for simplicity
Are simple solutions used over sophisticated ones? Is over-analysis avoided? Is a “build it, try it, fix it” approach used when appropriate? Are overly formulaic approaches avoided?
12. Be consistent and build trust
Does management demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the success of initiatives and individuals? Does management avoid the frequent changing of goals?
13. Provide strong leadership
Do leaders demonstrate their commitment to innovation? Do leaders make tough, unpopular decisions (intestinal fortitude)? Are the leaders inspirational? Do the leaders serve as a role model for the rest of the organization?
14. Use internal markets
Is cross-unit cooperation encouraged through appropriate incentives? Is internal competition used to keep people on their toes? Are survival of the fittest/free market models applied throughout the organization?
15. Collect and connect dots
Is knowledge and skills building encouraged? Are people encouraged to explore new disciplines? Do individuals collect and combine ideas? Are individuals encouraged to look at work through various “filters?” Does the organization collect, combine, disseminate, and reward the best ideas? Are individuals encouraged to challenge norms? Is a standard process used for innovation (diverge then converge)? Are centers of excellence used to build broad-based expertise?
16. Ensure Strategic alignment
Are all initiatives aligned to the overall strategy? Are all stakeholders considered when defining the strategy (stakeholder wants & needs)?
17. Eliminate administration
Are knowledge workers freed to focus on value-adding activities rather than administration? Are critical resources optimized?
18. Create and align context
Is an exciting context created for employees? Are people made aware of the big picture? When selling new ideas internally, is “why” addressed before “what” and “how?” Is a powerful “burning platform” created to stimulate interest? Do people understand how their work fits in with the overall effort? Are personal passions aligned with organizational objectives?
19. Target high-value capabilities
Are capabilities targeted that create the greatest stakeholder value and represent the greatest opportunity for improvement? Is the most valuable work converted into knowledge work? Is a holistic view maintained? Is the organization’s capacity to change considered?
20. Focus outside in
Is the organization customer focused, designing from the outside in? Does the organization stand in the customers’ shoes and observe their processes in action? Does the organization focus on redesigning customer processes rather than internal processes? Does the organization create customer needs rather than just respond to them? Are various customer segments handled differently? Is the organization “easy to do business with?”
21. Revel in differences
Does the organization develop teams with diverse skills and analytical styles? Does the organization value contention, debate, and tension? Do managers acknowledge, but avoid punishing, failure? Are conversations structured to accommodate different analytical styles? Does the organization avoid the lowest common denominator, analysis paralysis, and “right of infinite appeal?” Are new organizations created when a new culture/skillet is needed?

This is a long list and it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. It’s important to keep it simple by considering the “NOW Just Do IT” model. The “N” in NOW stands for Need; a burning platform for change is communicated and well understood throughout the organization. The “O” is for Opportunity; you have to be in a business that has a chance of succeeding. And the “W” is for Will of senior management; committed leadership with the “intestinal fortitude” to see the change through. And you need all three to be successful.

If you’ve realized it’s time to innovate the way you innovate, click here to find out more about Creating an Innovation-Capable Organization.


So let’s hear it: What’s holding you and your organization back from innovating?


More about Stephen

Stephen M Shapiro Linkage Thought Leader Series

Linkage partner Stephen Shapiro (often referred to as the Innovation Evangelist) has brought his message on building an innovation culture to hundreds of thousands of people in 40 countries around the world. His message is clear: Innovation isn’t about the occasional new idea. Companies that are making a mark in today’s business environment make innovation a repeatable, sustainable, and profitable process.


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