How to Create an Innovation Program

Innovation – the destination doesn’t decide the journey…

Marriam Webster says this is the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.

And yet in an organization, when you’re far away from R&D and working in pretty regulated department, you aren’t really empowered to make change. You feel that a lot of things need to happen, a lot of people need to buy-in to the “act or process”, when they actually only give buy-in when they see “new ideas, devices, or methods”.

Ever heard folks say: “Its so simple, they just need to do it that way”… “if it was left to me, I would do this this/that/the other way”…

This isn’t uncommon and you are right, those breakthrough ideas you read about – had a lot of backing and sponsorship which you aren’t typically going to get.

But you want to tick-off “innovation” as an item on your resume, maybe it will help you land the next job, maybe it will help you look good in front of your manager. However it helps you, this article is going give you the means to start a small, no-cost innovation program – where you can sell the “act or process”, instead of the “new ideas, devices, or methods”.

Step 1: Time It

Plan it according to your appraisal, this shouldn’t take more than 6 months, so start a couple months after your goal setting discussion with your manager and end a couple months before the end of year conversation – so that its fresh in the minds of everyone.

Step 2: Begin With the End in Mind

Now this is where the real thinking comes in. You need to have an inkling about the low hanging fruit – what can be fixed not how and bridge it to a manager who stands to gain from this. That’s your business case. Let me give you a couple real examples:

The Small Department

There was once a plain old department that handled some excel work. They didn’t manage any big systems or applications or processes. But they still were a department with HR processes – leave, reimbursement and the excel work they did. One bright spark put all 3 of those into a bucket called “operational innovation”, and made small improvements such as skipping redundant steps in the HR processes and made macros to automate some of the excel work.

The Large Division

I happen to work with a larger corporation, numbering about 150 folks. What I did was:

  1. Fixed something small myself. Presented the small win to Management in dollar savings terms and asked if they would be open to me starting a low-time investment, free-of-charge innovation program… all I needed was a sharepoint webpage and their support when I call for action.
  2. I lobbied several senior team members (amazing how the best ideas always come from the people who execute processes), and pulled a list of improvement ideas. I asked a couple of team members to turn the ideas into process and execute the improvement, and logged the success on the sharepoint.
    Tip: Share the early wins to Management to keep them warm.

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  3. With the data on the sharepoint, I had an example to demonstrate the innovation program – I then held a large team meeting and asked everyone to contribute one idea by the end of the month, and each department to log a major operational risk by the end of every quarter.

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  4. Every month I chased folks to execute their ideas, every quarter I presented the growing number of ideas to management. By the third quarter I was able to show that there were 50 ideas registered, 10 implemented which generated savings in cost and time.
  5. For the other 40 ideas I grouped them into a few big buckets and recommended that we secure some funding to pursue 3 improvement projects, which became my following year’s value add.

Step 3: Market It with a Bang

Be smart – look for the right avenues to market the work you have done. After a certain point, don’t call it “innovation program”, call it “value creation” – don’t tell folks you are developing ideas and identifying risks, tell them you are sieving out improvement opportunities that are relevant to meeting business goals. Don’t say this idea fixed an internal process, say it saves 10 man hours, don’t say an idea saves 50 dollars a month – say that without it the 2 year cost would have been over a thousand dollars.

Presenting your program with the right data points. You don’t need to say a lot, just say the right things.

Tip: when the well runs dry, and it will – start looking at risk instead of ideas more aggressively

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