Every week CEOs contact me for brain-based techniques to increase their innovation momentum, to expedite product and service development, to streamline customer input in the process of creation. How do we do this? Read on.

1. Create a culture of innovation

The number one problem we see in cultures of low innovation is the lack of rewards and consequences in the areas where they need to be-in fostering new ideas and risk taking. Beyond the top level of management, many team members experience very little support of their ideas. Would your team members report that their ideas are being shot down before due consideration? If so, you’ll quickly find that new ideas are “somebody else’s responsibility.”

Next check your company’s level of conflict avoidance. When we don’t have healthy debate ideas will be stalled and innovation will suffer. And if ideas do get a fair hearing, ensure they also get adequate due diligence. When innovations are rushed to market for innovation’s sake (or a manager’s bonus) low customer interest, costly production and/or warranty issues will appear. Healthy conflict, structured brainstorming forums where “stupid” ideas are okay, external focus, and “what if” thinking is essential in a culture of innovation.

Last, make sure you have a solid connection between R&D, sales, and customers. A company that is focused on and in constant touch with its customers will naturally create highly compelling products. Focus, priority, structure, leadership, rewards, and dedicated time are essential for fostering a culture of innovation. See number four below to more deeply root innovation in your culture.

2. Launch “Internal Innovation Incubator Team” meetings

Every company needs brainstorming with cross-functional teams in order to innovate better and faster. Creating an Innovation Incubator Team (IIT) will help keep innovation top of mind and ensure new products have diverse champions. Here’s how they work. , select a variety of expertise and perspectives for your IIT; representation from sales, engineering, manufacturing, client care, marketing, finance will provide the broad perspective you need. Set a regular date for this two-hour brainstorming meeting, with everyone bringing an idea for a new innovation in the areas of product/service, process, and culture. Have a simple charter for your bi-weekly or monthly IIT meeting; every meeting must yield one or more specific innovation. Each innovation must have a projected ROI, an owner to drive it to completion, and a cross-functional team to support it.

And don’t let the ideas die. At the close of each IIT meeting, the owners of the innovations that were approved must specify deliverables and deadlines for their innovation to keep momentum. Then they’ll update the IIT on weekly progress via your social technologies or even basic old email status reports.

3. Celebrate the “Innovation of the Week”

Innovation can occur anywhere in your company-so to keep it top of mind, create an Innovation of the Week program complete with rewards and celebrations. Just like the output of the structured Innovation Incubator Team meeting, each Innovation of the Week takes into account:

  • Category (product/service, process, culture)
  • Expected ROI (to be tracked over the next 90 days)
  • Details of innovation (what it is, why, who is affected)

An innovation can be as simple as your bookkeeper streamlining a process to save 5 minutes per bill, to an entirely new product line, a product improvement, a new high-margin service, or a new cultural ritual to improve employee engagement. The Innovation of the Week is submitted to the IIT, and the selected winner is celebrated on the Innovation Wall of Fame, where each innovation is summarized with a photo of the innovator. The innovator is acknowledged and appreciated publicly via your company newsletter, CEO blog, and/or company meetings, and he or she gets a certificate to hang in their office (cheesy, yes; cute, yes!) plus a Starbuck’s card or some smaller prize.

Then, after the 90-day ROI period is over, and we know the ROI of the Innovations of the Week, the prize is bigger. Select an Innovation of the Month and Quarter based on ROI and positive impact on the company.

Over time, the tremendous amount of innovation across the company (and gentle peer pressure on those departments not innovating) will create healthy competition. Use social technologies, such as your corporate wiki, your internal chat platform, or any other collaborative engine to get conversations and ideas flowing.

How are you fostering innovation in your company?

Published on: Apr 1, 2014