Start with a purpose
First and foremost, your innovation strategy needs to come from a place of purpose and meaning - particularly if you want this to capture the imagination of your workforce and engage the wider business. Obviously, there needs to be fundamental business and industry needs for your organization to begin this journey, but that cannot be the story you tell to your employees. You need to sell on the fact that the strategy is by the people, for the people.
This has famously been phrased as ‘finding your why’.
Finding the purpose of your strategy can be tricky, especially as the majority will be about creating new business and revenue streams. This isn’t going to inspire anyone and your strategy won’t thrive. This is why I would suggest not starting from scratch…
Find a purpose or cause that already exists in your business and already resonates with your people and build off this.
There are two key areas of focus:
Area 1: Employee Engagement Surveys
Building the strategy off the back of an employee engagement survey is the ideal opportunity. Many organizations use an employee engagement survey to gauge the noise within the business. How happy are people? What do people want to change? What do people love?
At the outset of this strategy look into the details of any employee surveys and grab those themes and nuggets of gold that will tell you what is important to them. As well as this showing you ‘get’ your people, it saves you a lot of groundwork and gets you off to the perfect start with pulling your strategy together.
Area 2: Company Values
Another method is building your strategy off your existing company values. Most organizations will have a set of values that they strive to operate by. Many will have a value that shows the company aspires to be more and wants to do things differently. Although paid lip service a lot of the time, your people will know and understand these values - they will be a recognizable brand. Use these values and align your strategy to them.
I’ve done this in the past with great success. I’ve stolen the meaning and branding of a corporate value and it’s given the strategy life and familiarity. It’s a way of saying that your strategy is born out of growing the company culture.
These are a couple of examples to get you started, but the recommendation is simple. Don’t start from scratch if you can help it. Use existing knowledge to provide you with a leg up that will give your strategy much-needed familiarity and purpose.
Always come back to engagement
Once the framework is set and your purpose is known, then get out there and test your theories. Talk to your people. Find out what innovation means to them and what they want your organization to look like. By showing this vulnerability and telling people you ‘don’t have all the answers’, it will immediately get the buy-in of those involved.
The questions you ask people need to be simple. I’ve had success by asking ‘what is the best thing you’ve done', 'what’s the best thing you’ve seen' and 'if I had a magic wand, what could I do to improve your day job’. These simple questions show you are listening and you need to include this feedback in your innovation strategy.
After taking this on board you need to show that you are listening. What is it your people want? From your executive sponsors down to the junior level employees, what do they want? I have found the response to this question to be incredibly complex and incredibly simple. It can range from simply providing a place to innovate, such as an ideation process, all the way to seeing monetary investment in ideas and an increased level of R&D Tax rebates.
Listen, Engage, Repeat
Simply put, your strategy needs to start with listening to your organization and finish with a response. A saying I love is that ‘people are meaning monsters’, they want a purpose, they want to belong, they want to know they have a voice that will be listened to. Innovation is all about harnessing the power of people and ideas so you need the people to power this. Show vulnerability, ask for help, empower your people to give their views and respond to these views. This is where your strategy should be grounded. But remember, you don’t have to start from scratch here… you may just have to listen to something that has already been said.