7 Steps for Building a Top 100 Innovation Company

by Stefan Lindegaard

7 Steps for Building a Top 100 Innovation CompanyI was recently asked these two questions on innovation culture: What would be your approach/steps to create an entrepreneurial and innovational culture?

What are the elements, processes and tools that a large organization can typically do to become a top 100 innovative company?

It is of course not possible to give a complete off-the-shelf answer to these questions as every company has their own issues, challenges, strengths and weaknesses, but I still think it is possible to outline a set of thoughts and ideas for becoming a top innovative company. Here are my suggestions:

1. Start with a strong vision. You need to get the entire organization – as well as external partners – onboard a journey that will take several years and you can only do this if you have a vision that goes beyond the innovation scope of the business.

I like how Arla – a Nordic dairy company – has developed a corporate vision that could help fuel their innovation efforts and inspiration. It is: Creating the future of dairy to bring health and inspiration to the world, naturally. You can read more about the Arla vision here.

2. Secure executive commitment. This is a no-brainer. If the top guys are not onboard for this journey, you will go nowhere. You need a clear majority of the executives led by the CEO to commit to making innovation a key element of the daily business.

3. Create momentum and instill a sense of urgency. This journey is very much about change management and for this you need to get the momentum going and once you got this, you should keep up the speed of change.

4. Go for a full innovation upgrade. A large majority of companies have cut their investments in innovation during the financial crisis where we at the same time have seen a strong innovation paradigm shift in which open innovation and business model innovation have become more important than the more traditionally focused internal, R&D focused efforts.

Now, companies need to upgrade their innovation mindset and skills across the board – executives, managers, employees and external partners. This little story speaks in volumes about how companies will tackle the built-up deficit in innovation training and development in different ways.

A CFO is wary about investing in the training and education of the employees. He asks the CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave the company?” The CEO is a bright person and replies: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

Nicely put! We are definitely going to see some winners and losers in the coming years based on how they put their innovation training programs together. You can get some inspiration for this here: Innovation Training Programs – More Important than Ever!

5. People first, processes next, then ideas. Companies need to find a way to combine strong portfolio selection and management processes for their projects while also developing the people pool.

Too often, corporate innovation teams focus too much on ideas and projects downplaying the role of identifying and developing the right people for the right projects at the right time. You need to strike a proper balance here and while working on this balance, I suggest they should put people first.

I find intrapreneurship and corporate business plan competitions to be an interesting – and underrated tool – for this.

6. Communication is key. Creating a strong innovation culture is very much about perception. If your employees – and external partners – believe that your company is innovative they will build further on this.

You need to find the pockets of strong innovation efforts within the organization, share this with everyone, continue to build an even stronger foundation based on these pockets while continuously creating strong stories to further develop the perception that you are a top innovative company.

The worst you can do is to leave the impression that “our organization is not really that innovative, but this is something we are aware and now we want to change this”. If you create this perception, then you have an uphill battle to fight. It is better to build on something positive.

7. Open up, experiment and learn from your failures. I strongly believe the future of innovation is open and global. If companies share this belief, they must be prepared to experiment and change how they innovate. With this come failures. They need to lower the tolerance for failures and make sure they learn from these failures so that they do not continue to repeat them.

And if you really want to create a learning culture that becomes more innovative, perhaps you should start to reward behaviors as much as outcomes…

image credit: business people image from bigstock

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