How can we ensure innovation isn’t lost in disruption?

Our peer-group roundtable, the Argon Change Community, met last week to continue our series on innovation and intrapreneurship. 

This time we explored the scope of intrapreneurship to foster an innovative culture.  Given the huge amount of transformation that’s already underway, we talked about how leaders can provide a structure for people-centred change that will enable them to get on the front foot as we enter the next phase of disruption and restrictions.

In the current volatile environment, how can companies ensure that innovation and intrapreneurship aren’t lost amidst the disruption? Here are five ideas that summarise our discussion:

  • The burning platform should foster innovation, not paralyse it

“Action is the most powerful antidote to the corporate disease of ‘analysis paralysis”
– Corporate Rebels

COVID-19 has created a burning platform for many organisations who were avoiding difficult questions. The pandemic should act as a catalyst for operational efficiency, remapping the customer experience, and for the resetting of priorities. We know that adapting to new market forces and customer behaviour will be key to success in future but to get there we need to take risks. In fact, the best companies ‘fail better’. They fail, learn, then reframe ideas and experiment by challenging themselves with cost of failure vs the cost of doing nothing.

  • Leading through uncertainty is about building trust

“It is painfully obvious: the system in which many people still work was created for a stable, slow and predictable world that no longer exists”
– Corporate Rebels

Many of us have seen managers overworking since the onset of the pandemic in order to support their teams which is not a sustainable solution. The group agreed that employees are on the whole driven by wanting to do things better, and that trust breeds trust. Therefore, there is more to gain than be lost by pushing leadership and accountability down to the lowest levels. This way of working is most successful, and takes pressure off more senior leaders, when permission levels are outlined and explicitly agreed.

  • Even innovation needs structure

“Change is like a virus. To be successful – you must overcome the instinctive rejection”
– Argon community member

The group agreed that it is imperative to formalise a structure regarding ways of working and that wellbeing needs to be a part of it. We debated the boundary between a start-up versus a corporate structure and agreed that there is potential merit in deliberately blurring the boundary in order to encourage an element of risk. Intrapreneurs need to take calculated risks which can be associated with failure and therefore seen as a dirty word in a corporate setting.

  • Consider whether technology is helping or hindering

“If you kill ideas, you kill opportunity”
– Argon community member

Our group felt that it’s very difficult to trigger ‘creative abrasion’ when workshopping via video call. In order to encourage a more open dialogue, clearly communicating permission levels is essential, yet it’s much harder to achieve the same outputs when colleagues are not meeting in person. At the very least, it takes a lot longer to achieve the same outputs. This is especially relevant in global settings where cultural norms can inhibit free conversations especially via video calls. A potential solution for change programmes is to engage transformation and change professionals with experience of working in multinational organisations where workshopping via video has been business as usual for many years.

  • Make innovation a core pillar of strategy

“We place more value on innovation than predictability. Prediction can never be innovative”
– Argon community member

The key question is “What behaviours is the company trying to drive?” If innovation is a core pillar then leaders need to be ready to embrace failure and install the appropriate level of structure – to capture learnings, without compromising business operations. There is no single solution, but empowering ‘change champions’ within the business has worked with good effect in a range of organisations. The group all felt that alongside innovation, wellbeing needs to be a core pillar for company culture. One participant mentioned one initiative called ‘Know your numbers’, which placed emphasis on physical health metrics like blood pressure and heart rate. Creating a healthy, innovative environment includes physical and mental wellbeing as part of corporate culture.

 

How is your organisation keeping innovation on the agenda amidst change and transformation? I’d love to know how you’re adapting to enable more ideas and innovations from within your business.

If you’d like to become part of the Argon Change Community, you can email me at alastair@argon-intl.com.