By Melissa Mangano
In the past few months we have all gained a new perception of what it means to be “essential.”
Grocery stores? Pharmacies? Gas Stations? Essential. Essential. Essential.
Haircuts? Theaters? CrossFit? Not essential x 3.
As society continues to recategorize what is or is not essential, the framework for what is or is not essential for our businesses will continue to shift along with it.
At nepf, LLC we have been closely monitoring industry trends and speaking with industry-diverse business professionals to better understand how these shifting landscapes are impacting businesses on the front lines. In seeking to understand what will be “essential” in this next phase of change, one theme has been the most consistent: Innovation.
From innovations at the forefront of medical treatments, to quickly engineered plexiglass barriers keeping retail workers safe, to “at-home-meal-kits” created by restaurateurs looking to serve house-bound customers, innovation has been the key to keeping businesses in motion amidst a time of standstill.
The urgency in our lives has led to a serious transformation, almost overnight. We have had to rethink how we do almost everything, and innovation has been the most reliable answer to our problems. Now, the question is, how can we bring this innovative mindset to our organizations and maintain this forward momentum as disruption continues?
Pulling from our expertise in Innovation Experience Design, as well as the current business trends we are watching emerge real-time, we have prioritized 3 steps that you can act on now to help your business become a pioneering force in this next phase of change.
Define What Innovation Means for You
Over the past decade, business journals and professional media platforms have been advocating for the prioritization of corporate innovation. This advocacy is a good – even a great – thing, but it has caused “innovation” to become a buzzword surrounded by confusion as to its meaning.
There are myriad definitions for Innovation. Merriam Webster defines innovation as (n), a new idea, method or device, or (v) the introduction of something new. Accenture’s 2015 US Innovation Survey defined innovation as, “A market-differentiating change that generates a sustainable competitive advantage in a product, service or business model that leads to measurable value creation for an organization.”
No single definition is more accurate than the other, but there is one definition that is best suited in the context of your company. You cannot understand what role innovation plays in your company until you are able to define it.
This process begins by bringing business leaders together and aligning on an overall vision for what “innovation” can and will look like in your company: Is your priority external, creating value for customers? Is your priority internal, creating efficiencies for your employees? Is it both? For what reasons? How will this be executed?
Innovation strategies are often designated to an external R&D team, but siloing this undertaking can often amplify collective confusion across the organization. By incorporating all business units, encouraging collaboration, and cultivating organization-wide alignment, you will then be able to share a unified definition for what innovation means at the core of your company. When your people understand what they are working towards, that is when the real work can begin.
Build an Innovative Culture
Innovation isn’t just a concept, it’s a practice.
Remember that feeling you would get the night before the first day of a new school year, spending hours organizing, color-coding, and labeling your binders by subject? No, just me? How about the motivation we all feel on January 1st to begin a new resolution, only to lose momentum three weeks later when life gets in the way again? Renowned author, entrepreneur, and habit researcher, James Clear, articulates this phenomenon by saying, “Improvements are only temporary until they become a part of who you are.”
Innovation is no exception; it only begins to drive sustainable results once it is a part of your company culture.
Culture change is hard work, but a shifting environment (re: current situation) is the perfect place to begin forming new habits.
An easy – yet effective – way to begin doing this is through Design Thinking Innovation Workshops. Design Thinking is a hands-on, iterative process that can help you to delve deeper into your collective understanding of the current market(s), develop a deeper understanding of your customers (and your people), and challenge assumptions and status-quos. This process inherently allows you to question assumptions and implications, redefine your problems, and facilitate innovative brainstorming sessions that provide solution-based approaches to solving problems. Assembling employees from different business units for these workshops can generate creativity, expose people to new environments, and encourage knowledge-share across larger audiences that will lay the roots of innovation deep within your organization.
Continue to build this culture by promoting and advocating for innovative mindsets that emerge within your organization. Empower your employees to push the boundaries, and your possibilities will multiply.
Be Persistent in Your Actions
Innovation has helped businesses move forward these past few months for a number of reasons, but the number one reason is this: Businesses were forced to act.
The trajectory of certain buildouts that were still years in the making (i.e. telehealth, retail curbside pickup), were quickly truncated into a few weeks’ time. Guess what? They’re up, they’re running, and they’re thriving! Were it not for sheer necessity, these innovations would likely still be laying dormant, waiting for the “right time.” Fear cripples innovation. What other innovations are we sitting on out of fear of action?
This is a mindset that needs to be built into your culture. As you see innovation begin to be practiced, implement accountabilities to ensure the execution of these innovations. Continue to show up in the right spaces. Continue to adjust to new consumer habits. Continue to rethink the experience of your customers, as well as your employees. Understand that not every idea will succeed, but the only way to succeed is by showing up. If there is ever a time to question our risk-averse mindsets, it is now. It is no longer just about planning; it is about practicing.
Persistence and action are what will help you stand out from your competitors, infiltrate new market space, deliver cutting-edge services to both customers and employees, and leave you with a foundation able to navigate whatever comes next.
When COVID-19 first struck, many ongoing business efforts were curtailed simply for companies to stay afloat. As we begin to assimilate to this “new normal,” we are beginning to reclaim the bandwidth to think about what we can do to thrive in what comes next. Rather than playing victim to the circumstance, we must begin to ask ourselves: How can we leverage this disruption to rethink and revamp our business operations?
Innovation has been the key to keeping our lives and our economy running. It is time to give it the corporate attention it deserves.
Innovation is the essential business of our future.
Melissa Mangano is a Consultant at nepf, LLC and focuses on helping organizations transform.