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How to start Innovation in your company

There are precursors to Innovation - what is the first step?
by Ray Earl MEI

What is innovation?
Innovation is growth, inside and outside the company; it is a competitive advantage. We innovate to succeed and without innovation the company will simply exist, it will not grow. In fact as I say to my clients and students, “If you are not growing you are certainly dying.”

Innovation is turning an intangible into a tangible. It is transforming a thought process to an idea, then screening and developing that concept into a true commercial opportunity. It is something that will provide a reward for the company, the customers and possibly other stakeholders.

Innovation has been with us since the dawn of time, unfortunately some company’s and individuals struggle with the concept as they do not have a clear developed understanding of what it is and how to implement into their organisations and personal lives.

Innovation does not require a revolution within the organisation but it does require a spirit of creative evolution. There certainly is the need for management to develop a strategy with linked goals and objectives, to have a budget for allocated resources linked to metrics to provide clarity in what they do (innovation activities) and to have a culture of ‘thinking outside the box’, using a range of creative tools.

Investigate the type of culture within the organisation
And so, when we say creative culture we can’t just turn around and move into a company and say, “Okay, we are now going to be innovative and creative.” Certainly that’s not going to work; many have tried and failed. The first stage of bringing innovation into the company is to get back to basics, take a look at the company structure, and investigate the type of culture within the company.

What is the culture of your organisation? For example: a cooperative culture is one based on trust and effective communication. This type of culture is flexible and welcoming to change and would be the perfect receptacle for the creation of an innovative culture.

On the flip side of the coin we have the inflexible culture. This type of culture is built on mistrust, where employees worry only about themselves and what they can get out of the organisation, and they are neither company nor customer focussed. This form of culture will require an arduous process to change.

One of the precursors to innovation is that the business must be in control; as I say, “Your backyard must be in order.” A company that is in the middle of a takeover bid or has industrial relations problems would not benefit from innovation. A work environment filled with negatives will certainly undermine and demotivate any attempt to innovate.

And so, we need to start with the screening analysis of the organisation to ascertain the culture and from the outcome of our analysis we will build the innovation framework which is in fact, a blueprint of our strategy moving forward.

You need to look behind the curtains to find the culture; this is not a process to be taken lightly. In some cases it may take several months to unveil the real culture of the organisation, to see exactly what is happening with these staff members and to look at the organisations history.

This research may include:

  • discussions with staff in all departments from management all the way down to shop floor level
  • focus groups unveiling the stories of time
  • talking to key innovators within the company
  • completing a training needs analysis

Once you have an idea of the type of culture the next step is developing the innovation framework.

“The Queen Mary 2 cannot be turned around in 30 minutes due to its size, complexity and other factors, and in comparison, a cultural shift has many hidden factors behind its organisational veils. As such the benefits of such an implementation may take several months or even a year to become apparent.”

It is essential that the majority of staff accept the new innovation culture, if even one manager refuses to ‘come on board’ and support change then the expected outcomes may not be realised. Any negatives are certainly toxic to the needs of the organisation and as such must be either re-trained to accept change or removed.

Innovation Framework
The innovation framework is a planned, structured process for disseminating innovation throughout the organisation, based upon the outcomes of the research and may include:
• The business strategy
• Identified goals objectives of the company
• Analysis of where we are and gaps to where we want to be
• Boundaries for innovation
• Training schedule for development of staff
• Development of an innovation team (innovation hub)
• Measurement metrics
• Motivational rewards
• Marketing of framework
• Website development
• Innovation award nights
• Diffusion throughout organisation

The above structure looks at innovation enablers from a macro perspective and will then drive down into specific tasks and elements. A framework is necessary to provide direction and goals, "without a plan you are planning to fail."

The analogy is simple: “If we plan the development of a building, the outcome will be a stable structure for many years to come. But if you have not developed plans, specifications, completed structural computations, tested the soil to ascertain the excavation requirements and correct slab size, you simply will not know what is necessary to build a stable structure and as such the outcome will be that the building will not last the test of time, or in fact might not even get past framing stage.”

And so, once we know the culture we are able to design the correct framework on which to build innovation.
The first phase of innovation therefore is to investigate the culture of the organisation - there’s that word again, ‘culture’. If you don’t have the ‘right’ culture the rest of your efforts will be in vain. It doesn’t matter what training or support you have, what you are trying to achieve simply will not work.

Next Blog talks about
The Process on How to Innovate by Ray Earl MEI

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