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5 attributes of innovative organisations

Innovative organisations are defined by their ability to deliver market changing products and services rapidly. Small entrepreneurial start-ups do this naturally because they have no choice, but established organisations sometimes need reminding of the best practices that will improve their innovation capability. Here are 5 attributes of innovative organisations, there are others, but these 5 attributes tend to be more prevalent in the most innovative organisations such as Google and 3M.

1. They collaborate on innovation

Organisations are traditionally designed to work functionally, particularly larger companies that have a finance department, an HR department, R&D, sales and marketing etc. Cultural and geographic diversity frequently creates organisational boundaries. There are also invisible silos that exist, even within the same department, where individuals working on the same or similar projects rarely communicate. Breaking down silos at all levels is therefore essential to improve an organisations ability to deliver innovation effectively. Creating a more open and collaborative environment is a cultural change for many organisations, but it is also a mind-set change for individuals. Providing opportunities for different teams to meet and work together on diverse projects is one approach that can help, however this might not always be practical. Another approach that works is to drive innovation by providing the right tools and platforms that encourage collaboration such as idea management platforms. Collaboration should also go beyond the organisational boundaries and include suppliers, customers, end users and other interested stakeholders. Bringing people with diverse experiences together is a sure fire way to trigger innovative thinking and the most innovative organisations do this intuitively.

2. They provide an innovative environment

Not every office environment is going to have the resources to emulate the Google headquarters, which are beautifully designed and quirky, but a more inspirational environment can be created with a little investment and design. Human beings will not express their natural creativity if they work for 40 hours a week in a grey box. The most innovative organisations provide their employees with interesting spaces to work, rest and play. Communal areas with comfortable seating will encourage collaboration, coffee and refreshments zones create positive social areas, open plan office spaces with plenty of natural light, colourful design and living plants will create a more positive feeling environment, meeting areas that are equipped with white board walls, markers, post it notes, etc., will provide the employees with an interactive area to meet and do business. Where space and budget is a restriction it will be necessary to be creative through use of colour, furniture and lighting. The CitizenM hotel group is a great example of how to use space effectively to provide cool, funky spaces on a budget. There are many examples in the UK of small entrepreneurial organisations creating innovative workspaces, larger organisations can learn a lot from these start-ups. Have a look at the Real Business blog post to get some inspiration.

3. Leaders drive innovation

Innovative organisations are led by innovators. For an organisation to be innovative it must have an appetite for risk taking, but also an ability to manage that risk effectively. If the leadership team does not fully support and maintain accountability for delivering innovation it is likely that the organisation will be risk averse and focus priorities only on day to day business. Innovative leadership will continually encourage their direct reports to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Highly innovative organisations are headed by highly inspirational and creative leaders, such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. These leaders also promote innovative values amongst their employees and expect their leadership teams to continually deliver innovation. Virgin, Tesla and Amazon are not organisations that are standing still and relying on their cash cows to deliver long term success. They are continually exploring new territory and attempting new things, sometimes unsuccessfully, often with great success. This is driven by a leadership team that embraces risk, has a passion for creating change and disrupting markets.

4. People have time to innovate

Time to innovate is a philosophy that is encouraged by organisations such as Google and 3M who have benefited through the delivery of many new products and services. Time to innovate does not necessarily mean the allocation of a ‘free innovation day’ for every employee, clearly this would be impractical in many cases. However, talented but overworked employees will not contribute to innovation in any meaningful way. Thinking laterally requires the ability to stand back and look at a problem from afar. This is only possible when employees are able to temporarily able to step away from their day job which might take up all of their time. There are many ways to do this including officially allocated time to innovate, organising online or face to face events, encouraging participation through stretch targets, secondment to temporary innovation groups or projects and providing online tools where employees can collaborate flexibly on idea building and innovation. The extent to which organisations will promote time to innovate depends on their appetite for innovation, but evidence demonstrates; those that do, benefit in terms of enhanced products, services and processes.

5. Robust process and project delivery

Innovation isn’t always about the fluffy creative side of ideas, it also requires robust processes and excellent project management to take an idea from concept to product. A robust process requires some flexibility and agility built into it because the nature of innovation is iterative. Early engagement with customers and end users in the design process is essential during product development, as is the ability to build prototypes and run pilots to test ideas in low risk situations. Projects that are delivered flexibly are arguably more difficult to project manage as they are somewhat of a moving target. Project leaders must therefore have the ability to manage a malleable scope within budget and usually to tight time-scales.

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