3 Ways to Improve Corporate Innovation

John KotterI’ll be starting my Innovation and Corporate Entrepreneurship course next Monday, and to get ready for it read a few articles that provide guidance and suggestions on building a culture of innovation outside of startups. These ideas came from two articles by change expert John Kotter: a Forbes article, as well as an HBR blog post.

  1. Identify the Pain point
    • It’s hard to get someone to move when there isn’t a fire burning beneath them. As Kurt Lewin pointed out, you first need to ‘unfreeze’ (consider it like an ice cube melting) from the status quo. This stage involves recognizing the need or purpose for a change effort. The greater the urgency, the faster the ice cube melts, and the more quickly you can move the ball down the field.
  2. Establish an Urgency Process
    • Think of an urgency process as a quantifiable and repeatable way for people to get on board with your change. All innovation requires change, and disruptive innovation is difficult to foster unless you make it easy for the troops to be aligned with vision, aware of pain point (urgency), and engaged. You may need to bring on a collection of individuals in a department, a division, or a whole company to get this working. You’ll need buy in and support from senior leaders, a group focused on aligning forces (you can call them the Urgency Squad), a problem to solve, and the tools to get the job done. Just as we do in the Lean Startup Methodology, you need to measure your engagement and track urgency within the business. This isn’t just sending out a communication plan, it’s more like when Apple was able to bring thousands of developers onto iOS to help them get new apps out the door for their first iPhone. There’s no way Apple was going to develop all those apps by themselves, but they created a systematic way for others to code, and be incented for good work.
  3. Develop informal innovation networks so employees can volunteer new approaches and ideas.
    • When companies make it okay to be innovative outside of formal channels, it makes it lowers the barrier to entry which increases the amount and velocity of ideas that come through the system. The Roundtable at UHG fit nicely into this space. We were given the opportunity to create a cross-functional group that met during business hours and gained sponsorship from our leadership team. The result was dozens of new ideas that were brought back into the business and an outlet for creativity for 15 UHG employees. People are naturally resistant to change, but if you create a groundswell around ideas, it makes change much easier to implement. This may also make it easier to engage people who will be instrumental to the initiative’s success. The Roundtable was most successful when we gained buy-in from senior leaders or the people closest to the problem space we were going after. Do your homework, and figure out who you need to get on board and then foster those relationships and forge new ties.