Executing an innovation strategy embraces a wide range of potential changes. A Gap Analysis will have identified and prioritised change areas which might include any or all of: Continuous skills development, learning plans, employee empowerment schemes, flexible organisation arrangements, team-working strategies and transparent communication practices.
However, none of these change projects can be delivered overnight – hence the importance of priorities. Innovation strategies often require major and far-reaching changes to be implemented in the organisation. The fundamental organisational philosophy must also change radically at the same time.
Innovation is a long-term project – whilst it is delivering results, the process will itself be subject to change as part of the concept of the learning organisation.
Starting an innovation strategy
Once the basic decision to transform the organisation has been made, an implementation plan will be established. The prioritised changes have to be made carefully, so as not to adversely impact existing operations.
Belief in the process is essential. Many people are uncomfortable with change, and an internal ‘marketing campaign’ will be required to influence, persuade and establish belief in the strategy. The message has to come from the top down, and clear leadership will be required. Since innovation strategies are long-term projects, so convincing people of its importance and the organisation’s commitment to change is non-negotiable. To sustain the effort, there must be genuine willingness.
Because the core of the organisation will be affected by the changes in the organisation, stakeholders (including trade unions) should be involved right from the start of the process.
Innovation strategy involves changes in the workplace at all levels. A good social dialogue, and agreement about strategic direction, is essential. Employees should be given a direct participative role, and consultation. Transparency and complete information, is paramount. This may be difficult for some managers to accept, and is an area in which external consultants could be used.
Open communication is vital – staff members need to be confident about advancing ideas – and that applies at all levels. Remember that employees on production lines can spot innovation opportunities, too.
Whilst the organisational structure evolves to one centrally focused on innovation, difficulties may be expected. Continuous evaluation, intensive training and good preparedness are necessary to maintain motivation and avoid failure.Pilot strategy execution
The concept of a pilot implementation – perhaps in a division or a region – can be useful, but this has to be carefully designed as the degree of change required is so profound. A pilot should only be about learning ‘how to implement best’, and not about whether an innovation strategy will work at all. Don’t set out with doubts – it sends the wrong message.
Monitoring and measuring the progress
Implementing an innovation strategy, as with any project, requires monitoring and course corrections. Financial measures generally lag too far to be of direct use, and other measures must be used.
Such measurements might include ‘hard’ statistical indicators such as employee turnover, absenteeism and productivity, and ‘soft’ parameters such as employee satisfaction. A mix of hard and soft is recommended. Other techniques involving business social networking are useful too – both for execution assessment and as part of the innovation model itself.
Feedback and the virtuous circle
Commitment to the strategy must be absolute, and continuous feedback to stakeholders is essential, to demonstrate that the strategy execution is working. This will reinforce belief, and is done using the set of measures that have been established. Online bulletin boards, video updates, forums and social networking are invaluable for communicating progress.
Sharing knowledge and best practices
Sharing knowledge and experiences between organisations is worth considering. However, whilst assessing other organisational models, check that any changes are acceptable in the sectoral, legal and cultural contexts.