Innovation Operations: Communicate
In 2021, Insight Partners published a four-part toolkit for running a successful, innovative operation– taking a new idea from inspiration to operation. The toolkit outlines how the simple act of coming up with a new idea is only just the beginning of running a lucrative business process and how many organizations fail to embed innovation throughout their culture and workflows.
We can identify the four steps within the kit as ideate, iterate, communicate, and operate. The original introduction to Innovation Operations can be found here. This article is part one of our four-part series that goes into detail on each step in the chain.
In the second deep dive of this series on Iteration, we focused on triaging, prosecuting, qualifying, scoping, and refining all generated ideas. In the third step of the Innovation Operation chain, we will consider how to Communicate.
If you have followed the series, it is understood that we have to generate endless new ideas that are inspired by the world around us. Those ideas will be refined using testing and prioritization methods. Many nascent innovators hope that this is the end of the journey and yearn to drive to execution. Successful execution requires a team of willing participants and those invested in the success of the project. In order to lead a successful innovation operation, you will need to communicate effectively.
Where do I start?
You can start by thinking about the different populations who are going to be necessary for the project’s success – some will be actively involved in execution and need to be fully bought in to the vision, ideally having co-developed the solution. Others risk being a detractor within the team if they do not have full information, but do not need to be personally impassioned by the idea. Remember that sponsors, supporters, and detractors can all be found in surprising places.
Once you can articulate the different stakeholders, you will need to think about their individual motivations. Any organization is comprised of individuals. Meaning, many will have slightly different incentives, values, and goals. Hopefully, they will all be tied together by a unifying vision of where the organization is heading.
As an innovator, your job is to establish how and why your proposed innovation will serve the needs of the different parts of the organization. Along the way, you will have some interesting and fruitful conversations that will make the idea better, add layers of insight you hadn’t considered, and strengthen the overall likelihood that your idea lives in operation long after the initial launch. Remember diversity of perspective is an asset in problem-solving.
A few things to bear in mind as you embark on communicating your innovation proposal through the organization:
- Not everyone will immediately see the need for your solution
- Some programs have disproportionate benefits for certain teams
- Human beings are hard-wired to resist change
The reason that Fast Company named Walt Disney Imagineering a Best Workplace for Innovators was thanks to this team’s ability to use storytelling skillfully to engage the wider organization. You must tie your solution to a problem that animates the person you are talking to, and incentivizes them to act in favor of it. As a general rule, you will need to start with 1-1, more informal conversations before launching into group or broadcast discussions. An innovation can die if announced in a large group before critical individuals have been activated to support it.
As you test new ideas or thoughts, be sure to use deep listening to pick up on any clues which will help you build your case. Conversations can be handled in many different ways depending on the individual dynamic, but a successful conversation will often proceed along the following lines:
- Agree there is a problem to be solved, and what that problem is.
- Agree on what successfully solving that problem would entail.
- Agree and explore the other drivers and considerations which might complicate that problem.
- Co-develop, test, or present an idea.
- Explore or present the impact of the idea.
Every stage of this flow will be strengthened by some of the testing and refining. You may not cover all of the points above with every person in the organization, but it is well worth considering each of these dimensions from the perspective of all audiences and being ready to discuss when prompted. Take inspiration from these other leading companies with brilliant internal communications.
Above all, remember as you communicate your Innovation – communication is a two-way process, and you should spend at least as much time listening as talking. Remember to pause and ask lots of questions. Innovation is a team sport, and you’ll need your colleagues around you to drive towards the final step in our journey: Operating.
We will cover the Operating phase of the Innovation journey in our next post in the series.