3 Areas of Focus for Fostering Innovation in Growing Organizations

Last week, we heard from Jana Levene on how Google continues to support innovation and the importance of corporations finding a way to be create and implement new ideas - big and small.

September 7, 2017

Last week, we heard from Jana Levene on how Google continues to support innovation and the importance of corporations finding a way to be create and implement new ideas - big and small. Now, we are going to share 3 practical areas that growing organizations can focus on to shift their innovation strategies from reactive risk management to proactive leadership and continuing to support an entrepreneurial mindset. To reinforce some these areas Clinton Ball spoke with Loren Padelford, ‎VP & General Manager - Shopify Plus to discover ways to pursue innovation effectively:

Make sure your org structure isn’t in the way

Organizational structure and red tape is probably the number one reason innovative ideas die in growing organizations. How many layers of management does a frontline employee need to get through before they can share, develop, and implement an idea? Are their ideas met with a “yes” attitude or do risk, budget, and middle management stand in the way. Empower staff, below the C-suite, to pursue new ideas and accept risk without being micromanaged from above.  

What’s the biggest barrier to success in innovating in large companies?“Bureaucracy. Too many people trying to protect the downside. Companies get risk averse when they achieve success, when they should become more risk oriented.”How must organizations be structured in order to bring ideas through the pipeline?“Flat - The fewer number of layers of approval the better. Decision making needs to be as close to the front line as possible. Managers tend to get in the way of innovation.”  Is it necessary to run like a start-up in a large organization in order to be effective?“I believe it is critical to think like a start-up. Be nimble, take risks, don't get married to any idea, be willing to change strategy. Its thinking like a small company which matters, you may not be able to run like one.”

Develop a space for new ideas

As a leader, do you regularly check in with your team to survey for new ideas? Do your staff know who to talk to if they have an idea? If not, it’s worth formalizing a time and place to talk about innovation with your team. Google dedicates a certain percentage of their staff’s time to working on new projects, others have quarterly “brainstorming” meetings or digital “suggestion boxes” for new ideas. Make creating this space a priority and commit the organization to following up on good ideas. (See point 1)

What’s the best way to build a buzz about innovation initiatives?
“Talk about them a lot. Talk about what is working, and what isn't. Talk about what it will do for customers.”

Create a culture that supports those ideas

After you’ve removed the barriers to collecting new ideas, you need to make sure your staff feel comfortable sharing those ideas. Innovation often cost money and usually comes with risk. Does your management team operate proactively and embrace the risk or do they shy away and fight to maintain the status quo so they don’t risk ‘failure” and being seen by the boss as not meeting business objectives? Often the key to an innovative culture lives with middle management. Leaders can say they want new ideas, but if those ideas are met with negativity, skepticism, and fear managers will pass that message down. Actively seek, support and reward innovation and your team will deliver the ideas.

How do you bring new ideas through to implementation in large organizations? One key lesson.
“There needs to be a very strong stakeholder who is willing to fight the fights that will come with implementing anything new. People/orgs resist change, to get something done, you need someone with the will to move it forward.”
Incremental innovation- is it a mix of small and large initiatives?
”Yes, you have to be taking a lot of risks, placing a lot of bets of all sizes. Most will fail, but that is ok. You only need a small fraction to be home runs to make a huge impact.”

Running like a start-up and thinking like a start-up are two different things. Embracing an entrepreneurial mindset, one focused on a continual strategy around  innovation is key. Embracing failure is a must, and a key component of staying relevant in a competitive environment. When organizations grow they need to retain a culture that understands and embraces bringing innovation through the pipleline from idea to implementation. As new technologies continue to disrupt industries, it is becoming more and more important for large companies to embrace change through innovation. With a few shifts in thinking and leadership style, they can begin to lead that change. Whether it is through incremental improvements to products or business processes, or the creation of entirely new spin off companies, growing corporations can arm themselves for success by having a focus on supporting and fostering intrapreneurship.--

About the Authors

Clinton Ball is the Director of Client Programs and Initiatives at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, Ontario.  As the co-founder of a small software company, Clinton can relate to those building out a technology company and is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs build and scale their companies. When he’s not designing or delivering Accelerator Centre Programming you can find Clinton reading up on the latest marketing, technology and entrepreneurship resources, exploring a new trail or coffee spot, or trying to get better at his swing on the golf course.

Tabatha Laverty is the Community Manager at the Accelerator Centre. As a passionate storyteller and digital marketer, she has worked with entrepreneurs, not-for-profits, and public service agencies for 5 years – helping them develop content, share their stories, and build their brands. When she isn’t writing or meeting new entrepreneurs, you can find her spending time with her husband and 2 young children.

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