As 2017 winds down, a new survey provides tips for how talent executives can prioritize innovation in the year ahead.
Developed by Innovation One and The Conference Board, the global survey polled more than 400 business leaders. Based on their responses, participants fell into one of two categories: high innovators and low/lagging innovators.
The findings underscore that high innovators make innovation a strategic imperative. For this group, the issue commands the same level of commitment as the financial, marketing and technology plans of their business.
When it comes to actionable advice, three findings warrant the attention of talent executives — and make emphasizing innovation a must for their New Year’s list of resolutions.
- Culture ranks as a top factor that distinguishes high innovators from lagging innovators
This finding separates the cohorts by a margin of nearly 2-to-1. The comments from the survey respondents speak volumes — particularly those classified as lagging innovators. They say their organizations lack the mere basics of culture development, tools, processes and metrics. These attributes are necessary to make organizational culture assessments, unleash employee idea sharing and develop change initiatives.
For guidance on culture, talent executives might consider the example of 3M Corp. The company’s “15 percent rule” encourages each employee to spend up to 15 percent of his or her time working on new projects. Moreover, each 3M business is held to a “30 percent rule,” in which each division’s sales must come from products introduced in the past four years. These standards promote transparency and collaboration for applying successful ideas from one business domain to another.
The innovation culture at Google also warrants a look. The company encourages its employees to participate in TED-style talks, where employees can share their latest work on innovative projects. By giving employees the opportunity to share across departments, teams and regions, the program fostered greater communications and idea sharing. The program grew so popular that the company’s people operations division formally organized it, drawing the attention of external speakers including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and former President Barack Obama. Soon, it grew to the broader program called Talks at Google.
- High innovators place a big premium on metrics
By a margin of almost 2-to-1, using metrics to measure innovation separates high innovators from lagging innovators. Companies that ineffectively use metrics leave their innovation to gut feel and chance.
Within their organizations, talent executives can help lead the shift toward smarter use of metrics. As an example, consider the case of SaskCentral. The financial institution was facing stiff competition from new entrants who were better using digital technology and adopting innovative business models. The company soon began quarterly reviews of its innovation road map and projects, using various product, customer and cultural measures.
The metrics included an employee survey to measure employee engagement and satisfaction as well as focusing on key drivers of innovation — for example, investments in organizational learning, knowledge sharing and decision-making, and the ability to enact innovative ideas quickly.
- High innovators pursue digital technologies aggressively
Finally, the results of the survey reveal a big divide in how digital technology is leveraged to achieve innovation.
It’s not simply a matter of whether digital technology is used. Rather, high innovators stand out for further enabling their new digital technologies to create something special. They use their collaborative cultures to introduce technologies such as crowdsourcing or idea management tools into their organizations — and equally important, they integrate these technologies into their culture.
This finding provides talent executives with a leadership opportunity on two fronts. First, their role in the organization suits them to align existing work processes and employee skills to implement smarter technologies. And second, being the voice of employees — through surveys, sensing sessions and employee databases — enables them to serve as leading advocates for smarter use of technologies. They can champion these initiatives by working across departments and tapping into a wider pool of employees to involve in the innovation processes.
Victor Assad is a managing partner at Innovation One and CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Ataman Ozyildirim is director of economic research at The Conference Board.