Making Innovation Investment Count

By Henra Mayer & Eric van Niekerk – Innocentrix

Innovation in the organisational environment will only be sustainable if it is focused on a systematic, result driven approach. A results driven approach implies an ability to measure innovation outcomes and showing impact. Many organisations kick-off an innovation programme hastily – something must be done – but it often does not happen with the same strategic intent as is seen elsewhere in the organisation, as innovation programmes compete and often lose the battle for internal resource and budget allocation.

Yet, research shows that those organisations that have worked at creating an innovation capability and have adopted a long-term view aimed at strategic reinvention will survive the storms of a volatile business landscape. Key to creating innovation longevity is ensuring that a proper strategy for measurement of innovation outcomes exists.  Organisations such as Aviva, a British insurance company, has shown investors savings of billions of pounds by engaging nearly all of their 30’000 employees in an innovation drive 

[1]. Showing a return on investment will help motivate further funding for innovative projects, ensuring the longevity of an organisation’s innovation strategy.

So, ensuring innovation longevity by showing return on investment is important, but what does successful organisational innovation management entail? It is not easy to answer this question as it will most probably depend on organisational context. What worked three years ago may not be the best option today. Innovation management changes, just like the changing business environment. They key is action and learning, constant learning. Below are several factors that can contribute to innovation longevity and better innovation results:

Measuring innovation impact

Possibly the most important factor of ensuring innovation longevity within an organisation is being able to measure the success of innovation outputs. What does innovation effort amount to if progress and strategic impact cannot be tracked? This also applies to innovation training and awareness creation. Has the training made a difference and are people applying what they have learned? Are we moving the culture towards a more innovation orientated mind set, are we impacting on the bottom line, are we increasing customer satisfaction and market share, are we producing more innovative products or services etc. Know your progress and measure results often.

The 2015 Innocentrix Innovation League report shows that innovation measurement is one of the most underdeveloped areas of innovation readiness for both public and private sector organisations within South Africa. This lack of adequate measurement metrics for innovation is also reflected within international results, with countries like France, the UK and the Netherlands all reporting their weakest results in this area.

InnoLeague 2015 Country Comparison

Measuring innovation success, and being able to show a return on innovation investment, is essential in securing further support from organisational decision makers. It is important to give attention to this early on and to define an innovation business case upfront. No one starts a race without knowing the end goal.

Top management commitment

This sounds like a given, but very often it is not the case. Executive management focus on short term impact for obvious reasons. Half-hearted attempts at innovation will do more harm than good. For any strategic business project to be successful, unwavering top management commitment is required. This is even more valid when effective innovation is desired.  An organisation will truly become innovation-fit if it is visibly supported and driven by leadership.

Allocating resources

Planning for human, monetary and other resources is essential in support of innovation efforts. Structuring for innovation as well as an effective process to take ideas from the gestation phase to successful implementation must be addressed. This includes a budget for experimenting with, implementing and rewarding good ideas. An innovation process alone however is not enough. Does it engage employees, deliver results, involve stakeholders and measure impact?

Impacting on a culture for innovation

For change to be lasting, culture needs to be considered. This includes amongst other things innovation training, effective communication and awareness creation, an approach to recognition and reward, a focus on innovation teams and continuous learning. It is often easier said than done. Think, plan, act and then rethink again. Learn by doing and start small.  No-one wants to try and resurrect an “innovation programme corpse”.

Implementing the idea

We cannot talk innovation unless we have successfully implemented a valuable idea. Without implementation our efforts are meaningless. We might create new thoughts or come up with interesting and potentially good ideas, but unless they are acted upon they will remain exactly that. Good ideas. Project management for innovation related projects are paramount for success and the role of the innovation team cannot be underestimated. Innovation success does not come from lone individuals, it depends on the strength of the team.

Ten guidelines to keep in mind

Implementing an innovation strategy within an organisation requires planning and dedication. In conclusion, here are ten guidelines to keep in mind when planning for innovation results [2]:

  1. Clarify your organisation’s strategic objectives and align innovation goals to support organisational growth objectives
  2. Identify required future innovation capabilities and resources
  3. Identify innovation-related leadership roles and responsibilities and hold people accountable
  4. Identify organisational processes needed to facilitate innovation growth
  5. Create a robust collection of metrics that support the innovation strategy of the organisation, then
  6. Create cascading metrics that align business units, divisions and organisational groups
  7. Constantly revisit and refine strategies, plans and metrics. Learn and adapt.
  8. Focus on teams, engagement principles and involve your business ecosystem
  9. Collaboration – internal as well as external to the organisation will deliver leading edge solutions

Focus on quick wins. Collaborative innovation, when managed well deliver speed to market and real world solutions.

[1] Wazoku Case Study: Aviva. Available at  http://www.wazoku.com/aviva-case-study/

[2] Adapted from: Kaplan, S., & Winby, S. (2008). Innovation Metrics – Measuring Innovation to Drive Strategic Business Growth, InnovationPoint.