During the global financial crisis, many organisations lost their innovation mojo. Economic rationalism reigned, budgets were cut and fresh ideas stopped flowing. So how can IT innovation be kick-started? Consider this 10-point plan with your team and use it to help get those creative juices flowing. 1. Leadership: The propensity for staff to innovate can easily be stifled in an environment in which management don't place a high value on innovation. To improve, consider:
Putting innovation on meeting agendas for all formal staff gatherings, minuting contributions and actions.
Hold innovation contests and challenges, but be careful with framing. If framed too broadly, staff may have difficulty responding. Begin with a narrowly framed challenge on a troubling issue that most staff should be able to relate to.
2. Culture: For many, the GFC caused staff to hunker down focusing only on essential tasks. This often had the effect of stultifying organisational liveliness, discouraging the free-flow of ideas. To improve the situation, consider:
Running focus groups with a cross-section of IT staff to understand the cause of any blockages preventing ideation;
Rotating staff across IT silos to broaden outlooks and foster greater empathy for the challenges of others, enabling fresh insights.
3. Experimentation: Economic fundamentalism prospered through the GFC and non-core activities were discouraged. To bring about positive change consider:
Creating virtual teams whose specific purpose is to trial promising ideas or emerging technologies;
Stressing to staff that failure is an inherent aspect of experimentation; failure is OK and from it we tend to learn far more than we do from success.
4. Research & development: R & D budgets, if previously in existence, were slashed during the financial crisis, consider:
An IT portfolio management framework in which there are specific budgetary allocations for R & D.
5. Staff capability: Though problem solving is an inherent part of the roles of most IT staff, they may not have all the necessary skills to exploit their potential for innovation. Suggested actions include:
- Conducting a skills assessment of all staff. Focus on gaining insight, not just into vocational skills, but other qualities required for success in the workplace, including analytical and problem solving skills;
- Developing training programs focused on popular methods to enable innovation, for example, brain-storming, De Bono's six hats.
6. Work environment: Research shows the importance of having a stimulating and well-resourced physical environment to foster creativity. Within the bounds of corporate standards, consider:
Making break-out rooms available for groups to attend for joint problem solving. Use stimulating colours, casual furniture, cushions on the floor and other devices to mark the special purpose of the environment;
Brightening up the work environment with artworks, posters and perhaps sculptures, varying them from time to time to provide stimulation.
7. Idea capture: Not quite a case of build it and they will come. However, lack of a recognised idea repository will prohibit contributions. Start by defining the modern day equivalent of the suggestion box – maybe a specific email address or a submission page on the departmental intranet.
8. Innovation program: Best practice requires a systems development life-cycle approach to dealing with ideas, consider:
Introducing a step-by-step innovation program that has full visibility to all IT staff and relevant stakeholders; Institutionalising the program by selection and implementation of an accompanying software package.
9. Innovation triggers: Most good ideas don't occur in isolation. They are triggered by a specific need or problem. For IT to lift its innovation game, consider:
Ways in which IT may be better informed in the three areas listed above;
Collocating one or more senior IT people within the business for a specific period, to gain intelligence that may otherwise be missed.
10. Metrics: Innovative organisations have well-developed key performance indicators for innovation, consider:
Publishing monthly records of all of the ideas submitted and the number at each stage in the program (including those put on hold);
As records build up, publish trend data and begin to summarise information in a meaningful way. For example, this could include total new ideas submitted by each employee in a year.
Rob Mackinnon is an adviser with IBRS. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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