Tag Archives: time

No Time to Innovate

Take an Innovation Vacation

Innovation VacationA popular set of questions that I get asked repeatedly by clients and audience members includes the following:

We know we need to innovate, but who has time?

How do companies balance the day to day operations with the need to innovate?

Without a budget to allocate people to innovation, how can I make innovation part of people’s day jobs?

We all know that when it comes to business, and life in general, that there are two major constraints we all face – and often trade off one against the other – those two constraints are time and money.

Every organization may understand the need for innovation, but it is difficult to execute in a repeatable way because so many of our organizations are set up to maximize the extraction of value from today’s operations and do a poor job of balancing this admirable and necessary goal with the need to develop tomorrow’s revenue and profit-generating operations.

Some organizations set up research and development departments, new product development departments, corporate venturing arms, incubators, or skunkworks to try and address the needs for future revenue and profit streams, but this limits the number of people that can potentially contribute to the potential innovation process and success of the organization – and isolates the efforts from other valuable perspectives and inputs.

Other organizations like Google and 3M also have some of these structures, but in addition try and say to employees that they can spend up to a certain percentage of their time on innovation projects (or whatever work-related pursuit they might want). In 3M’s case the figure is 15% and in Google’s case it is 20%.

There is only one problem with percent time.

The day-to-day deadline pressures and fire drills never disappear in any organization (even an innovative one), and so often the joke goes – sure Google employees get 20% time, but only if it’s on Saturday or Sunday.

So what’s the solution?

Well, after talking with the folks at Intuit as part of the research for my next book project, I’ve come to discover that they approach the time for innovation problem slightly differently.

Instead of just allowing people to spend up to a blanket 10% of their time on innovation projects, instead they allow employees to accumulate that time and then schedule time off to pursue a specific innovation project, often doing so at the same time with 3-4 other employees so they can collaborate on the project idea and push it forward.

I like to call it taking an innovation vacation.

I think this is the best approach I’ve heard so far to balancing the needs of the day to day business and its need for predictable resourcing, with the desire to invest in innovation to sustain the business into the future.

Allowing employees to schedule a collaborative innovation vacation achieves SEVERAL key business goals:

  1. Predictability – It allows managers to do capacity planning and schedule around the employee’s absence
  2. Retention – Allowing employees to take a week or two here or there to pursue an innovation project they are interested in, is likely to lead to higher job satisfaction and retention
  3. Collaboration – If you encourage people to take their time off as cross-functional groups, we know that not only do diverse teams solve problems better, but we also know from EMC’s data on innovation submissions and finalists that projects pursued as teams instead of by individuals are 33% more likely to make the final cut
  4. Increased Organizational Performance – Organizations that have deeper networks and stronger cross-functional knowledge (more T people) are more likely to work together more efficiently, have fewer blind spots, have higher employee engagement, and just have more fun

Time out for a sanity check. 10% time equates to about five weeks a year, and 20% time would equate to about ten weeks a year. So, if you choose to pursue an innovation investment strategy like innovation vacations, you must plan accordingly in terms of staffing (factoring in of course that most employees won’t make full use of it), but I believe it can be done and should be done – for the long-term health of the business.

We try and convince people to allocate 10-15% of their income towards retirement so that they have money to provide for themselves when they grow old and retire, why shouldn’t an organization allocate a similar percentage?

What do you think, could you establish something like this in your organization?

What would you do with an innovation vacation?

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Creating a Culture of Continuous Innovation

Creating a Culture of Continuous InnovationIn this economic downturn there is more pressure than ever on executives to find new sources of growth, and as a result leaders are increasingly talking about innovation. In some organizations the leader may say “we need to be more innovative” or “we need to think out of the box” and stop there. While for other organizations it may become part of the year’s goals or even the organization’s mission statement. Only in a small number of cases will there be any kind of sustained effort to enhance, or create, a culture of continuous innovation.

By now everyone has probably heard of six sigma and continuous improvement, and maybe your organization has even managed to embed its principles into its culture, but very few organizations have managed to transform their cultures to support innovation in a sustainable way. For most organizations, innovation tends to be something that is left to the R&D department or that is thought of on a project basis. Some organizations create new innovation teams, but it is rare for an organization to invest in transforming their entire culture. There are many reasons for this:

  1. Support from top leadership is required
    • Challenge: Most executive teams are focused on short-term results and transforming organizational culture is a long-term investment of financial and leadership resources.

  2. Clear goals and guidance are needed
    • Challenge: This is a bigger barrier than you might think. Most organizations struggle to understand how to set innovation goals and to provide a vision for employees on how they might get there. Goals to ‘be innovative’ or ‘think outside the box’ are not specific enough to be successful.

  3. Every organization is different
    • Challenge: The starting place, needs and barriers to creating a culture of continuous innovation are different for every organization – making easy implementation of best practices impossible

  4. Most companies lack a shared vocabulary for innovation
    • Challenge: People in different parts of the organization use different terminology, methodologies, frameworks, and have different understandings of what innovation is. The lack of a shared vocabulary prevents organizations from achieving shared success.

  5. Change is painful
    • Challenge: Creating a culture of continuous innovation threatens the power base of a critical few, and disrupts the way people think about their jobs and the organization. Even if change is for the better, people tend to want to avoid change.

    Accelerate your change and transformation success

  6. Change needs to be managed
    • Challenge: This means pulling employees off of their day jobs or hiring consultants to commit to the leadership and communications surrounding the change effort. This investment may prove challenging in the current economic climate.

  7. Change takes time
    • Challenge: Organizations seeking to create a culture of continuous innovation must realize that the transformation will not happen overnight. People can only absorb so much change at once. The transformation will likely have to be broken up into separate phases with discreet goals (don’t try to do it all at once).
      • Make sure to stop and share the successes of each phase, and also to identify what you’ve learned that can be implemented in the next phase.

  8. Visualize the outcomes of participation
    • Challenge: Often people withdraw and choose not to participate in organizational transformations because they don’t believe that their participation will positively impact their daily lives. If those who choose to participate don’t see an impact from their early efforts, might choose to disengage as the process continues.
      • You must celebrate participation and highlight the impact of individual contributors throughout the process.

  9. New systems and processes may be required
    • Challenge: To innovate continuously, you need to be open to receiving great ideas from anywhere in the company, and must have systems and processes to manage idea gathering, evaluation, and development. Often this requires a financial and personnel investment.

  10. Change efforts require lots of communication and storytelling
    • Challenge: You have to bring the change to life for employees. This requires involvement of employees early and often in the communications surrounding the goals and outcomes of the cultural transformation
      • Create a story that is easy and fun to tell – this will make it easier to cascade the change downwards through the organization

This should give you a better idea of why very few organizations embark upon the difficult work to enhance or create a culture of continuous innovation. It may not be an easy or a short journey, but creating a culture of continuous innovation is the only way to increase your chances of avoiding organizational mortality.

Successfully creating a strong culture of continuous innovation also represents a huge opportunity for an organization to attract the best talent, to lower costs, to continuously add new revenue streams, and to better achieve competitive separation.

Is your organization ready to invest the hard work towards achieving the rewards of a culture of continuous innovation?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Rise and Fall of Innovation at Yahoo!

Rise and Fall of Innovation at Yahoo!Can people really innovate when they have to tend to all of their day-to-day responsibilities?

Unfortunately, people don’t get promoted for being innovative, they get promoted for getting stuff done, developing people, and meeting or exceeding goals or stretch targets. If people are busy making sure they do all that, when are they supposed to innovate? And if they do come up with a good idea while they are in the shower (after all they don’t have time to do it at work), how many hours of sleep are they willing to give up to help move it forward?

This is one of the key problems established organizations have in making innovation happen in their organizations. First, people get rewarded for executing not creating. Second, everyone is so overworked that getting funding and staffing up a project team to make the business more profitable or to ensure its longevity, is incredibly difficult.

So, what’s the answer?

I came across an article in 2007 that showed that Yahoo! believed the key was a set of dedicated off-site resources charged with taking employee ideas and suggestions and developing them. In the article they cite a product development example in which the product was developed in a third of the time it would have taken within the normal Yahoo! reality. 65% faster than an internal project. What does that say?

What this article reinforces is that people must have time to execute new ideas. Top levels of management have to commit to ring-fence a portion of people’s time to develop new product or process ideas that will improve the efficiency and profitability of the enterprise OR they have to commit the resources to a group external to the normal operations of the company. 3M has its 15% time and Google has its 20% time (if your 20% time project is approved), but Intuit’s group-focused, aggregated percent time seems the most sustainable because it allows managers to schedule and plan for innovation time away like they do vacation.

Bringing in outsiders is a third alternative, but not that different from number two with the exception of a little more of an outside perspective that comes from working with multiple clients and living outside the political culture.

So, which approach are you prepared to commit to? Or, are you committed to driving the best ideas and people out of your company and seeing your competitors blow by you?

P.S. Yahoo! Brickhouse opened in 2006 and closed in 2008.

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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