How to gain internal support for any innovation project

Three key questions you should ask before beginning any innovation project to acquire leadership buy-in, secure necessary resources and inspire departmental collaboration.

Today, more than ever, innovation is vital to a company’s survival. Yet even intrapreneurs who understand its importance and are brave enough to pursue it often struggle to initiative innovation projects. This is because a company’s immune system, it’s internal structures and processes, are built to resist change and avoid risk.

Innovation is The Key to Success

In an increasingly global, digital, and hyper-personalized world, innovation is the best way to ensure your business not only survives, but thrives. While these trends are not new, their effect on business has grown exponentially regardless of a company’s size, industry, or offering. Therefore, successful, continuous innovation initiatives, both internal and external, are key to your company’s success now more than ever. To name just a few benefits, innovation enables financial security, cultural relevance, flexibility, and internal optimization.

Specifically

  • Innovation helps you remain financially secure – Innovation transitions companies from a reactive mindset to a proactive one, enabling better decision-making and shielding against financial stress. A recent study by BCG, for example, found that large innovators who invested 1.4x more as a percentage of sales into their innovation programs outperformed their big-company peers by a factor of 4x as a percentage of sales.
  • Innovation helps you remain culturally relevant – Over the last decade, we’ve seen industry after industry disrupted by startups willing to take innovative risks that more established brands are not. When a brand’s innovation stops or slows, that brand begins to lose touch with its consumers and their pain points. The relationship becomes shallow, stale, and brand loyalty suffers.
  • Innovation helps you remain internally optimized – It’s easy to get excited about new gadgets making headlines, but internal innovations can yield substantial return. For example, a survey conducted by Nintex found that 39% of U.S. employees have trouble locating and accessing information due to broken document management processes. A related study by McKinsey found that employees spend an average of 1.8 hours every day searching and gathering information. That’s 20% of the work week wasted!

But knowing that innovation is critical to success is only half the battle. Although more than 25% of C-level executives report to having a designated innovation leader internally, many companies struggle to produce meaningful, sustainable innovation. This is because innovation requires more than talent, ideation, or marketing. Critically, it necessitiates a shift in business philosophy and corporate culture.

Below are three key questions companies need to get very clear about if they are to successfully implement a culture of continuous, sustainable, innovation.

1. Who are we innovating for, and why?

Yes, this is technically two questions… but stay with me for a second.

Companies are made up of humans. As humans, we are highly risk adverse, we fear the unknown, and we often choose the comfort and familiarity of the status quo. This makes innovation, with its uncertainties and unproven hypotheses, difficult to stomach. In his wildly successful TED Talk and subsequent book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek makes a compelling argument that in order to inspire action, companies need to begin with a clearly defined purpose.

Innovation is no different.

It is here you should ask:

  • Who are we innovating for and why?
  • What problem(s) are we truly solving?
  • How will we know if we successfully solved them?
  • Does it align with our company’s brand values and ongoing initiatives?
  • Are we trusted by our target consumers?
  • Do we have the credibility and brand permission necessary to innovate in this space?

Notice these questions don’t revolve around a specific idea or technology – companies often have no shortage of ideas; they just don’t usually have the necessary departmental and leadership buy-in to drive an idea through the production phase and into market.

In order to obtain support from leadership, innovation initiatives must stem from a collective understanding and buy-in from key players required to provide needed resources. This is difficult to achieve if the initiative is led by a one-off idea or complicated piece of technology. By answering the questions above, you will begin to formulate an innovation strategy that is grounded in your brand’s mission and will inspire and garner support from the powers that be within your company.

2. Who’s paying the bill?

Leadership is on-board and excited about the possibilities. Now what?

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Innovation requires investment – corporate support for the initiative to allocate staffing and funding. However, innovation follows the Pareto rule: 20% of innovation projects, account for 80% of the return. Not every idea will make it through production or become a market success. So, how can you secure a budget large enough to discover and build that 20%? Below are two approaches you can consider:

  • You might begin to gather the needed budgets and staffing by determining which departments are most likely to benefit from the initiative, and then bringing them on board to contribute to a shared resource pool. Is it marketing? IT? Sales? R&D? In reality, it is likely that several departments would benefit from contributing to the effort and involving them is critical to your success.
  • Trigger the rachet effect, a concept that describes how a process or idea, once introduced, is often hard to stop. Applying this thinking to the problem at hand, you might begin with a smaller innovation project for which you do have a budget. This will get the innovation ball rolling and, in the process, bring other departments and leaders on board as your idea becomes a success. This initial success, albeit a small one, could then open the door to other innovation initiatives by demonstrating a quick win.

3. Who’s driving the bus?

One of the most common issues we run into with our clients is siloed departments, with different teams operating according to very different incentive structures and departmental goals. Yet, innovation requires an ecosystem mindset in order to remain sustainable.

As iconmobile’s CEO Thomas Fellger wrote in a recent article, “If [your team] doesn’t have internal ownership and knowledge of your infrastructure it’s nearly impossible to own your innovation strategy.” This means the internal team leading innovation initiatives should include representation from each of the departments involved, to ensure a holistic, diverse perspective.

When looking at your internal resources, you need to be realistic and honest. Ask yourself, “Do we have what we need to complete this project?” If the answer is yes, that’s great! In-house innovation comes with several benefits, including inherent knowledge of your brand and your company’s internal structure and initiatives.

However, as is more often the case, outsourcing is necessary. Research from MIT and Deloitte finds that 80% of digitally mature companies say their organizations cultivate partnerships with other organizations to facilitate innovation. Indeed, external relationships can accelerate innovation. For example, agencies are often more agile and responsive, and can serve as specialized, on-demand partners that bring fresh thinking and reduce time and costs, allowing your team to focus on your core business. But, as Fellger advises, “[Anytime] you can’t take everything in-house, at least have deep enough knowledge to steer, control, and provide input. This will result in a leaner, more agile environment that supports innovation rather than hinders it.”

In the end, the goal is to replace reactive, unfocused, one-off innovations, with a sustainable system that fosters a culture of innovation and allows for agile evolution.

Are you in the business of innovation? (HINT: Everyone is.) Then share tips on how you have garnered internal support for innovative initiatives in the comments below. And to hear more about iconmobile and how you can build sustainable innovation solutions to your company’s and consumer’s biggest pain points, contact our VP of Client Success, Yaniv Snir, at yaniv.snir@iconmobile.com.