By Richard Jebb
Few business leaders would claim their enterprise could survive without innovation, yet many find it impossible to implement truly innovative projects or initiatives. Making a speech asking for employees to be more innovative or putting the word innovation in a person’s job title is akin to asking for miracles. Innovation is more than just a word to bandy about in influential circles. To make a company, project or event more imaginative, inventive or creative takes, effort, commitment and determination. First, you must address the obstacles that stand in your way.
Earlier this year, a survey of 270 corporate leaders by an online corporate innovation resource – Innovation Leader – identified the 5 most common obstacles to corporate innovation.
The top 5 innovation obstacles:
Internal politics, turf wars, and a lack of alignment (cited by 55% of respondents.)
Where business units or functions see a company-wide drive for innovation as an encroachment on their own innovative-initiatives and resources. In these cases, people fail to embrace the wider initiative hoping it will simply go away if they ignore it.
Avoid this obstacle by being clear about what the innovation is expected to do, and how others can support it.
Cultural issues (45% of respondents.)
Innovators looking to experiment with changes to the company’s well-established processes, principles and policies can be seen as meddlers and risk-takers, toying dangerously with a business model that isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing. Long-termers will have ‘seen it all before’ and their influence along with a general sense of unease towards change can stifle innovation.
The top team, including the CEO, visibly backing the innovation will help neutralise this obstacle. Create new places for working together on projects, nurture subcultures and make space for new talent and supportive viewpoints. Rewards and incentives for behaviours you want to encourage and for people who facilitate positive change create reasons for people to take interest.
Inability to act on signals crucial to the future of the business (42% of respondents.)
Only 18% of respondents felt their companies struggled to identify potential market disruptors or customer behavioural changes. However, acting on the knowledge is a different matter. Most claimed to lack the mechanisms required to set up collaborations with third parties, or to quickly run pilot tests with a function or business unit?
Only becoming more responsive and flexible to change can counter this obstacle – rather than waiting for a designated strategic off-site meeting to talk change – make it a part of the company’s day-to-day discussions and actions.
Lack of budget (41% of respondents.)
Limited or no budget for R&D stifles innovation in all but the largest, industry-leading companies. Hospitality was cited as a sector that typically has no R&D departments and very limited R&D budgets.
Budgets, or lack of, will always be an issue if leaders fail to see the benefits of innovation. Educating top teams on its importance will help unlock resources. Take baby steps if necessary, using limited experimentation and low-cost testing to support change initiatives with solid evidence that helps persuade top teams your new idea a worthwhile financial commitment.
Lack of the right strategy or vision (36% of respondents.)
Employees must be clear on what the organisation is seeking to achieve and how that effects them in their job role – tell them what change is expected of them? Leaders must know what positive results look like and must understand not to expect overnight results or miraculous improvement (unless that is the goal).
This obstacle is probably the simplest to circumvent and the most obstructive if not tackled correctly. It’s all about communication. Make your expectations clear, build bridges between work groups and teams that need to work together, help people understand the benefits of what they are working to achieve and incentivise them to make it a success.
All of these obstacles to innovation will be overcome when innovation stops being a word we use only when the business is threatened and needs to react, and instead becomes a continuous state of being built into the DNA of your organisation’s culture.