“We need all our teams working together and collaborating on new innovations! Growth is everyone’s job!”
It is for us. We often work with businesses that have made innovation their mission, motto, and source of new growth.
Companies that are strong operators will have decades of market success to prove it. However, with time, that market success starts to grow a patina. Competitors with new or more efficient manufacturing processes enter the market, or core customers shift their buying habits.
Decades-old businesses dialed into operations have a hard time shifting from operational excellence to innovation.
Whatever the change over time, a company’s competitive edge blunts. What was once a market- or category-defining product slowly becomes a standard product with incrementally new features. Decades-old businesses that are too dialed into operations have a hard time shifting the organizational motto from operational excellence to innovation.
It’s only natural that this should be a big challenge. Operating the current business and innovating new ideas are not moves from the same muscle group; they exercise different parts of your organization. In fact, they are entirely different types of businesses. Expecting the innovation arm of your organization to perform as well as the operational arm is unfair, especially when your innovation team is a relatively new—or a mature but atrophied—organizational group.
Innovation to Operation—And Back Again?
For example, a manufacturing client of ours wanted to jump start business innovation. At the start of their business 50 years ago, innovation—researching, developing and launching what would become their core product—was everyone’s job.
As this core device was launched and succeeded in the market, the focus shifted to operational excellence—making sure that production, distribution, marketing and sales were all being executed as efficiently as possible. Over time, innovation became no one’s job.
Fast forward to 2023, and the company realized that innovation has stagnated. In response, they hired innovation leaders, made innovation a core value and goal for everyone, and declared innovation as the basis of the company’s overall success. Suddenly, innovation was everyone’s job again.
While discussing the innovation challenge with management at this manufacturing company, we heard confusion, concern and an overall lack of clarity. There were comments like:
“Why innovate if we could keep growing with our current product line? All we need to do is sell more, and to more markets.”
“We have no focus area for innovation. Some leaders believe we should focus on existing customers with new problems, and others want us to focus on new types of customers.”
“How will we determine which innovations are right or good?”
These are all totally fair responses. Before declaring how innovation needs to happen, consider what has made and is currently making the innovation process move forward in your organization. In other words, consider the makeup of your organization’s central nervous system, and how it calls the rest of the organization (operations, innovation, marketing, sales) to action.
Turning your growth vision into a reality.
There are a few steps you can take to ensure that your organization’s growth vision can become a reality.
Step 1: Remember why we exist. (Yes, seriously.)
Recall your organizational DNA: your reason for being. Draw on it to reestablish your corporate purpose.
Resetting a strategic vision or an innovation mission can be an existential moment for your organization. Remembering why you exist is an important part of clarifying how you will persist.
This is your corporate purpose, and it should remain largely unchanged over time—decades even. While your growth vision or innovation mission (your how) may shift, your corporate purpose (your why) should act as a constant. If your vision is unclear, too ambitious or a departure from the longstanding heritage of your business and its core capabilities, then calling back your corporate purpose and core values is a great way to reset, clarify and make sure your path forward remains authentic.
Step 2: Get to the heart of what we want to accomplish.
Be clear about what the growth vision or innovation mandate is, and what it is meant to do for the business. This means explaining where the vision came from and what underlying beliefs are pushing your organization in this direction.
Is it a shift in the market? Is it a shift in customer needs? Is it both—that is, believing that the future is X, and therefore committing to accomplishing Y? It is critical that everyone buys into your growth vision and believes it, so that they can contribute to bringing it to life.
Step 3: Be clear on how we will get there.
Provide the right level of guidance for teams and establish what the priorities will include and what they will not include.
Here, companies will often fall into the trap of providing a growth target instead of a pathway or course of action. A growth target—say, launching one new product every year for the next five years—does not provide clarity on how to accomplish a vision. It is simply a number to hit. It incentivizes the end goal, but not the unity and cooperation needed to accomplish it.
Providing teams with the guidance, context and most importantly, agency needed to support the innovation mandate or growth vision is key. Oversight provides teams with a path to achieving the organizational goal, while also empowering them to set their part of the organization up for success.
If any part of these steps is missing for you, or you are unclear on how to do it, get in touch—let’s talk about it!