An Introduction to Innovation by the toolkit author – William Tate
Most people understand the importance of technological innovation. They observe it every day in new products and processes. Fewer understand how to give their business the permanent ability to be innovative in all it does. The way the enterprise manages its people and internal organisation is crucial in bringing this about.
By ‘innovative’ we mean the systemic capacity to successfully exploit new ideas, wherever and whenever they arise and to whatever they might be applied.
This wider view of innovation is often overlooked, yet it is fundamental to long-term business success. Such capability is widely seen as holding one of the most important keys to unlocking competitive advantage in an increasingly challenging business environment.
From product to service; from operation to support
People are familiar with rapid product innovation in fields such as computers and pharmaceuticals – particularly where advanced technology is concerned. Where the 'product' is a service, customers may perceive innovation in other ways, in quality, reliability and price.
Other prime targets for innovation are a company's markets, selling, distribution, advertising and promotion.
From the familiar to the novel
Many of these targets for innovation are not themselves new, though the need to innovate is becoming more pressing. However, beyond this familiar level lies a new agenda and new opportunities for innovation. The internet and the fast-developing world of e-commerce and e-business demands it.
Today’s socially aware business also needs to be innovative in how it relates to the environment, and how it reacts to consumer power.
From products to processes
Innovation applies to internal processes and systems too. Firms need innovation in their management and operational processes. This means applying new techniques and ways of working that are more cost-efficient and effective in using resources, more streamlined in handling, quicker to market, and quality enhancing.
Human resource management
Innovative practice can impact the kind of people employed, how they are selected, developed, motivated and rewarded. Indeed, it can affect the full spectrum of human resource management policies and practices.
Opportunities to be innovative even extend outside the company to non-employees, to outsourced services, and to partners and allies within a network of relationships in the modern and the virtual organisation, and in all sectors: private, public and voluntary.
How and where innovation will be manifested will vary with the particular kind of organisation, its opportunities and threats, current agenda and where it is in its life-cycle. While firms are exhorted to be more active across the full extent of opportunities, in practice they need to consider carefully the various targets for innovation as part of a well-planned business strategy.
Recent HR innovations
Innovative employment is the subject of much current discussion and some action. Organisations are said to be flattening, roles replacing jobs, competencies replacing knowledge and skills, non-core work being outsourced, people working from home, short-term contracts replacing permanent ones. Such HR innovation and changing employment practices have value in their own right. But they can also have an impact - positive or negative - on the business's ability to be innovative in its marketplace.
Individual vs. organisational innovation
Creativity flows from individuals' ability. Innovation, by contrast, is a tangible outcome that benefits the business. Innovation depends on what surrounds individuals (both those who are and those who are not personally creative).
Innovation is easier said than done. A popular starting point in many organisations is to look to individuals' recruitment and training to achieve innovation. Companies also increasingly rely on teamwork. But it is important not to neglect the organisation's culture and its management systems. These often block the path to innovation. But if positive, they can license and foster innovation.
Pinning the term down
Given such wide potential, innovation is quite a problem term, not easily tied down. It signifies a broad concept generally associated with ideas and change. But it means different things depending on people’s jobs, the nature of business, and what the organisation currently needs. Innovation for a high-technology start-up operation means something very different from an ageing state monopoly looking for a new lease of life. The former may need to be innovative in finding sources of funding; the latter in how it dismantles the legacy of the past before it can move forward. In summary, some people equate innovation in their minds solely with technological change, the design of new products, or mere invention. Innovation is all of these, and much more, as the above shows. When other people start talking about innovation, make sure you are speaking the same language.
The innovation spectrum
The toolkit’s ten questionnaires span the range of individual and organisational factors that affect innovation. These cover businesses' needs for both continuous incremental and step-change innovation. They deal with tactical and day-to-day operational innovative behaviour through to long-term business strategies for innovation.
USING THE TOOLKIT
Focus of the toolkit
The toolkit consists of advice and ten diagnostic questionnaires. Together, they focus on the organisation’s conduct and its level of understanding about what organisational and management structures and practices lead to innovative capability for the business. The questionnaires assess how well the enterprise currently fosters innovation in the way it is run. This advice builds on this. It offers definitions and other help in completing the questionnaires. Once this has been done, there are ideas and suggestions for making changes and improvements.
Who the toolkit is for?
The toolkit is designed for sophisticated HR professionals who want to make their organisations more innovative.
The toolkit contains ten questionnaires designed for self-assessment. There is no external assessment. Please answer the questionnaires on behalf of your organ-isation. You may choose the whole organisation or a departmental unit, as appropriate.
Each questionnaire covers a single theme. They may be used on their own, if wanted. However, the overall set is designed in an integrated and comprehensive way. Full benefit is gained from working through all ten questionnaires.
The scoring options
You may wish to consider asking a number of colleagues to score copies of the questionnaire. The software will average multiple responses to make the results easy to understand.. Or you can discuss each question in turn and agree a consensus score. Both are powerful ways to learn.
The design of questions
The wording of the questions is designed to make the ideal answer obvious. They are not jumbled to confuse or disguise good practice. The first column in each questionnaire ('Fully’) represents what is generally considered a favourable position.
Recording and monitoring assessment
Each of the ten themes itself consists of ten questions. Each questionnaire contains its own score sheet, offering a score range using a five-point scale (0 - 4). The software provides numerous ways to average scores within departments and organizations.
Interpreting your score
Your score will give you a feel for where your organisation currently stands against generally accepted best practice. You can do this within each of the ten themes and then make comparisons across the areas.
Your score will help you monitor your organisation's progress over time as you introduce changes.