Grow Faster by Changing Your Innovation Narrative

23 de mayo, 2019

Tiempo estimado de lectura: 6 minutos

Managers have no shortage of advice on how to achieve organic sales growth through innovation.

Prescriptions range from emulating the best practices of innovative companies like Amazon, Starbucks, and 3M to adopting popular concepts such as design thinking, lean startup principles, innovation boot camps, and cocreation with customers. While this well-meant advice has merit, following it without first understanding your company’s innovation narrative is tantamount to going from symptoms to surgery without a diagnosis.

An innovation narrative is an oft-overlooked facet of organizational culture that encapsulates employees’ beliefs about a company’s ability to innovate.1 It serves as a powerful motivator of action or inaction. We find innovation narratives in two basic flavors: growth-affirming and growth-denying, or some combination thereof.

Companies that lead — or aspire to lead — their industries in organic growth need to have a coherent, growth-affirming innovation narrative in place, and we will discuss why that’s important and what it can look like. But what actions support the development and maintenance of such a narrative? To answer that question, we tested 18 possible innovation levers and identified the four that are most relied upon by organic growth leaders to stay ahead of their competitors: (1) invest in innovation talent, (2) encourage prudent risk-taking, (3) adopt a customer-centric innovation process, and (4) align metrics and incentives with innovation activity. We will look at each one in turn.

These four levers will be familiar to innovation practitioners, but their effects intensify with managerial focus. They serve as so-called simple rules.2 That is, they avoid the confusion and dilution of effort that result from trying to pull too many levers at once or in an uncoordinated manner, and they channel and prioritize leaders’ efforts to embed a growth-affirming innovation narrative in their companies.

Identifying Your Company’s Innovation Narrative

Organizational narratives, and especially innovation narratives, provide a useful means of diagnosing the current operating reality in a company and guiding interventions to sustain or change that reality.3 What is the prevailing innovation narrative in your company? To sort that out, listen to how the people responsible for innovation talk about it and the stories of successes and failures that they tell. Then ask yourself what values and beliefs they are conveying.

When we spend time with companies that lead their industries in organic growth, we typically find a refreshingly upbeat, constructive, ambitious character to their innovation narratives. These are the kinds of things we hear: “If you want to get ahead, build a new business.… Everyone knows our growth strategy.… Well-intentioned failures are learning opportunities.… If you innovate and it’s not something that benefits the customer, then it’s not innovation.”

Within companies that are growing more slowly than their rivals, the prevailing narrative about innovation is often decidedly discouraging.We hear things like “Immediate needs soak up our innovation resources.… There are no carrots when it comes to innovation, only sticks.… Innovation activities are usually just added to our primary operating responsibilities.”

You can gain further insight into a company’s prevailing innovation narrative by asking the executive team questions such as “Are you confident that the company’s organic growth goals can be reached? Why?” and “Are those goals usually hit or missed? Why?” It is crucial to understand what executives are really saying when they answer. For instance, are they rationalizing the company’s past innovation performance? Are they ascribing that performance to factors and forces outside their control? Those types of responses signal a defensive posture, which can easily undermine growth. But if leaders instead take responsibility for missed goals and say what they are changing to improve future results, they are poised to affirm growth. Then whichever narrative their answers suggest should be tested with an in-depth analysis of a sampling of the company’s innovation initiatives. No narrative should be taken at face value.

When the vice president of development at a large alcoholic beverages company was having difficulty getting senior leaders to support proposals for new products, we worked with her and her team to interview them regarding their beliefs and assumptions about innovation and its returns. What emerged was a picture of a defensive, play-it-safe organization that believed the market was tired of new products and competitors would match one another’s moves. The interviews also revealed a distinct aversion to the uncertainty of innovation and an assumption that once a product is launched, it is too late to fix mistakes. The company’s narrative was growth-denying, and its anemic innovation activities and lack of relevant new products confirmed it.

If you discover that the prevailing innovation narrative in your company is growth-denying and impeding innovation, all is not lost. You can begin to change it by envisioning a desired future state in which the company has become an industry leader in organic growth through innovation.5Answering these questions can help: If our organization acted out a growth-affirming narrative, what behaviors would we see? What would a storyboard showing “the way innovation works around here” look like? Once you have a growth-affirming narrative in mind, you can turn your attention to bringing it to life within the company.


Fuente: MIT Review

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