Q: Dear Experts – How do I go about instilling a spirit of innovation in my team? Where do I start?

Culture, Retail, Strategy

For our Innovation Digital week, we asked our panel of Hive Experts to share their insights and advice on how to instil the spirit of innovation within a team.

Advice from Alistair Marshall:

Dear would-be Innovator,

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” – Peter F. Drucker

Creating an innovative culture in an organization where this previously not been a priority, requires a consistent level of commitment and engagement from senior leadership. The importance of establishing a psychological safety within the team where they can feel comfortable to share their ideas on the business can enable a supportive and nurturing environment.  Below are four crucial starting points for an organization to follow:

1. Communicate the need

Why do you need to innovate? What are the challenges? What is the risk if we stay the same? Too often brands lack transparency and honesty for the risks that are in front of them and the need for change. Honesty is a powerful way to engage your team.

2. Assemble the team

Create a task force of various individuals who represent a varying perspective of the business and market. Ensuring diversity of talent will avoid relying on the same people to bring the answers. For example, someone in finance could have an amazing idea for a marketing campaign but the opportunity for them to share this hasn’t previously existed, let’s change that.

3. Yes, and…

Adopting a “yes, and” mentality is effective to create a space that supports idea generation and development. When we lead with “no, but” it can shut people down or stop people from contributing. You want to create a culture where all ideas are welcome.

4. Share wins. Own failures.

Not idea may work as desired, and that’s ok. We learn as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes. Be comfortable to share throughout the journey what did and didn’t work and how we can adapt and modify moving forwards.

Advice from Matteo Delledonne:

Dear would-be Innovator,

As for almost everything in life, there is not one recipe for successful digital innovation. It can come top-down, because the management has the vision/strength to implement what is needed to overcome the business challenges, or it can grow gradually from the bottom, because the need is felt more at an operational level.

No matter why and how, any organization should start the innovation journey with clear goals in mind and not just for the sake of it, otherwise the costs may out-shadow the outcomes.

Some tips from my experience:

  • Business: don’t endure it, be part of it – It is common knowledge that the business often sees IT projects as something that gets in the way and distracts from revenue generating activities. This frequently leads to a solution which doesn’t answer the business requirements or which the business might be reluctant to embrace, because, let’s be honest, as inefficient as it can be, what has been done manually for years is part of our comfort zone.
  • It’s not necessarily a “big bang” anymore – IT projects used to be big and expensive initiatives. Today modern technology and methodologies allow us to gradually develop and deploy functionalities in a relatively short period and at reasonable costs. Ask your colleagues in operations what is the “task” that takes them half an hour almost every day that they would rather have done “in one click” instead. You could start from those and give the business back 30 minutes every day to focus on more productive activities.
  • You are not at school, copying is allowed – Quite often, requirements in Digital Innovation are the same and not just among competitors within the same industry. Leverage The Hive network to share them with others and understand how they managed them and, if applicable, copy from their solutions.
  • Don’t be afraid to be bold – Nowadays we do things with our phones which were simply unthinkable for most of us only five years ago. Don’t be afraid to raise the bar for IT, technology does bigger jumps in a shorter amount of time every year.

Good luck and have fun with it …

Advice from Gam Dias:

Dear would-be Innovator,

Boards see exciting innovations at Amazon, Walmart, and Alibaba. They push for a culture of innovation, yet these hyped programs get de-prioritized and disappoint. Innovation takes money, time, and distracts from existing business goals. 

Innovation does not have to be expensive technology projects like Walmart’s pick up tower or Amazon Prime. They can be cheap and simple like giving stores an additional report or moving a feature from the online checkout to the cart. Here are some simple steps: 

Ask Questions – as a team, do not accept why things are the way they are. When you look at a policy, a process, a piece of analysis, how things are physically laid out, how products are promoted, customer behaviors ask why is that so, how could it be improved, what small actions, what large actions could we take? 

Collaborate – work across departments, functions, locations, with customers, partners and even your competition. Understand problems from multiple perspectives to find the painful issues and root causes. Include all stakeholders in the innovation process.

Experiment – form a hypothesis to predict what you want to change, try things out in a safe space, assume that you will not get it right first, second or third time, learn and iterate and then increase the scope each time measuring and discussing the outcomes. 

Find Champions – there are people all around the organization who will help make things happen, they will find budgets, get you resources and help make connections. They will go to bat for your team. Find them and nurture them. 

Provide a Financial Justification – Once tested, rolling out a new idea can be costly and the project will compete for funds. From the beginning, understand that you will have to provide a financial forecast of benefits and costs to demonstrate that this is worth doing.


Advice from Alex Murray:

Dear Innovator – 

No one has a monopoly on innovation. Rightly so. To think of, and put into action, something new should not be the preserve of the few. Instead, a culture of curiosity and self-disruption helps businesses take hold of new opportunities as they arise.

The enemy of innovation is busyness. When teams make no time to reflect, few ideas flow. In part, this is why many businesses choose to create a completely separate team. This can have both positives and negatives – on the upside, the team then has time to imagine something new without the pressure and distractions of the day-to-day; on the downside, the team can become too abstracted from delivering practical, implementable solutions.

Let’s imagine you don’t have a separate team. What can you do to foster a spirit of innovation?

1). Formalise thinking time to address real world challenges. This doesn’t have to be a half day each week à la Google; even an hour of people applying their combined creativity to a customer problem can be immensely productive. The more diverse the group, the better.

2). Reward risk taking. Praise creativity. Acknowledge the benefits in exploring the unlikely. Ignore the status quo. You want an open and playful environment where your team can let their imaginations run wild in safety.

3). Look outside your own industry. Encourage your team to look outwards. It’s all too easy to examine competitors or ‘best-in-class’ within your own field. Looking at other verticals forces us to see similar issues through a different lens; for example, if you are a retailer, you could study how the financial services industry helps customers navigate insurance policies and see if there is anything that could be adapted for your merchandising strategy.

Creating something new is fun. Your team will enjoy expanding their thinking beyond their daily roles.

My recommended read for creating an innovation mindset is: Maverick by Ricardo Semler

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