Why you must develop an innovation engagement strategy now — and how to do it

If you read the first piece in this series on innovation, which covered the most common barriers to disruption and why they’re dangerous to your business, you know exactly what you need to overcome.

And, you also know what’s at stake: preventing your company from becoming another cautionary tale of too-slow change, internal politics, culture problems and undefined goals. 

The next step for solving the disruption puzzle is putting this knowledge into action. It’s about building an engagement strategy to keep relevant stakeholders involved and on course to make meaningful change.

For some teams, their engagement strategy will mean they’ll start acting like a startup with a greater focus on new ideas and creativity. For others, partnering with startups will allow them to leverage agility and cutting edge ideas. Alternatively, the best path may be a hybrid model, combining both internal and external input. 

No matter the path you choose, in this piece you’ll discover how to get people involved and put a plan in place that takes you from thinking about innovation to disrupting your market.

Why develop an innovation engagement strategy?

The excitement around change may tempt you to “wing it” and jump right into brainstorming new ideas, however, a strategy yields better results. 

“More than a few companies, if they’re honest, would admit they pick prospective innovation projects based on who raised the idea, how ‘sexy’ the idea is, or what piqued the interest of their CEO,” writes Credera partner and CIO, Jake Carter. “While innovation is innately risky, organizations with a formal approach to innovation are 50% more likely to successfully launch new products.”

When it comes to an innovation engagement strategy, it is designed to effectively involve internal and external innovators, covering important aspects like:

  • Setting goals, motivations and reasons for innovation
  • Identifying startup partners and vendors
  • Creating an onboarding process for new partners
  • Updating company culture and policies to encourage risk (and failure)
  • Defining metrics and KPIs—and what is considered successful innovation
  • Communication strategies to attract innovative ideas and share the vision
  • Establishing leadership roles and processes
  • Gaining buy-in from the C-Suite or board of directors
  • Setting timelines and budgets

By having this engagement plan in place, you immediately set yourself apart from other organizations that lack the structure to make meaningful changes in their organization. 

As you begin innovating, you’ll know how to communicate with internal and external stakeholders, attracting brilliant new ideas and proactively intercepting threats to your business. You’ll know why you’re innovating, what counts as success and have clear boundaries with budget and timeline established. Plus, you’ll have a culture that rewards risk and an executive team that encourages new ideas and challenging old methods.

When working in partnership with startups, a proven way of bringing new ideas into an organization, a strategy will make procurement, agreements and other details a breeze, preventing administrative barriers from getting in the way of progress. Importantly, you’ll also know which startups to contact and work with, streamlining your efforts even further.

So you can make an impact sooner than later, follow these steps for engaging and innovating.

Step 1: Define your motivations and goals

As Simon Sinek said: start with ‘why’. Deciding why you’re going to innovate is important because it builds excitement, focus and guidelines to follow, helping narrow a broad desire for innovation.

Your reasons for innovation could be as diverse as:

  • Wanting to build a high-margin product
  • Proactively addressing market changes
  • Beating out competitors or shaping customer demand
  • Licensing or purchasing products and services
  • Expanding your offerings
  • Eliminating technical, strategic or financial shortcomings

For a startup or small business, goals may also include funding or acquisition by a larger firm. 

Ultimately, your motivations should be tailored to short and long-term goals, likely after considerable discussion, surveys and debate. And, remember: these should be SMART goals meaning “specific, measurable, actionable, results oriented and time bound”.

Once you’ve defined why you want to innovate and how you’ll define success, it’s time to build your dream team.

Step 2: Engage the right people

Defining your stakeholders is critical because it creates the right mix of engaged people, diverse skill sets and viewpoints and promotes buy-in across the entire organization. Who is right for the team will depend upon your specific challenges and strengths, but start by considering:

  • Who within company leadership is open to (and supportive of) risk?
  • Do you need to recruit new people or skills from outside?
  • Who in the organization will resist change?
  • Are there existing teams focused on innovation?
  • How can you involve leadership from every team or department?
  • Are you missing any valuable soft skills within your team members?

If disruption will be coming from the outside through partnerships with startups, you’ll want to think about:

  • What types of startups are a fit for you—both culturally and strategically?
  • Can the startup be replaced by internal resources, or do they bring something new?
  • Can the startups deliver on quality, timelines and professionalism?
  • Which startups would create a mutually beneficial relationship?
  • Do you have a diverse mix of startup partners to accomplish multiple goals?

To locate startup partners, approach accelerators and innovation hubs or ask around your network for introductions.

Finding the right stakeholders may take a few tries and frequent changes, making agility a key requirement. However, when the right team or teams come together, there will be enough support, resources and smarts to move forward with building a structured process.

Step 3: Processes, processes, processes

With the right people and goals defined, it’s time to supplement your innovation engagement strategy with processes.

By having structure, you can focus more on change than how to handle NDAs or who leads negotiations. While there are many frameworks and ways of building out innovation processes, you can start by:

  • Identifying key decision makers (Done!)
  • Delegating tasks like strategy, tech testing, legal, communication, etc.
  • Developing a sandbox environment for testing tech
  • Creating a debriefing process to identify and discuss insights

When working with a startup or outside partner, your processes should take into account:

  • What is the process for reaching out to and selecting partners?
  • Who is in charge of each step, including approval, legal and onboarding?
  • How do you communicate with and measure the success of your startup partners?

With the right processes in place, magic can happen. When the best ideas rise to the top, it’s time to see what works—and what needs more development.

Step 4: Assess and update

With all the variables, new ideas, collaboration and changes happening in your innovation hub, there will always be a need to assess what works and what doesn’t, making updates based on these insights.

From the Research Quotient to McKinsey’s analytics-driven “Numetrics” and many others, you can find a variety of ways to assess your success. Depending on the sophistication of your tools and team’s skills, your particular assessment could vary in complexity and scope. 

However, one of the simplest ways is to go back to your goals and see how you’re performing. Is there a certain area where you’ve made progress? Or, have you developed any insights that may change the stakeholders, partners or processes? Remember to measure against the KPIs, metrics and goals you set as measures for success.

No matter your assessment, always utilize transparency and communication with internal and external stakeholders. Share your findings and success stories, inviting others to collaborate on new ideas.

In the world of innovation, you’re never really finished. There’s always a new opportunity or challenge to work on, which makes having best practices outlined that much more important. In the next piece of this series, discover more best practices for innovation, plus how to identify the right innovation opportunity.

How do you engage people around innovation in your organization—and what would you add to this article? Comment below!