Strategy & LeadershipHR StrategyClosing the innovation gap: three tips for 2021

Closing the innovation gap: three tips for 2021

Innovation lies at the heart of business continuity, but it's easier said than done. With the added pressure of COVID-19, HRD Thought Leader Debra Corey outlines how organizations can truly innovate in 2021.

According to an article published in June last year, 90% of executives agreed that the COVID-19 crisis would fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years; but that fewer than 30% felt they were adequately prepared to address these changes. Conclusion? A significant innovation gap exists in the world of modern business – namely, a gap between what the organization needs, and what it’s equipped for.

Six months on, companies are still facing challenges, but many have jumped onboard the ‘innovation bus’, closing the gap by using innovation to drive change when it comes to their people and their businesses.

I shared examples of such innovation in my eBook, Bringing your values out to play, highlighting how companies have truly thought outside the box to care for and support their employees.

Companies have also shown pandemic-era innovation in how they drive revenue and generate new opportunities. A great example is Japanese restaurant group Sticks’n’Sushi, which has had to shift its focus to takeaway in recent times.

The group quickly adapted its operations to handle the increased volume, and with objectives of delivering the same quality food and the same experience into the homes of the customers, the team innovated and conceived a new product: takeaway cocktails.

Led by Head of Bar, Enrique Gomez, the company designed the cans and labels, created a process for production and distribution, and were able to take the product to market in just three weeks. A shimmering example of innovation in action.

But for meaningful innovation to happen, there are certain requisite actions. To help you with this, I’m sharing three tips taken from an interview I conducted with the king of innovation himself: Dominic Price, Work Futurist at Atlassian.

Make innovation an integral part of your company values and behaviors

Innovation should not be the role of a single person, project, or team. It is each and every employee’s role. For this reason, your definition and ways of innovating need to be woven into your values and behaviors.

Whether your value is ‘push the boundaries (Reward Gateway), or ‘dream big’ (Missguided), or ‘do what scares you’ (C Space), it’s important to find a word or phrase that fits your mission and culture, so your employees know that it’s a part of their job, and that you expect this from them each and every day.

During the interview, Dominic said: “One of our values is ‘be the change you seek’; if you don’t like what you see or what you do, you’re empowered to change it. You have to change it for good and not for evil, and good being the greater good. You can’t just change things that work for you at the detriment of the other 2,500 employees.”

Don’t compromise when it comes to diversity

If you put five similar people into a room and ask them to each come up with a new product or idea, it’s likely that they will be roughly the same across the board. Introduce diversity, whether that’s through background, experience, lifestyle, gender, race, or religion, and that’s where the magic happens.

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“I have learned that if I get these cognitively diverse people around me, they will rip my idea to shreds,” said Dominic. “They’ll then put it back together again. What we’re left with is far better than I would have come up with myself. At Atlassian we hire for a growth mindset. I want someone who disagrees with me, but that helps me solve the problem.”

Keep evolving your innovation ‘ways’

As with anything, we need to continually find ways to do things differently as times and challenges change. As Dominic explained to me in the interview, “we’re constantly evolving how we do things”.

In my book, he shared the details around Atlassian’s ‘20% time’ policy (where teams earmark one day a week to focus on innovation), and the ‘ShipIt’ program (where every quarter, the teams set aside a full 24 hours to work together and innovate whatever inspires them the most.

Since then, Atlassian has further evolved its approach, ensuring that innovation continues to thrive even in a remote culture. “You gotta carry on innovating, right?,” said Dominic. The company has also pivoted to inject some focus on current themes such as Black Lives Matter and the impacts of COVID-19.

“To stay relevant, you have to be evolving at a faster pace than the environment,” Dominic said. “You have to be able to give up the legacy of what was successful for you before.”

I hope these three tips will help you drive innovation at your company, closing the gap between what you need and what you deliver.

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