Why You Can’t Afford to Wait Until 2021 to Start an Innovation Program

The workforce of the 21st century has a renewed interest in a holistic workplace experience that provides for personal and professional fulfillment.                 

Carroll Elger|
March 17, 2021

We get it—you’re busy. It’s the era of people having busy weeks instead of days, calendars filled out months in advance as business moves faster and faster indefinitely.

However, with this rapid pace of change, there are new trends and disruptions headed towards your company that will cost your company if you don’t address them now.

Right now, every industry is facing technology disruptors, major innovations to how business is done that will result in huge losses if your company isn’t prepared. The transportation industry was most famously disrupted by ride-sharing tech, but many industries, hospitality, entertainment, legal, are all facing disrupting trends.

To keep your company in the disruptors instead of the disrupted, you have to start building a formal innovation program, with the ultimate goal of fostering a Culture of Innovation at your firm, a change in the mindset of the whole organization.

Not taking action on innovation will cost you in a multitude of ways; below are the details of why your company needs to implement an innovation program ASAP.  

A Culture of Innovation can protect against disruption—and possibly make you the disruptor

The threat of disruption across many industries is real, and has already happened. According to Harvard Business Review, from the 2000 list over 50% of the Fortune 500 companies went bankrupt or no longer exist today. While historically the Fortune 500 sees regular change from year to year, that much failure in just under 20 years is unprecedented. Digital technologies cause more potent disruption than has ever been possible, and they do so at a rate that established companies often just can’t keep up with once it’s begun.

The issue is that companies are waiting until the disruptions start affecting them to take action—because at that point, it’s too late. Technology has spiked the rate of dissemination to previously unthinkable levels, for instance techworm.net notes that while the invention of the TV took 13 years to reach 50 million users, the smartphone game Angry Birds took just 35 days to reach that same number. Even adjusting for factors like cost of acquisition, that number shows clearly that technology has pushed the rate of change to levels that even small-to-medium sized companies can’t react quickly too.

With this knowledge, how can a company prepare? If reaction is no longer enough, proactivity becomes essential. This is where an innovation program perfectly fits in, with the ultimate goal of building a thriving Culture of Innovation.

We emphasize that what you want is an innovation program, and not just general innovation. An innovation program is a comprehensive plan, in which decision makers have identified a strategy to boost innovative thinking in the company that management can deliver through a unified, consistent effort.

Forrester found that innovation management that “without operational changes and an open working culture, no agile innovation is possible in the age of the customer. Innovation culture must cross organizational structures and promote multidisciplinary collaboration.” Unstructured innovation efforts cannot deliver innovative ideas without either incurring negative ROI because unstructured efforts use resources inefficiently, or producing only raw ideas around innovation that have to set way to be developed.

Whether you use a traditional strategy or an innovation management software, a structured innovation program can efficiently drive valuable corporate innovation. A proper innovation program will have a set timeline, a goal-oriented strategy from leadership, a process to develop ideas once they’re recognized, and more in place. This plan ensures that all innovative ideas are captured, vetted, and developed, all leading to a position in which they can be implemented in the business.

With a well-planned program in place, you’re on the way to insulating your company from the costs of disruption through innovation. To build a Culture of Innovation and ensure you’re perpetually prepared for disruption, however, you need to address another issue that’s costing your business; the new, unaddressed needs of employees that keep them from engaging in your innovation program, and your business as a whole.

The power of keeping employees engaged at work

This likely comes as no surprise to you, but it’s worthwhile repeating: Disengaged employees seriously hurt a company’s bottom line through diminished productivity. Gallup’s most recent polling shows troubling numbers regarding America’s workforce engagement: only about 33% are engaged, 51% are not engaged at work, and most troubling, 16% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they’re “miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build.” The same research shows 51% of employees searching for new jobs or monitoring listings.

These numbers are already concerning, but the resulting cost of this disengagement is downright eye-opening. Using Officevibe’s Employee Engagement ROI calculator, we can determine that in a 500-person company with average salary and turnover, employee disengagement will cost over $5 million annually through diminished productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and onboarding costs.

These sizable costs, combined with the uncaptured innovation in disengaged employees, makes for a situation in which inaction becomes negative action.

Many companies are already aware of the harm of disengaged employees, and have tried to address the problem. This has mostly meant throwing money at the problem in the form of raises, employees bonuses, and “perks” at work. Unfortunately, this approach has lost its efficacy as the contemporary worker now seeks more intangible benefits at work as opposed to further monetary compensation.

The workforce of the 21st century has a renewed interest in a holistic workplace experience that provides for personal and professional fulfillment. Employees want to feel the impact of their work, get real-time feedback and recognition, learn skills outside of their area, and gain access to new technologies that transform the way they work.

In order to have an innovation program that really works, employees need to feel that some or all of these needs are being addressed or they won’t interact with the program meaningful way. When crafting strategy for the program, management must employ tactics that sincerely attempt to address these needs. For example, at Ideawake we build programs that teach employees to be entrepreneurs and think about their job function from a fresh, insightful perspective.

With employees needs addressed, they’re in a perfect position to be engaged at work and fully commit to participation in an innovation program, which when repeated with new goals, should result in a Culture of Innovation starting to develop at your firm.

The takeaway from avoiding the costs of disruption and disengagement shouldn’t be that it’s easy to do so with an innovation program, nor that it’s especially difficult. This post has laid out the factors you should account for when considering how failing to innovate costs you, and none of them are relatively complex; activities like recognizing employees, establishing goals for innovation, and sticking to a timeline aren’t hard to grasp.

They can become difficult, however, if management does not examine the results of these activities and respond to feedback on the program. A great Culture of Innovation can quickly dissolve if leadership forgets that a program designed to respond to rapid change doesn’t change itself.

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