Innovation is not a buzzword -- it is an essential ingredient in an organization’s ability to compete in today’s digital age. By being open to ideas from anyone, anywhere inside or outside your company, you can disrupt markets, create new business opportunities and solve customers’ most pressing challenges.
Innovation is nothing new. Every business was once a startup with a new idea. Talent, capital, persistence -- maybe some luck -- made it successful. Simply put, innovation is a mindset that any business can foster and grow -- and it begins with communication (as I discuss in a recent article) and metrics. But despite their value, innovation programs, much like communications, are often the first budget cut in economic downturns. Part of the reason for that is corporate blindness and resistance to change, but the other part is the difficulty of measuring and consistently communicating the impact of innovation across organizations.
A few years ago, my team held a series of employee focus groups to build on our now 40-plus innovation programs. We found that employees were eager to innovate in their work, regardless of their location, function, or level but were unclear on the pathways to nurture and develop their passionate ideas. That discovery led us to design an end-to-end innovation strategy that supports all employees.
During this journey, we learned the importance of transparently sharing key project metrics with stakeholders. Metrics enable the assessment of practical results and impact and serve as proof points when encouraging employees to innovate and executives to support them. Although some argue that innovation, like communications, cannot be measured, but I disagree. The impact of innovation can and should be measured and shared widely. However, measuring innovation requires a nontraditional, balanced set of metrics. Here are five key innovation metrics you must communicate to your employees, colleagues, partners, and investors.
1. Participation And Engagement
Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. It requires a constant flow of challenging ideas from inside and outside a company, and you need to measure and communicate your reach. How many employees participate in your program? Are you working across all functions and levels? Are you reaching out to your ecosystem? How many ideas were hatched and implemented? Communicating these metrics inspires others to join and support your efforts. For example, my company regularly communicates that around 50% of our employees in all 14 functions in more than 60 countries participate in our annual Innovate Everywhere Challenge (IEC), which captures the best and brightest ideas from all employees and provides resources to develop them.
Soliciting employee feedback and sharing it transparently across the organization is essential for communicating successes and ways to improve. In our listening sessions and surveys, we’ve learned that employees are as passionate about new business models and technologies as they are about operational improvements and corporate social responsibility. We’ve also learned that some employees don’t want to be venture team founders, but they want to contribute their skills by joining a team, coaching innovators or even funding ventures. We took this feedback, set benchmarks and remained flexible as we evolved our innovation program. This input led to the development of a mentor network with more than 3,000 volunteers, as well as “angel investors” just like those found in the real startup world.
3. Value And Outcomes
One of the most impactful metrics you can communicate is project outcomes. Stakeholders want to know about the small, measurable milestones and success stories from your innovation programs -- and the more quantifiable the results, the better. Is the program generating patents? Are you engaging directly with customers to validate ideas? Of course, the impact on financial results is the ultimate measure of success. Are your solutions or process improvements cutting costs, influencing bookings or uncovering new revenue sources? Are they contributing to new product development? Promote these metrics internally and externally.
4. Brand And Thought Leadership
To win the war on attracting and retaining top talent, businesses must constantly reinforce their innovator brand and showcase their thought leadership to employees, partners, customers, and the public at large. Who wants to work for or partner with a company that is not innovating? Who would approach you with their best ideas if you are perceived as an organization that isn’t on the cutting edge? College grads wanting to work for large companies has steadily declined, dipping to just 14% in 2016, according to Accenture. They fear large employers won’t be committed to their passions, needs, and talents for innovation. Big companies in particular must highlight their innovation programs, encourage employees to be active on social media, enlist PR and HR and promote successes with co-development partners. Urge employees to volunteer with local startup accelerators, get them involved as advisors and mentors, and have them share their experiences. You’d be amazed how rewarding this is for employees and local communities -- not to mention the company’s brand reputation.
5. Cost Of Inaction
Explain the cost of not taking any action and not investing in employees, partnerships, and new product development. Don’t be afraid to let employees and executives know the company might be falling behind the competition while communicating a call to action. The devastating results of corporations that don’t innovate are well known -- yet this history of inaction continues to repeat itself as corporate extinctions keep rising because of a failure to embrace today’s changes. Thankfully, it’s easy to share the hefty price of corporate inaction when it comes to self-disruption.
Metrics aside, the goal for any innovation (and communications) program is to create an inspired culture that adds sustainable value for customers, the organization, and its employees, all of whom want to be empowered to tap into their inner entrepreneur. After all, innovation and communication -- twin assets for business success in the digital age -- must become so embedded into a company’s culture that they’re part of its DNA.
When employees are empowered, your innovation investments are connected to enterprise strategy. And, with innovation justified by metrics, you and your company will thrive in the ups and downs of business cycles.