Keeping track of innovations
April 21, 2020
Whether we wanted to be or not, we are in a time of innovation. It’s almost funny to think about the “before time” when we would struggle to find or implement new ideas within—and often because of—how we did business then. Organizations have been completely disrupted in a short time, and we find ourselves doing things we thought it would take years and numerous committees to implement.
Every day feels like an innovation. But is it?
But have things actually changed in leadership? Are leaders being nimble in how they lead, or are they applying their usual mindset and leadership style as if nothing has happened?
While being innovative does mean doing something new and different, it’s important to remember that innovation itself is not the goal. Innovation is meant to help us do things better. And while we are doing all sorts of new things right now to see what works, we want to ensure that we are, in fact, creating and keeping changes that help us serve our employees and consumers more effectively. This may feel challenging to do in the midst of the pandemic, especially given our separation from colleagues and direct reports.
However, it’s important to be intentional about the changes we are making and to avoid remaining in a place of continual reaction. There are some simple steps we can follow to help determine which innovations are worth keeping.
The rapid nature of the changes we have undergone may mean that some have not been implemented fully or properly. Given what has happened globally, we cannot expect to get it right the first time.
However, it is important to check on the changes to find out what’s working and what isn’t. Some things are not linked to the innovation process and you won’t be able to do anything about. For example, some of your people may be struggling working at home while home-schooling their kids. This does not mean that remote working does not work for them. It is related to the pandemic and the conditions are extraordinary.
Separate out the new ways of working that could continue after the pandemic from those that are a result of living in a state of emergency. Rethink the changes that are not working and that may be damaging morale, productivity, or your brand.
While we might be moving fast, it is important to track the new ways of working that are being implemented throughout your organization. It is tempting to leave the tracking until after the crisis has passed, but at that point there will be a strong pull to go back to “normal.” If you have maintained a record of what’s working it will be easier for your people and your leaders to continue later.
Senior leaders may feel strained and unable to spend time finding and recording the innovations as they happen. This is a perfect opportunity to stretch some of your high-potential leaders and/or those that have expressed interest in doing things differently. Set up an action group to track the new ideas and implementations. Task the action group with also finding the stories associated with what is working well.
Tracking is not the same as evaluating. Evaluation requires a deeper dive into the detail of the innovation. The same action group can help with this process, but it’s important for senior leaders to also be involved to keep the bigger picture of the business in mind.
Evaluation will be challenging right now, so it is okay to set it aside for when things are a little calmer. Being in a crisis means our stress levels are high and we may not have the mindset or bandwidth to deal with the long term. That’s why tracking is crucial: It sets your organization up well for evaluation later.
Set a deadline for evaluating that feels realistic and put it in the calendar. It would be easy to skip this step and just keep doing what has become the “new normal” without full consideration. Doing “what’s right” in the long term is more important than continuing what is “right now.”
Once you have had an opportunity to track and evaluate the new ways of working, it’s important to scale those ideas across the organization. Some departments may have come up with amazing new ways of working that could be rolled out to other areas as a new standard.
When scaling, it’s important to have a strong narrative for why you are implementing more change across the board. This is where the stories that you have tracked during the process will be important. They will support the changes you want to make, and those who developed the new way of working will champion it as a positive shift.
Remember, however, that people will have change fatigue for a while after this pandemic. So have a long-term plan rather than trying to do it all at once. Choose one or two great ideas that will have significant impact and start there. The rest can be implemented later.