At the point of writing the UK and many other countries are in the grip of dealing with the global coronavirus pandemic. Reflecting on recent discussion about the scale of the economic downturn that may impact global GDP as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting self-isolation measures, it is likely that operational businesses will need to be agile and innovative to bring products and services to market that rapidly deliver value. At a time of economic recession this will be even more vital.
This blog gives some quick thoughts on laying the foundations for enduring innovation when a greater normality returns to business operations.
Ask your customers when the time is right
Customers often know what they want, but don't always know how to articulate it. Now is a good time to consider the customer insight mechanisms you can put in place so that when your customers emerge from this pandemic, you can ask more of the right questions to help shape your innovations. Give customers the opportunity to chance to bring up something you haven't anticipated and focus in on customer problems - i.e. how they can make more money, work more efficiently, save their time and so on. Your new innovation can then help to address this gap when the time is right. I'd also caution that now isn't the time to start to ask these questions of your customers. They will be thinking about much more basic needs at present, so consider your timing carefully.
Get a sense of balance
Remember that you can get a distorted picture of what customers need. For example it's much more likely for customers to leave feedback on your social media channels when they have a problem rather than when they like a feature that they want to see more of. You might also find that a certain group of your customers is motivated to get in contact - perhaps because they have access to online methods or are more familiar with that technology. Just because they need something and go out of their way to tell you, it doesn't mean that the rest of your customers or your different customer segments necessarily want it.
Get your leaders behind it
Without explicit and visible support from leadership, most programmes will falter. Innovation programmes are no different. Make sure your management team are set up to create and sustain innovation as a repeatable activity in a sustainable way. Leadership needs to go beyond just words. Resources need to be made available. Projects need to be managed and a portfolio of innovation nurtured. Your leaders need to be actively involved in making investments to explore future opportunities.
Consider your internal barriers
In these challenging operational times there are evidently more barriers than usual to innovation. It wouldn't hurt to scenario plan based on your current constrained business reality and also to plan for the capabilities and processes you will need when a greater degree of normality resumes. Think through your barriers including sponsorship, skills, communication, processes, tools, technology, culture, finances and so on. Work out ways to tackle or at worst tolerate or minimise these barriers. Building a culture of innovation is an organisation-wide activity and requires a multi-disciplinary approach.
Think of trust like the safety net that provides the ability for your people to think in new ways. Trust allows your people to make mistakes and learn from them without censure. Focus on creating an environment where mistakes are natural and are permitted. Build trust with your customers as well - they are likely to be early adopters of your new products and services.
To innovate you will need to keep experimenting whilst staying responsive to ongoing changes around you. Your organisational innovation culture will need to provide support and guidance to your staff who are innovating and also adapt rapidly as issues arise or market conditions change. You will also need courage, strength of character and resolve during the inevitable difficulties that will arise. Where your people don't have such capabilities you will need to support, train and mentor them.
We've written before about building an innovation culture. Take a look at this post. We can help you generate more ideas and make improvements in your business that can increase efficiency, revenue and customer experience. We can help you with ideation or with full structured innovation processes. Why not contact us to discuss further?