Innovation isn’t just a trend or a buzzword, it’s crucial for the continuing growth and development of your organisation.
As the environment and markets that we operate in continue to evolve and become more competitive, one of the ways to stay ahead of this will be through innovation to differentiate or create new opportunities. It’s not enough to just innovate. You need to bring your innovation to life inside your organisation. Successful innovation implementation is more than going live, it’s about proactive and enthusiastic adoption by employees, not because they must but because it is compelling.
Innovation in the corporate landscape is more nuanced than simply developing and bringing an idea to market. As corporate leaders you are faced with the challenges of organisational innovation adoption, the transformational change that may result and managing people through the entire process. The success of your innovation relies on more than your level of customer uptake and ability to truly monetise the solution. Your employees have a very significant role in shaping the innovation adoption rate and this will be critical to your overall success.
Change that occurs because of innovation is complex and the preceding implementation programs can be just as difficult as developing the innovation itself. Across the board, organisations have a propensity to underestimate or oversimplify the change process when implementing new innovations. As a result, we see over 70% of innovation and transformation programs fail.
Resistance is a natural, human response to change, but when it is underestimated or overlooked it can be destructive to the implementation of your innovation. The success of your innovation not only depends on the rate of adoption, it also depends on the consistency of your employees.
Three reasons your innovation implementation and change program may not be getting you the results you planned for
- Employee change resistance
Innovation implementation can invoke transformational, cultural, structural, process, People and technology change. All these changes will trigger an emotional and attitudinal response from your people, assigning their own perceptions and meaning to the proposed changes, and this will trigger a behavioural response. There is a direct correlation between employees having neutral or negative perceptions of an innovation and the resulting passive implementation or implementation avoidance. When we see passive behaviour or change resistance it becomes difficult to realise the benefits forecast in the implementation program.
You need to dig into the psychosocial factors of your organisation as you develop your change and implementation strategy to understand how to support your employees and give the tools they need to come on this journey. Your employees will attribute meaning and their understanding of a desirable outcome based on their perceptions of the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the innovation transformation being implemented.
It is a well understood rationale and trend to talk about the ‘why’ we do something, but this needs to more than words to your people. It must feel authentic and aligned with actions to counteract employee change resistance. We see negative or passive outcomes when employees feel that it is innovation for the sake of innovation or because it is the current ‘trend’. Whether this is real or perceived is irrelevant to the outcome. If the possible incremental value is not considered worth it or meaningful to employees their behaviour will be passive at best and resistant at worst.
2. Inconsistent management behaviour
People naturally resist change, and this is amplified when employees are exposed to inconsistent management behaviour. Often, we see implementation teams run into problems with management misalignment because they haven’t engaged all of the leaders in the business to understand their barriers and their requirements to make their teams successful as a result of the new innovation.
Addressing this is not easy or fast but is has tangible benefits on the outcomes of all change and transformation programs. Undertaking the work to obtain alignment with all leaders in the organisation creates opportunities to further secure commitment towards the success of the innovation. Managers of all levels are crucial to the delivery of a structured change approach. Building awareness and preparing people for change cannot be done in isolation with the change team.
3. Focusing only on the future state and not considering the attitudinal and behavioural journey that needs to occur
Change occurs at an individual level, and this is often forgotten when we implement new innovations that change the way we work. Change and implementation programs are often too focused on communications, training and processes that can come off a bit too factual and cold. It is poorly understood and can be difficult to quantify, but there is a real cost to not taking the time to understand the social and emotional impacts of these changes. These costs show up in delayed implementation, reduced engagement, turnover of valuable employees and the failure to achieve the forecasted targets for the project.
Innovation implementation plans focus on the future state context, and often overlook the challenges and requirements to move individuals from their current state to adoption and engagement. Emotional, attitudinal, and behavioural change occurs by moving individuals through a journey. When employees are not supported through this it can trigger a pressured response where they feel confronted to change their work routines, skills, roles and adapt to different ways of working.
We know that when employees feel supported through a transformation, they are more likely to be enthusiastic in how they adapt to the change. Whereas, when there is a bias towards action without understanding the emotional and behavioural changes involved, we often see a passive approach to implementation by doing the bare minimum.
Innovation and change are complex and not to be underestimated. Knowing that it can often involve large-scale and highly complex organisational change, with competing priorities and multiple interdependences it’s crucial your team does everything it can to ensure its success.
Six areas to focus on as you frame your change strategy and implementation program for innovation transformation
- Build a vision of human social capital
Without a clearly defined vision, innovation implementation can become a confusing mix of varying interpretations and expectations of the end result, leading to people moving in different directions.
Define the vision in a clear, concise and easy to digest way. Make it compelling. This is the moment to send a powerful and inspirational message. Don’t get bogged down in the numbers, dollars and metrics - it’s can be hard for people to be emotively attached to the numbers. Focus your vision on the social capital that you are all building together inside the organisation. You’re building the future together so make everyone feel a part of it.
Distilling your innovation program of work into a snappy vision is a challenging piece of work. To help leaders with this process, get them to explain the vision to a 10 year old in five sentences or less. If a 10 year old can clearly understand the vision, then they are on the right track. The vision needs to be simple and something that everyone in your organisation can easily recite and get behind.
- Consistent methodology
Having a consistent approach to implementing and managing change across your organisation makes it considerably easier for leaders to support change and it helps minimise change resistance. Consistency will create intention and support change management to be a core part of the process, rather than rushed piece at the end.
Having a structured, consistent approach contributes to your success through a repeatable process that is consistently delivered throughout the organisation. When we have repeatable processes, we can create great organisational and project habits. When we create great habits, they can become unconscious consistent practices inside our organisations.
- Work to understand the emotional, attitudinal and behavioural triggers
Focus on human and cultural elements, not just technical implementation. Ideally, you want your employees to embody the change through the implementation not just use it because they are required to. Your employees' perceptions, how they understand the innovation will impact the organisation, the customers and how they operate that will have a large impact on the overall success. Innovation implementation is more than having a bias towards action and great marketing. It is about achieving an emotional, attitudinal, and behavioural response from your employees.
You can have your team wearing T-Shirts, have detailed training and an impeccable communications program but we know that if you do not capture the hearts and minds of your people, it can have a negative impact on the adoption rate. Take the time to identify and understand how to make the emotional, attitudinal and behavioural shifts in your employees. Turn this understanding into tools and resources to support your people through the entire journey to help them embrace change.
- Leader led change: more than a communication cascade
Leader led change provides greater positive outcomes for innovation implementation because your people want to hear from their direct managers in times of change. This needs to come through in the voices of all leaders, at all levels in your organisation.
Whilst it is important to hear from your Senior Leadership Team, your middle managers also need to have a voice. Experience shows us that middle managers are the most change resistant group in organisations that we work with. This group tend to have a high resistance to change through their perceptions of the possible impacts and workload changes that will be required for their teams that are often very stretched.
Leader led change programs need to be more than communications and training cascades, as they need to engage middle managers to harness their knowledge in the construction of the change plan to account for how it will impact them and their teams. Involving middle managers in the delivery of change will not only support consistent messaging but it builds solidarity and creates momentum from the bottom up.
As you develop your innovation change program it is imperative that focus on upskilling and equipping leaders of all levels inside your organisation with the tools required to navigate the change.
- Dedicate resources early
Change can often be the underfunded and under resourced components of your innovation implementation, with change management experts often struggling with the misconception that change management is just communications. You need a team of change professionals to integrate with your innovation development and implementation teams early in the process to map out the roadmap for the delivery of change. Your change and implementation strategy needs to guide your people through the transition of the implementation in a way that elicits an emotional, attitudinal, and behavioural response to ensure success. This is not something that can be done well when it is tacked on to the end of a program.
Organisations who dedicate change resources early in their innovation implementation journey are more likely to achieve their intended results. The mission here is more than just to make it work, it’s about creating a future outcome for the organisation through strengthening human capital, knowledge and capability across the board.
- Innovation attribution
To understand if the change and implementation process has worked, we need to understand how we can measure and demonstrate success. To do this it is imperative that you clearly define what does success look like for both the innovation adoption and change management delivery process. Typically, project teams look at the tactical effectiveness of their implementation including communication open rates, number of people trained and adoption rate.
It's important leaders go further and understand the adoption effectiveness rate. The purpose of this is to understand if employees are working with the innovation transformation in the desired manner. Then it's important to examine their competency in any new system or processes to alleviate future operational risk, and also examine their perception of the change. Employee’s perception of the change will provide great insight into their engagement in the process and help draw out any issues that we may not be able to see in the quantitative results.
Innovation without an implementation and change program is a road to nowhere, but the degree of success will depend more on the attitudinal and behavioural responses of your employees rather than whether you got to your go-live date on time. True innovation is challenging, time consuming and expensive. Don’t fall over at one of the last hurdles by weakening your chances of success through a light touch change process.