Every year, most companies go through the dreaded strategic planning process where everyone runs through the organization hitting every proverbial piñata (e.g., finance, market research) as they look for information regarding internal and external forces impacting their business. They’re invigorated, usually by a motivational speech from an executive about strategic pillars of growth and the importance of innovation; but, like clockwork, they fall back into the same old processes and pattern.
So, what is innovation, and how do you make it stick so that it becomes an integrated, permanent part of your organization’s business culture? What tools do you need, and what incentives should you provide?
I can tell you the process takes a lot of work, and every competitive intelligence or foresight professional knows that before you embark on the process, management needs to work together to answer several key questions:
- Will the charter or function of the organization be strategic or tactical?
- Will the organization be centralized or de-centralized?
- What type of budget (e.g., headcount, tools, training, etc.) do you need?
- How will that information be disseminated throughout the organization and who has access to it?
- How will success of the organization be measured?
So, after your budget and charter are approved, and management has agreed that a strategic focus is more important (since that’s where a lot of innovation comes from) you do a few things:
- Buy or subscribe to portal software such as Microsoft SharePoint where you can centralize, collect and organize, disseminate, and secure information. As well as brainstorming or, better yet, mind mapping software, such as MindJet or XMind, where you can use your creativity to connect those who would otherwise be unconnected.
- Meet with the executive team and ask what keeps them awake at night, or as we call them, KITs (key intelligence topics) that may have the potential to impact your business. Once you have those, you need to build an intelligence network around them that consists of internal (e.g., sales, customer service) and external (e.g., industry analysts, reporters) experts that pick up the tactical data or strategic early warnings that something is changing. When triggered, you either need to react or do nothing, which is a constant loop.
- Provide some sort of incentive to the teams that contribute to the process, such as a scoreboard or gamification software where they can see who is winning at the contribution game.
- Offer your teams areas of the portal such as competitive profiles, which include a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, industry trends (e.g., market forecasts), key trade articles, a war game area for brainstorming, and a directory of internal contacts with knowledge of a particular subject that can be quickly leveraged for a brainstorm session.
According to NPD’s U.S. B2B Software and Cloud Tracking Service, one of the fastest growing markets of software is the content and collaboration market, which includes the aforementioned products, that will become more important in the future as companies want to mimic the behavior of the most innovative companies in technology (e.g., Google, Apple, Microsoft). For channel partners that want to help organizations with their information management strategies, which include human intelligence and analytics, it is important to ensure employees are contributing from all facets of the organization and marrying both worlds to come up with innovation solutions.
Remember, we are living in two worlds, the data-driven world and the world that adds the context to it through things like market intelligence and foresight; and you must be strong in both if you’re going to innovate ahead of the curve. A key for channel partners is helping organizations understand where those stovepipes of information are and ensure you are unlocking and sharing that information, which ultimately leads to competitive advantage.