patrick-perkins-350622

The Biggest Innovation Hurdle: Getting to Why

Summary: When you are driving to innovation, target key stakeholders (like Customers and your internal Front Line) and address their concerns. This approach will help pull change through the organization.

I like it when my on-line posts lead to in-person conversations …

“Ok”, said my technically astute friend, “I read your last post – and I have plenty of questions, born out of plenty of frustration, since I can’t seem to get the attention of The Decision Makers. I mean, think about it; the technology innovations that are coming fast and thick; robot bartenders, brilliant slot cars, fitness trackers, and chasing around Pokemon …”

“Seriously? You went in with ‘Pokemon’?”

“No no no … I mean, yes … but look what those things represent: advanced automation, artificial intelligence, IoT and analytics, augmented reality. How can we get folks in marketing or product development to understand and appreciate how this Cool New Tech can bring innovation to our company?”

“Well, there’s your first mistake”, I countered, “because your question is flawed from the outset. You are so focused on the How – the technology – that you completely skip over the Why.”

<aside> This is a pretty classic mistake that technologists routinely make. I remember a specific, pointed conversion many years ago, with a General Manager that was warning me (the New Guy) against focusing on ‘Technology for Technology’s sake’. Tell me how it impacts my supply chain, he said, and you have my attention</aside>

“Fine”, my friend continued, “then how do we make that next step? How do you get to the right Why?”

“Just ask the folks who are making the decisions”, I explained, “the key stakeholders. Does your organization drive priorities from what the shareholders on Wall Street are expecting? What about the Board, or Executive Management – any key initiatives being handed down? Or the local General Manager, or the Functional Area leads – what is in their Goal Deployment plans, or their Annual Performance Objectives?”

“Seriously? That approach doesn’t sound very original or innovative …”

“Great” I said, “then flip your point of view, and approach from the other direction. What about the ‘front line’, the folks in your organization that interact directly with your Customers? Or the Customers themselves – what are they looking for? What important needs are they finding it hard to fill? What’s missing?”

“Sounds simple”, said my friend, “but not so fast. How exactly are we supposed to get input from the customer, or the Front Line employees? They aren’t publishing their requirements on the Intranet, or in those long detailed PowerPoints that we get from Management?”

I smiled on the inside – a classic question, one that I have asked myself over the years, countless times …

“Why – just ask them! Go out on the floor, among the cubicles, out to the sales meetings. Ask to ride along on service calls, or join in on the customer visits. Just talk to them – they’ll probably be happy someone is actually listening, and loaded with practical, valuable ideas on applying innovative thinking, tools, and processes.”

“And here’s the trick” I continued. “You have to hold these opinions, this input, at an equal level of value with the direction you are getting ‘from above’. Management will tell you what the Big Initiatives are, but your customer-facing Front Line are the ones having the daily conversations with the Customer.”

These two groups – Front Line and Customers – are the most important constituents in this value generating, innovation-hungry system. Listen to what these two important groups are saying – and then make that message fit with the ‘big picture’ ideas from Corporate.

Better yet – ignore the buzzwords, pay attention to the real, meaningful needs that are being expressed – and make that ‘bottom up’ input the real Why of your innovation ideas.

The Customer is the one who makes the ultimate purchase decision …

The Front Line team are the ones that deliver on the promise …

Everything else is just chasing the latest shiny thing …

# 21 January, 2018

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.