How to Implement Micro-Innovation in a Corporate Environment?

11.05.2019

Innovation teams. Corporate accelerators. The list goes on. For many companies, making inroads into digital transformation is too big a project to tackle. They may not have the resources to build a team exclusively dedicated to innovation, or their own accelerator. But, the cost of not doing anything at all is simply too high. Companies risk not setting themselves up for future growth and falling behind their competitors.

Digitally maturing companies innovate at far higher rates than their less mature counterparts. In an MIT Sloan Review study, eighty-one percent of respondents from innovative companies cite it as a strength of the organization, compared with only 10% from companies that are just starting to innovate. That’s a big gap!

One way to close it is micro-innovation. The beauty of micro-innovation is that you can start setting the foundation for larger scale innovation later. This is especially true if your organization is throttled with obstacles to innovation like legacy processes or fear of change. Here are 5 micro-innovations that will start to get you there.

1. Create a Culture of Innovation

One way to be more innovation-oriented is to redefine your company or department’s mission around innovation. Rather than stating your mission in generic terms like “best product” or “best customer service,” you can reframe your mission around how you’re trying to change your customer’s world for the better. As an example, Coca Cola’s mission is to “refresh the world, inspire moments of optimism and happiness, create value and make a difference.” Strong mission statements attract better employees and boost the morale of existing ones, key ingredients to overcome obstacles and tackle innovation.

2. Give Employees More Latitude to Innovate in their jobs

According to the same Sloan study, nearly five times as many survey respondents from innovative companies report that their organizations that they’re given enough resources to innovation. Their research also found a strong relationship between a company’s rate of digital innovation and its employees’ confidence that the organization will be stronger in the future.

One way to do it is to encourage intrapreneurship, the concept of making employees more entrepreneurial inside of the organization. That could include giving employees unstructured time to experiment, done most famously by Google. Another popular approach is to emphasize learning that’s fast and cheap and place less stigma around failure. Finally, you can recognize employees’ contributions to the innovation process, whether through monetary incentives, innovation awards, or recognition programs.

3. Collaborate with Partners

The Sloan study further found that 80% of innovative organizations cultivated it through partnerships, while only one-third of early-stage innovative companies did. Partnerships can be one way to sideline internal obstacles to innovation and inject some creative juice into your organization. If you do it, do it more like innovative companies do that tend to form less formal, controlled relationships. Rather than detailed contracts, they rely on relational governance. Of course, formal partnerships can still serve a vital role in collaboration and often exist as part of larger business ecosystems.

4. Create Cross-Functional Teams from Existing Employees

So you may not be ready to put together a new innovation team, but how about a scrappier cross-functional team recruited from your existing employees? Typically cross-functional teams need at least two roles represented: a product manager and a lead engineer or developer, but the rest is up to you and depends on your organization, industry, and innovation needs.

Not only are innovative companies more likely to use cross-functional teams, those teams generally function differently in more innovative organizations than in less. The teams are given greater autonomy and they’re evaluated as a unit. You’ll get better results if they’re supported by senior management, but work with what you have and let the results speak for themselves if they must.

You’ll know your cross-functional team is making headway when they start shirting from thinking about projects in the traditional sense of annual budgets and start thinking about products in a disruptive sense of business outcomes. It’s the difference between, “Does this need X dollars?” and “How many products with different business outcome goals can we fund?”

5. Create Strong Governance

Finally, it’s important that organizations create strong policies that protect both the autonomy and integrity of innovation projects. According to the same study, innovative companies were more likely to have ethics policies in place to govern digital business. Policies alone, however, are not sufficient. Only 35% of respondents across both innovative and companies in early-stage innovation said their company is talking enough about the social and ethical implications of their digital initiatives. However you do it, remember to take into account privacy and other issues that may be increasingly top of mind for your customers.

Putting It All Together

One benefit to micro-innovation is that it mitigates the risk of caging innovation in labs, accelerators, teams, or departments. Instead, it facilitates what is at the heart of truly innovative companies: a digital ecosystem. By aligning your mission statement with innovation, encouraging intrapreneurship, leveraging digital partnerships, recruiting existing employees into product-oriented teams, and creating policies that are mindful of the full impact of digitization, organizations will find themselves micro-innovating much of the way towards full innovation.

Melika Nouri
Melika Nouri is the Marketing & Communications Manager at Kloeckner Metals. Melika holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Marketing from Kennesaw State University. She previously worked in the technology industry at Hewlett Packard Enterprise as part of their global MarCom team but is very eager to take on steel!
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