Laura Petrolino

Four Tiers of Successful Business Innovation for PR Firms

By: Laura Petrolino | December 26, 2018 | 
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Four Tiers of Successful Business Innovation for PR Firms

Business innovation.

It probably something on your mind a lot right now.

You’ve either completed your 2019 planning or are revving up to nail it home in January with our 30-Day Communications Challenge.

In our increasingly rapidly-changing world, business innovation is one of those things we can’t not think about it.

Either we innovate, we grow and transform, and stay in front…or we fall behind. And at the rate of innovation around us, if we fall behind, we fall quickly behind.

We all just want and need to be gosh darn innovative.

We Get Stuck

Wanting to be innovative and actually being innovative are two different things. Innovation for its own sake is pointless, but many organizations sit there attempting to be innovative with no real focus, destination, or goals around which to anchor that task.

Additionally, most organization are not set-up to effectively facilitate innovation.

Today we are going to look at four organization tiers of successful business innovation. Each tier needs to be capable of innovation for an organization to effectively move forward.

If you are struggling to effectively innovate or looking to really hone in on business innovation in 2019, review each tier and see if you can isolate where your missing links are.

Are You Innovative?

While business innovation requires a cultural support system, that culture must be made up of individuals who have a skill and passion for innovation. Innovation can’t necessarily be assigned.

It’s not a task, but a process—one all individuals involved must feel vested in and excited about.

In many ways, this is a chicken and an egg scenario. You need to have a culture which supports innovative individuals, but to have that, you need to have individuals excited about business innovation.

This means both leaders and team members at all levels. However, it doesn’t mean everyone on your team needs to fill that role. The most successful teams are built of a variety of individuals, personalities, and interests. But you must have a core group of individuals who have this desire in their DNA to be part of the innovative process.

The Group Dynamics of Business Innovation

Beyond the individual is the group. An innovative individual will easily be squashed if the group culture which doesn’t support and reward business innovation.

The group level is where well-meaning organizations most often lose their innovation mojo.

Reasons why innovation stalls at the group level include:

  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Power struggles
  • Negative peer dynamics
  • Poor management
  • Insufficient or bad communication

This is why many organizations set up “innovation labs,” or groups just focused on the innovative process. Best known of these is probably Google X, but other organizations have them as well. These include places like Fidelity, Microsoft, and 3M.

While it’s really not feasible for a smaller organization to make hires that just focus on innovation, you can pull out individuals interested in being part of the process and create a space and set organization time where innovation is the goal and focus.

This means there is a clear structure, strategy, and leadership facilitation around the innovative process. It’s a focus and a goal, just like any other part of the business strategy. It also needs to be part of the group members own individual professional goals.

An Organization of Innovation

This is the level that often gets the most attention. With good reason—a culture of business innovation starts from the top (and then, as we’ve outlined already, must be facilitated all the way down to the individual level). 

This requires four elements:

  • A leadership lead prioritization of innovation.
  • An innovation “safe place.”
  • A framework for innovation to focus around.
  • An open-minded evaluation process.

Make Business Innovation a Priority

There must be a clear directive from leadership that business innovation is a priority.

This means organizational goals, group goals, and individual goals must encompass innovation. If they don’t, a culture of innovation will only exist in theory. Goals determine priorities. 

Consistently reinforce this priority. It’s very easy to have your prioritization of innovation ebb and flow based on convenience.

Have you gone through years you launch into the new year inspired, motivated, and with lofty dreams of innovative glory…only to fizzle out by February, crushed under the demands of your day-to-day.

Of course you have. We ALL have.

A good way to avoid this common scenario is to give yourself a timeline. Treat innovation like any other business objective and create a pretty clear timeline around it with specific goals.

That way it’s not this never-ending lofty project you can justify putting off. It’s a milestone in your annual strategic plan.

Create an Innovation Safe Place

Business innovation must feel (and be) safe.

This is a tough one. 

Google X requires failure from their team members. It’s one of their professional goals and when a team decides to kill a project or idea they’ve been working on, they actually get a bonus.

This does three things:

  1. Positions failure is a necessary part of a successful business innovation process.
  2. Helps people comfortably look for potential flaws or weak spots in ideas and projects.
  3. Makes it easier for teams to kill or make major changes to a project that might not be working.
  4. Prevents push forward on flawed projects or ideas simply because time and resources have already been allocated.

While you might not be able (or want) to give bonuses for failed innovation, it’s worth reading about the many ways Google creates a culture where it’s safe to fail (both for your business innovation work and general operations).

I recommend this article, as well as watching this TEDx talk . Both from Astro Teller, who leads Google innovation projects.

A Framework for Business Innovation

In a perfect world, innovation has free rein. In reality, it often helps to provide a structure so team members feel secure and focused in their efforts. This allows them to feel safe in an innovative space AND keep innovation focused on mission and goals.

Include things such as:

  • Technology constraints.
  • Legal constraints.
  • Financial guidelines.
  • Resource guidelines,
  • Overall execution capability.
  • Mission alignment.

The goal of this is not to restrict innovative creativity, but rather give it a structure to blossom in.

Be Open to Feedback and Change

Organizations and leadership must be open.

As Gini has often said, it’s hard to hear your baby is ugly.

A successful innovative leader is open to ideas. Even those not part of the initial vision or path..

It’s the leader’s job to make sure innovation stays aligned with the mission. But this can’t be an excuse to be rigid and unmoving when it comes to mission-aligned ideas which feel foreign or uncomfortable.

If you don’t want outside feedback as a leader, then don’t engage others in the business innovation process. But accept that once you decide to open it up to others, you must commit yourself to be open to things outside your vision.

Your Rules for Business Innovation

What’s missing here? What other elements would you add to facilitate effective business innovation?

Image from Pixabay

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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