Pieces of paper to resemble light bulbs

We are all challenged with developing and deploying new products or practices that embody the latest business terminology of transformation, innovation or digitization. In other words, preparing and building for the future of the company.  

In most organizations, great ideas are in no short supply. You can garner really fresh insights from someone new to the company or, even better, new to the industry. You can also harvest a list of potential projects from someone with enough experience to intuitively know the gaps that need solving. Another option is simply checking in to see what Amazon or Apple are up to. Even the tried-and-true intense brainstorming session with a diverse internal team will usually give you some interesting paths to explore. 

But then what? Why do new projects frequently breakdown between idea generation and actual execution? Does this timeline sound familiar?

1. Ideas are plentiful but successful execution remains elusive.

2. Executive team embraces idea, but this doesn’t parlay into the everyday workload.

3. Innovators skip the ground level work of building the right political connections and support network for a project upfront, being too impatient for change and frustrated with the passive resistance of team status quo.

4. Great ideas and programs don’t get off the ground or get embraced by the masses. 

5. The next great idea starts back at step one.

In short, we let today’s work get in the way of tomorrow’s goals by not pulling a diverse innovation team and keeping them focused through execution.

The first offenders are the “eager beavers” or early adopters. This is where the breakdown begins to take place. Even if your company has a person or team in charge of innovation, when it comes to executing the plan and putting the project into daily work processes, odds are it isn’t that team who is in the position to make it successful without the total buy in up-front. And let’s face it, one of the biggest challenges for innovators is their frequent impatience for change and the corresponding frustration with corporate politics. They want to dive into the fix and hand over a total solution.

But this approach won’t pass the status quo set. The frontline staff and perhaps a level or two above them are not vested in the solution. They feel that while they’re out making the sale, building relationships and taking orders, the annoying eager beavers are just coming up with ways to make their lives more difficult. They tell themselves “it is simply the flavor of the month” and “if we just passively delay, maybe it’ll go away.” 

And, yet again, another attempt at innovation fails and you’re back to square one. 

So what does work? Cross-functional teams with mutual accountability to build the buy-in before committing to a project, paired with a management commitment to support the initiative. Then, allowing teams to focus all the way through execution, especially before layering competing projects into the mix. 

These cross-functional teams allow insight from all angles while building vested interest in the success of the program. But all disruptive, future building programs take time for critical mass adoption. A continued focus after launch until adoption will be imperative.  

Tina Serio Saunders, I.C.E., MBA, ACT is president of SonicTrain, LLC, creators of The Arena gamification platform, and director of marketing and innovation at Nichols. She is an industry leader in marketing technologies and has led development on numerous sales tools. She has provided training, strategic management consulting and marketing implementation around the country. Her insight comes from over 20 years industry management experience. You may contact her at 419-297-0822 or tina@sonictrain.com.