By: Noah Rue
Industry leaders recognize the importance of innovation in product development and business processes. Investing in the latest innovation seems like an ideal step forward, but it’s also a risky investment for anyone concerned with ROI. This can apply to anything from technological upgrades (and requisite training) to a change in management structure.
To explore innovation gaps, let’s look at some areas of improvement you may need to address in regards to business technology and management structure.
What is the Innovation Gap?
The innovation gap describes a situation in which a company has a need to evolve a function of their business but lacks the resources to make that conversion. Often, especially in small businesses, they don’t have the budget, workforce, or in-house expertise to make it happen. As a result, they can:
- Try to adapt on their own, with trials and errors that can result in lower productivity and decreased employee morale.
- Hire a consultant, who has to learn and understand the business challenges before implementing real solutions.
- Innovate from within by cultivating creative culture, which also takes time and trust.
The innovation gap also increases and reflects existing communication issues, but it provides opportunities to make great change.
Communication Software Upgrades
You have a growing workforce utilizing a host of software tools to conduct their daily business. This can create a significant amount of redundancy. These tools can include:
- CRM: Software to manage B2C and B2B relationships.
- Email: Means of communicating quickly with internal and external clients.
- Database: A proprietary or third-party solution to store data securely.
- Internal communication: A chat and file-sharing platform like Slack, which enables coordination and collaboration over various text channels.
- Video communication: Skype for Business or a similar software solution provides face-to-face chat opportunities.
- Centralized employee documents and communication: Usually managed by HR, this is an area for employees to find all the resources they need, like electronic timesheets and information about time off.
- Project management tools: Teams use software like Trello or Basecamp to manage projects; sometimes each team in an organization uses a different tool.
- Official update or changelog: Once someone makes changes in a policy or procedure, they have to record it somewhere.
- Job-specific tools: Depending on an individual’s role, they may need several other software tools to do their job. A public relations manager, for example, might access up to eight separate social media platforms and a PR tool like Cision.
- Centralized reporting: A place to create and store dashboard-level reports.
In addition to updating all those tools, teams need to present metrics, often in a dashboard format, which requires adding data from multiple existing sources.
As you can imagine, managing all these software systems is mentally taxing, costs a lot in software fees, and creates a lack of cohesion in the workplace to interface efficiently. Bringing in a consultant to evaluate and provide a more centralized solution, however, could cost a lot of money. New procedures also means retraining the workforce.
What happens when a company fails to take that option? They’re stuck with the same redundancies, and they fall behind competitors who began to innovate sooner, even with greater risk.
Startups often don’t love the standard flat management structure. It’s not agile enough to meet the demands of innovations required and the employees they have to meet them. In fast-paced environments, employees need to constantly shift to meet demands and budgets.
Management considering other structures as a solution may come across holacracy, a purpose-driven structure providing autonomy and role-sharing for their workforce. This may be just what they need to get the job done.
If you decide on this structure, take a look at what goes into making the change. Hiring a consulting agency to implement the program over the course of a year or more and redirecting skilled employees to accommodate the switch will likely be necessary.
Unfortunately, while the company’s demand for innovation may be immediate, the solutions only provide long-term ROI. Addressing a gap in business innovation in this fashion takes time, so plan carefully.
Fake it Until You Make it
This strategy might work for an Instagram personality, but it’s no way to run a business, especially not in highly competitive fields such as medicine. Rushing innovation in critical areas of industry can result in not only missteps in the market, but painful amounts of litigation, as was the case in five major lawsuits in 2018. Limited trial sizes and durations and the pressure for profit often rushes pharmaceutical companies to innovate, develop, and test quickly in an effort to rush to market as soon as the Food and Drug Administration permits.
The same rush and risk led to unsafe manufacturing practices resulting in the development of mesothelioma in women who work in doll assembly. If these facilities had gone through a more complete inspection process, they might have discovered this issue before damage was done.
Instead, consider embracing a transparent approach. As you are able, let your employees and the general public know about your successes, failures, current developments and mistakes. With the help of a lawyer, take the time to truly apologize when your business has done harm — and always ensure your products and services are fully tested before going to market.
Rely on Intrapreneurship
One way to acquiesce to necessary change at a more constant pace involves intrapreneurship. This means looking inward, including innovation in product or service development. Some employees and their personality types naturally respond to this — they’re entrepreneurs themselves but crave the stability of a full-time, corporate role.
Google is a leader here, giving 20% of free time to engineers hoping to pursue work on their own projects. They know that individual innovation benefits the company. Google even provides facilities and resources for individuals ready to explore their individual passions. They let the employee lead (or risk innovation burnout).
Self-directed intrapreneurship also allows employees the chance to progress and expand their own skill sets as they wish.
By trusting your employees to help you eliminate the innovation gap, you can minimize your risk and invest in lasting talent that will improve your company’s long-term outlook.
About the author
Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, an ESL teacher, and an all around good dude, if he doesn’t say so himself.