By: Dr. Evans Baiya
Avoid these four communications landmines as you navigate the stages of innovation.
Innovation can sometimes feel like a winding journey that includes steps forward, backward and sideways. There are even landmines along the way that can stall or derail the process. These landmines are often communication points that, if not properly structured, will cause dysfunction, disengagement, lack of ownership, and lack of creativity within a team or an organization.
When this happens, what could be a groundbreaking idea is as good as dead. You need successful communication during each of the Six Stages of Innovation, or your team will fail to complete the innovation journey. Avoid communication sabotage by being aware of these four landmines.
The Purpose Landmine
To avoid stalling your innovation efforts, the purpose of your innovation must be clear. As a leader you must be able to communicate the “why” behind what your company is doing or what your innovation will achieve to employees, executive teams, stakeholders, and customers.
For example, if you want to create a new product, first ask why. Why this product? Why now? Asking yourself why will help expand the clarity of your purpose and help you answer potential questions from employees, stakeholders, and customers. You may have the best idea for a new product, but if you cannot communicate your purpose in the right way, you won’t get very far. You may find yourself without executive support, funding, or employee buy-in for your innovation.
Consider the communication style that appeals most to each person as you explain why the innovation is important and why they should be personally engaged in the process. You cannot make people innovate. You can, however, invite them to innovate by convincing them that the opportunity is necessary and by sharing the important role they will play in overall success. When trying to inspire others to contribute, avoid authoritarian statements like, “Do this because the boss says so. Do that because the competition did it. Do it or you will lose your job.” This type of language isn’t stimulating or inviting.
The Inclusivity Landmine
One of the most frustrating workplace occurrences is being excluded from a conversation you should be a part of—and, unfortunately, this happens far too often in the corporate world. To avoid this landmine, give strategic thought to which stakeholders should be part of the different conversations around your initiatives. Ensure you include them in the right conversations and at the right stages of execution.
Everyone on your team innovates in different ways and is best included in the work at different stages of innovation. For example, not all stakeholders need to be involved in the first stage (Identify), but those who are critical contributors of ideas in the organization cannot be left out. The same goes for the Define Stage, the Develop Stage, and so on. Use tools such as the Innovation Fitness Report to better understand your employees and how they contribute to the different stages of innovation. Look closely at what you are trying to achieve and who has the skills, behaviors, and motivators needed to help accomplish the tasks at hand. If you fail to include these stakeholders in the right conversations at the right time, you are entering the dangerous territory of disengagement and dysfunction.
The Expectation Landmine
Be wary of overblown promises. Sometimes executives or board members will take an idea and make bold claims: “This idea will work! This idea must work!” Innovations do not always deliver on their promised outcomes. More often than not, they are a learning process. This landmine is all about avoiding the expectation of specific promised outcomes so that your project is not derailed when those outcomes are delayed, underachieved, or not met at all.
This doesn’t mean you need to downplay enthusiasm or passion for the project. Instead, set expectations that are informed through learning and experimentation. Spend ample time identifying the true problem to be solved, create a clear picture of the context in which the problem will be solved included timing and impact, and recognize that successful innovation is iterative through each of the stages. Once you have ideas and define them, you learn as you refine those ideas and plans. As you develop the ideas and experiment, you continue to gather information and improve—and adjust your expectations. Communication is key for sharing what you’ve learned and helping all stakeholders adjust their expectations throughout the process.
The Leadership Landmine
Have you ever been in an ideation meeting that ended in excitement, yet nothing came from those ideas? When leaders ask employees for ideas, yet don’t take the time to follow up afterward—even if it’s just to say, “We’re adding that idea to the idea bank and we won’t take any action on it now,” they lose trust and enthusiasm.
Innovation leadership is multifaceted, which makes communication, team support and team building critical. It also requires placing the right leaders in the right stages of innovation. Given that each stage requires different outcomes and different tools, it is absurd to think that one person can excel at every stage. The same goes with leaders—one leader cannot effectively lead all the teams through each of the six stages. Sometimes a team member who is strong in that stage will be the right person to lead the activities in that stage.
Not all communication is equal. Think about all four landmines during your innovation journey. You may communicate your purpose well enough, include all stakeholders, and understand the needed leadership styles, but if you can’t communicate expectations, everything stalls. You need to communicative effectively to avoid all four landmines—and take your idea all the way from brainstorm to successful innovation.
About the Author
Dr. Evans Baiya is an internationally recognized and trusted guide to business leaders and innovators. Using his 6-stage process, he helps the businesses identify, define, develop, verify, commercialize, and scale ideas so the businesses and individuals can learn, grow, and thrive. He is the co-author of the award-winning book, The Innovator’s Advantage and co-creator of The Innovator’s Advantage Academy, a detailed step-by-step innovation training. Learn more at TheInnovatorsAdvantage.com.