Director of Innovation Development
Great ideas can come from anywhere. This includes:
- Outside in – customer and partner feedback, consumer technology and market trends
- Top down – executive vision, existing products or technology framework
- Inside out – your employees’ domain, customer and business knowledge
At Motorola Solutions, our process for “outside in” and “top down” innovation is based off of immersive customer research. We observe and work side by side with our customers. For example, we put on uniforms, participate in fire and SWAT training, ride along on patrol and follow first responders as they address emergencies. We do this to better understand their personal challenges and end-to-end operations, and then we identify opportunities to innovate to help them be their best in the moments that matter.
From an “inside out” perspective, we have an innovation framework that takes internal crowd sourcing to a new level, giving us a balanced approach to cultivating employees’ best ideas and protecting them through our patent strategy. These seven steps will help you implement a similar “inside out” approach to innovation at your company.
Step 1: Create a Scalable Platform for Success
An innovation framework is a global, scalable platform created to harness the creative talents of your employees while staying in alignment with your corporate strategy. It’s a strategic approach to innovation from the inside out that provides a way to act on new ideas. And without a framework, you would just have a collection of ideas.
The goals for an innovation framework are straightforward:
1. Positively impact your organizational culture;
2. Increase employee engagement in the innovation process; and
3. Generate a constant stream of ideas that have measurable business impact.
A framework, infused with social media tools, helps facilitate collaboration among global employees and creates an online environment (with offline local leadership) where they can build on existing ideas, comment, vote, or submit their own ideas. In our innovation framework, we welcome random breakthrough ideas. However, we have found that building targeted challenges (see “step 5”) helps us build on our collective expertise from across the globe.
For example, we are creating a global, virtual water-cooler conversation and ideas exchange. Employees from Poland are exchanging ideas with others in Malaysia and the U.S., and seeing comments by teams in China, Germany and the U.K. Now that’s powerful!
Step 2: Establish the Right Organizational Principles
A key to promoting innovation across your organization is to establish a community of innovation champions. They are highly-talented, hand-picked advocates with extensive business connections and reach who represent business units and regional teams. They promote a powerful exchange of ideas for large challenges that have a significant impact on the business. At Motorola Solutions, they support our hub-and-spoke innovation framework model that is centralized within our Chief Technology Office.
Step 3: Engage your Organization’s Employees
The true test of any concept is how others ultimately grasp and accept it, and make it their own. Bringing the right people together in the beginning can mean a better chance for success in the end. That’s the power of the innovation framework and the network of innovation champions that support it. They consistently promote, evangelize, coach and encourage teams to innovate. Because innovation champions are embedded in the businesses where decisions to adopt new ideas are made, they are the ideal candidates to evaluate, challenge and decide whether to bank ideas or pursue them. This close coupling of resources is essential to the success and sustainability of the program.
Step 4: Build an Idea Management Tool
An idea management system comprises a critical part of the innovation framework. It makes it easy for employees to participate and brings transparency to this process. Ours begins with an interactive portal where every idea is tracked and a history is established. All ideas submitted must be reviewed and feedback is stored in the system. As ideas progress, innovators are automatically updated when a new state is reached or a comment is submitted. The tool also supports social collaboration with both innovation champions and subject-matter experts to filter ideas and focus more resources around high-potential ones.
Step 5: Focus on Targeted Innovation
In addition to fostering the open exchange of ideas, having an innovation framework also functions to challenge internal stakeholders to solve specific problems. We call this “targeted innovation.” It begins with a challenge from a business, customer or industry trend. Background, scope and duration information is provided to ensure focus is applied to the right areas. By focusing ideation activities where there is a business need, the probability of a concept being adopted is much greater.
When we first established our innovation framework, we used targeted innovation campaigns—focused on improvements to existing products and features—to train employees on this new approach to collaboration and innovation. These have since evolved to address cross-business and technology challenges to spur more disruptive thinking and ideas.
Step 6: Manage the Backend of Innovation
A rigorous triage process helps ensure that ideas are reviewed frequently and efficiently. Concepts that immediately show promise or align to business strategy move forward, while those that do not are banked for later consideration. This process consists of a number of idea states, beginning with “submitted (new)” and either ending with “adopted” or “banked.” Our triage process is built on the premise of reducing risk, while providing incremental funding, rewards and recognition as ideas move forward. The ultimate goal is to quickly identify and adopt high-impact business ideas.
Step 7: Celebrate Successes!
With a rich history of innovation, Motorola Solutions has long recognized contributions to our breakthrough solutions, technologies and intellectual property rights (IPR) portfolio with both monetary and performance-based awards. Our innovation framework makes global contributions more visible at the individual, facility and business unit level. This promotes a more innovative and accountable culture. Several innovators have commented that their greatest reward is having their idea acknowledged and acted upon.
Pulling it all Together
From leadership sponsors to employees, it takes engagement from all levels across a company to make an innovation framework successful. The rewards of seeing ideas grow to prototypes and, ultimately, to new customer deliverables, keep innovators looking for what’s next. And when pulled together, these seven steps create a powerful, collaborative system to ignite innovation at your company.
About the Author:
Heidi Hattendorf is director of Innovation Development at Motorola Solutions. She brings more than 20 years of experience in telecoms from public safety and two-way radio, to consumer mobile phones and network solutions on 3G/4G. She heads up an Innovation team focused on identifying and creating new opportunities in adjacent markets and technologies to drive growth. Learn more about innovation at Motorola Solutions.
- This article first appeared in Innovation Management magazine.