The pandemic has forced organizations to look at their everyday operations from a new angle. But despite the difficulties, the crisis also presents some opportunities for the future.
We’ve all had to adapt to the new reality. Business have had no choice but to review their work methods and their range of products and services. Organizations have been forced to modify their activities, sometimes radically, operate within strict health rules or adopt new technologies.
Of course, the environment remains challenging for everyone. We encourage you to be attentive to this crucial issue for organizations: don’t neglect your own health or the health of your employees.
However, there’s another side to the coin. A major disruption like the current pandemic can give entrepreneurs the creativity boost they need to face the major obstacles in their way. As they adapt, businesses introduce innovative solutions, some of which just might be the answer to emerging market trends.
Sometimes, innovation can be hindered by the inability to turn a creative idea into a brand, a service or a product. The pandemic presents an opportunity to break through this hurdle and increase innovative capacity.
Can uncertainty be an accelerator of change and a source of innovation?
Historically, many iconic companies were created during periods of crisis. For example, Disney, CNN, Burger King, FedEx, General Electric, Microsoft, Apple, Gillette, 20th Century Fox, IBM, Hershey’s and Adobe were all founded during a recession. These success stories lead us to ask an important question: how can organizations benefit in such stormy situations?
The pressure that organizations face during a crisis leads to a sense of urgency that spurs senior management into action, whether it’s to grow the business or simply stay afloat. The need for change becomes obvious and the motivation to make change happen rises spontaneously. To keep the business going, innovation becomes a must.
What are the benefits of a corporate culture focused on innovation?
Businesses have a lot to gain from developing a culture of innovation, especially in the post-COVID era.
The first advantage is a better mobilized workforce. Layoffs, cuts to work hours and remote work have all taken a toll on employees. Involving the workforce in the company’s innovation approach sends out a clear message: employees are an integral part of the organization’s development initiatives. It also promotes social connectedness in the workforce and empowers employees to act confidently and independently. All these factors positively influence sense of belonging, motivation and performance at work.
The second advantage of developing a culture of innovation is the ability to meet the needs of the post-crisis era. Businesses that foster a culture of innovation tend to be more agile and therefore better able to deal with unexpected situations. No one can predict what the exact consequences of the crisis will be on society and individuals. However, it’s safe to assume that people’s needs and behaviours will change. Therefore, organizations need creative minds that will be able to rise up to the new challenges and adapt to new changes.
How to foster pro-innovation practices and a culture of innovation?
For businesses that have always relied exclusively on continuous improvement practices, stimulating innovation on a daily basis begins with changing the organizational culture. This shift does not happen overnight. It’s a long-term process guided by the organization’s core values and culture. Leaders play a key role in introducing and developing a culture of innovation at their organization.
Make innovation part of the message
The statements and decisions made by senior management should embody the values of teamwork and openness. Besides the role of management, successfully fostering a culture of innovation involves two other key actions:
- Involve employees
Innovation requires the involvement of all the individuals involved in the daily running of the organization. Although rarely used to their full potential, employees are undoubtedly an organization’s greatest asset in terms of ideas and innovation. While employees will need some time to adapt to the new approach, and indirect costs are involved, it should be seen as an investment. Possible ways to involve employees in innovation initiatives include:
- Brainstorming sessions;
- Project committees (permanent or ad-hoc) with a specific objective;
- Knowledge sharing sessions among employees, etc.
- Welcome failure as a step toward success
As human beings, we’re instinctively driven to glorify success and condemn failure. However, failure is often what leads us to eventually achieve success. With that insight, all individuals working at the organization must learn to welcome failure as an opportunity to improve, and it’s important for them to know that their managers support them using this approach. It can be very useful to give employees training on the processes and mindset of a culture of innovation. While it’s often easier to picture the final outcome, paying more attention to the process involved in getting there will facilitate the transition.
Adopt a culture of innovation across all policies and processes
You can’t promote innovation if you don’t adapt your organizational practices accordingly. In other words, in order to see results, staff management policies on pay, performance reviews, recognition, training, talent management and succession planning must all be aligned with the culture of innovation.
Strategic planning (the business model) and operational and administrative procedures also need to be adapted to reflect this cultural shift. In particular, integrating new technology can be an effective way to create innovation while improving organizational efficiency.
Propel your business forward with technology
Many innovations, especially those related to operational and administrative procedures, involve the development or integration of new technologies. Therefore, organizations should view innovation from an “Industry 4.0” angle as a means to improve the value proposition of their business model and boost their organizational efficiency.
Some technologies that facilitate communication between people can also indirectly spur innovation. For example, applications for collaborating and sharing ideas are now easily accessible on smartphones and tablets. That means people no longer need to physically be in the same room as their co-workers to participate in brainstorming sessions. The crisis can also become a source of creativity for employees, who are able to let their ideas flow and come up with new concepts for products and services. Remote communication tools can help harness this knowledge.
Now that you have some tips on how to start thinking of new ways to protect the continuity of your operations, take a step back and look at your business as a whole. What is your current business model? What skills do your current employees bring to the organization? And what might tomorrow look like if you let your creativity flow and rebuilt your business model today?
This article was written in collaboration with Éloïse Labrecque, a management advisor with Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.