Breaking Down Barriers
Tom Flaherty is a partner with Strategy&, part of the PwC network, with over forty years of consulting experience. Most recently, he has led assignments related to standing up innovation programs and capabilities within utilities.
Breaking Down Barriers
When executives constantly hear about how they should focus on innovation in their businesses, they typically have an immediate reaction. They wonder what this new version of innovation looks like compared to what they have been doing for years.
Most executives will retort they have long been exhorting their teams to reach beyond their grasp, reinvent their future, or embrace a similar colloquial phrase. But these executives will also acknowledge what they have historically been asking for was either grounded in a traditional view of business success or unspecific about expectations or outcomes.
Executives can legitimately believe that the innovation they have been pressing their teams to pursue has been about continually enhancing operations. Yet this version of innovation was always destined to be more limited than the version needed for today's marketplace, which is about reshaping the business.
Executives outwardly struggle with the notion that they now need to focus on becoming more visibly innovative. After all, hasn't this been their mission for decades? But it is also why the needed focus of tomorrow's innovation is so different and why a real challenge exists to remove barriers to success.
Innovation Scope: Much of the industry's innovation effort has been directed at doing what comes naturally: improving the business. This is something that all employees understand and feel comfortable about. Let's call this the core business foundation and simple innovation. Support for that will be ubiquitous.
With evolving technology and more engaged customers, the demands on the business bring more than an operational focus to light. Here's where it gets murky for companies as the change level is substantially greater. It means raising the bar to essentially remake the business. Let's call this advanced innovation, which will be far less prevalent or achievable than the simple innovation referred to above.
Finally, at the next level, companies are challenged to adapt to a future that they can imagine, although they cannot yet clearly envision its parameters. Let's call this break-through innovation, which offers the prospect of dramatically redefining the business. This form of innovation will be the toughest for employees to master and will occur infrequently. It means redesigning the business models in ways never believed necessary, or possible.
Innovation Responsibilities: Executives who embrace innovation hold a basic tenet about how to best achieve expected outcomes. They believe it is no single group or person's responsibility to drive innovation: it is everyone's obligation.
While this is a practical notion, it is not without its imperfections. The future market environment is so different that employees need more than a general statement of encouragement about their role from the executive level.
It is difficult to move an organization toward the embrace of innovation. It is impractical to believe that employees can speedily move toward an uncertain goal where landing lights may be missing.