Knowledge

Internal Innovation – Look within for the answer

Internal Innovation – Look within for the answer main image

Internal Innovation covers approaches that focus on the resources, ideologies, processes, and people within a company, meaning potentially harnessing and exploring HR, R&D, company policy, employee engagement, management structures, legal conventions and more.

Meeting Theme

While many distinct definitions of Internal Innovation coexist across the Corporate landscape, there is a thread and theme that generally unites those divergent framings. Corporate Innovation broadly takes an openminded look both within and beyond a corporation’s walls to consider ways to progress that corporation commercially and culturally – using technology, business methodologies, incubators, accelerators, corporate venturing and partnerships with external companies. Internal Innovation specifically covers approaches that focus on the resources, ideologies, processes, and people within a company, meaning potentially harnessing and exploring HR, R&D, company policy, employee engagement, management structures, legal conventions and more.

As such, ‘employee engagement’ stands as a significant – if not defining – a subset of Internal Innovation. Internal Innovation also considers the human element of the customer base as well as the workforce, and emphasises company dogma, and engendering flexibility in Corporate culture and transformation of impact beyond the walls of a company.

Employee engagement’s ultimate goal, meanwhile, is to have employees looking forward to getting to work. The logic is a simple one; staff that is engaged with the effort and forward journey of their employer will perform at their best and help push a Corporation forward.

The November meeting saw experts in Internal Innovation share key insights into defining, implementing and benefiting from both approaches, as well as offering working case studies, and showcasing technology that can support and accelerate such initiatives.

Key Takeaways

The core tenets of productive Internal Innovation

Internal Innovation can incorporate many elements and approaches, but the following are arguably most important:

  • Top-level staff communicating a strong, clear strategic narrative about a Corporation’s past, present and future is key, as it provides a ‘line of sight’ for employees and a Corporation to follow together. That narrative should be provided via a present, empowering leadership team.
  • Managers and middle managers must be trained in Internal Innovation, as they are vital to the approaches therein. They must motivate, stretch and focus their employees while treating them as the individual personalities they are.
  • Internal Innovation cannot exist without communication that is democratic, open and proactive. That means employees and board/C-suite should be free to communicate with one another, in both directions, and within their ranks.
  • Organisational integrity gives employees a cultural approach and moral compass to follow, which in turn accelerates and amplifies the process of innovating internally, and the benefits therein.

Corporations must be prepared to change and motivated to make change

Several speakers and audience members discussed the need for a willingness to change to embrace true Internal Innovation. In many cases, an entire shift in company dogma is required. Of course, change within large Corporations is not without challenge, meaning understanding and backing from the board/C-suite is essential. At both a Corporation- wide and individual level, it is essential to avoid seeking out only that which backs and supports existing beliefs and dogmas.

Idealism, authenticity, and Corporate benefit

As with the motivations behind the Corporate Accelerator Programs discussed in the previous Corporate Innovation Club meeting, an Internal Innovation strategy is only likely to succeed if the motivations behind it are authentic. Communicating clear and reasonable objectives and motivations throughout the Corporation’s hierarchy will enable this.

Internal transparency for Internal Innovation

For the broad process of Internal Innovation to progress and make an impact, transparency is essential, as it engenders the flow of ideas, the recognition of problems, changes in dogma and process, and the propagation of solutions.

Engagement and alignment deliver the most innovative, meaningful results by far when addressed in unison

Balancing engagement with targeted progress

To meet its potential at both an individual and Corporation-wide level, Internal Innovation must be tempered with alignment. Teams dedicated to fostering Internal Innovation are of little potential without direction and organisation. Engagement and alignment deliver the most innovative, meaningful results by far when addressed in unison. At the Club’s meeting, the term ‘headless chickens’ was playfully applied to a hypothetical team of fully engaged employees who are not given focus and direction.

Using technology to harmonise employee voice

As detailed above, open, reliable and flowing communication is the catalyst of successful Internal Innovation and is vital for transparency. Technology can play a key role in facilitating that process, particularly through bespoke apps that provide staff at every level throughout every department within a Corporation a chance to talk openly on an internal forum (anonymously or under one’s name).

People before technology

In the field of Internal Innovation, it is important to remember that people come before technology and that technology without people is rarely – if ever – a productive solution or means to foster change. This is not mutually exclusive to the previous point.

Innovating internally through established office functions

While the long history of disciplines like HR, accounting, legal and compliance has seen those specialties become associated with convention and traditional thinking, they must be fully engaged and involved with Internal Innovation to meet its potential and aims. It was suggested that clearly defined strategies with regard to collaboration can do much to make office functions proactive in effective Internal Innovation. 4

External collaboration can be part of Internal Innovation

While Internal Innovation must always focus on a Corporation’s internal functions, being open-minded to external collaboration can help with the aims of Internal Innovation. As work becomes decentralised, the freelance life increases in its appeal to talent, and the gig and platform economy grows, sometimes an external expert can be the ideal agent to accelerate Internal Innovation.

For Further Consideration

  • How can a Corporation give staff agency and autonomy while regaining reasonable control?
  • As with many methods of Corporate innovation, thought must be put into how to avoid ‘initiative fatigue’ and keep up enthusiasm for the likes of Internal Innovation.
  • How can the largest corporations scale Internal Innovation to work at a personal level for tens of thousands of staff?