Agility - May 18, 2017

Five tips for driving organizational innovation

Any business can benefit from a jolt of innovation, including an 84-year-old industrial equipment distributor and a 94-year-old Canadian retailing icon. Gary Agnew, vice-president of Vancouver-based Finning Digital and Chris Greenfield of Welland, Ont.-based Canadian Tire Financial Services, constantly push their organizations to innovate by adopting new processes and technologies.

The two shared their thoughts on driving innovation within enterprises at the Wavefront Summit Internet of Things and digital transformation show in Toronto on May 1. Below are their tips for internal innovation champions:

1. Be a storyteller: It’s simpler to push for change by using a hypothetical illustration of what a business will look like after deploying new processes and technologies, or by using examples of what similar organizations have achieved through innovation. “Storytelling is the most powerful tool we have,” Agnew said. “From the time we’re infants we’re engaged in storytelling. We listen, pay attention to and remember stories.”

For instance, Agnew used examples of what happens when Agile management is deployed, rather than bog his audience down in methodology, when promoting it to Finning’s management team. Agile management involves breaking a project up into stages and interacting with stakeholders at every stage to constantly improve the end product.

2. The customer always comes first: When large organizations implement changes, they often forget to focus on customers and what change will mean for them. “You have to understand how the customer is feeling and be empathetic,” Greenfield explained.

3. Use visual tools: Visual tools and infographics help immensely in getting a message across, Greenfield said. It’s often simpler to explain a complicated process through images or models, rather than trying to explain it. “It can cost a bit of money, but your audience will know what you’re talking about,” he noted.

4. Be flexible: Selling innovation internally requires managers to be innovative themselves. “You have to be a MacGyver and constantly invent new tools to get your message across,” Greenfield said. A customer-experience walkthrough might be the best solution for one audience, while cutting and assembling images from magazines may tell the innovation story better for another group.

5. Put it into practice: Having a great, innovative idea isn’t enough. “You’ve got to have the wherewithal to transform the idea into a new product, new process or new business model,” Agnew said.

“Innovation always stands for change and risk,” Greenfield explained. “It’s something new. It’s not just an idea. It has to be seen through to fruition.”