Innovation Is About Process As Much As Ideas

When we think about change and innovation, we tend to think about the idea or the inspiration that drives that change. We think that if we can just find the perfect goal, then everything else will fall into place around it. Based on my experience working with multiple leaders across government and in my own work leading a company, nothing can be further from the truth. Ideas and inspiration are important, no doubt, but without a disciplined process to put that idea into action, you really have nothing but words. As you create a strategy, spend 10% of your time on the vision and 90% of your time building the structure to implement it. Most likely the vision will morph and change as you go through the process of implementation so you shouldn’t spend too much time perfecting it up front. One resource that has shaped the way I approach implementing change is a popular business book called, Traction. I’ve adapted some of the lessons from the book for my own company, Corner Alliance, and I regularly apply its lessons to client environments. Here are four lessons that I have seen help my own and many other organizations in implementing new strategies.

Right People, Right Seats: I’ve yet to meet a leader who doesn’t think that having good people isn't important or more accurately the most important priority for an organization. Traction takes that idea one step further. You should seek out people who fit with the skills needed and the values of your organization, but you should also pay close attention to whether those people are in the right positions. You’ll often find someone who is a great cultural fit and is strongly aligned with the organization’s vision but they struggle in their position. At other times you might look to the outside for an “experienced” resource when an internal candidate without all the skills could be a more effective option. Hire for fit and train for skill as they say. 

It could be that by allowing a current employee to explore other roles or adjusting his or her responsibilities could yield tremendous benefits. Would the person with an internal compliance role be better off in the field with stakeholders or vice versa? Would someone be more effective with fewer staff management responsibilities or more? A key difference maker for organizations it to make sure the people you have aligned with your organization and its goals are in the best roles for them. As a leader, it’s far more important that you look around the table and feel confident that you have the right people in the right seats than it is to have the most optimized strategy.

The one-page strategy: Don’t overcomplicate things. The more clearly and consistently you can communicate the vision you are trying to achieve, the more likely you are to make progress. Traction has a two-page plan and organizer, but I challenge leaders to boil what they are trying to do down into one page if at all possible. Complicated, multi-phased plans are hard to digest. The urge to be thorough often ensures that few people can digest the contents of a plan. There are effective ways to communicate your vision, goals, initiatives, and metrics concisely. What, a one-page plan lacks in thoroughness will be made up for many fold in its effectiveness.

The weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly meeting cycle: Create a rhythm for checking in on implementation and a set process for refreshing the strategy. I recommend starting with a yearly planning session to establish the one-page strategic plan. Set the vision, yearly goals, and quarterly initiatives to reach those goals. Once your plan is set, you begin your implementation process.

We’ve found that weekly leadership team meetings are essential. If you meet less frequently, you can’t stay on top of the key issues affecting the organization. People will simply find other ways to get their problems addressed. If you meet more frequently, it’s an overkill. On a monthly basis, it’s also good to do an organization wide meeting to communicate progress on the plan and field questions. Quarterly you meet for a long time to assess your progress and to refresh the initiatives the organization will take on for the next quarter. The weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly meeting cycle creates a rhythm that can help propel a strategy and organization forward.

Regular Communications: This is the hardest lesson to learn. As a leader, you often get trapped by your own perspective. You assume that other people know the status of key initiatives or the state of the organization because that’s largely what you talk about all the time. Of course people know, right? Wrong, in reality, you need to over-communicate. I recommend sending out weekly summaries of the key outcomes from the leadership team meetings that are appropriate to share. This helps those in the organization who aren’t in leadership meetings to keep tabs on the strategy. The monthly meetings mentioned above are also important tools in your communications strategy. We also recommend cloud based tools like Yammer and in particular, Slack, that enhances team and cross-company communication. These are certainly not the only lessons from Traction or other sources for creating a process to implement change and innovation. These are just a few I’ve found that are relatively easy to implement and can make a huge difference. In my experience, if you know that you have a great team, a clear strategy, accountability, and good communications you are light years ahead of most organizations.