Innovation is about diplomacy as well as creativity.
Central to any innovation process is stakeholder management. Any idea that you have will have ripples up and down both your company and your vendors, customers, government agencies you work with, and even the general public, in some cases. All should be involved in the process to some degree, making innovation processes as much about people skills and diplomacy as engineering. How should we balance these sometimes competing needs?
Build A Common Language
Just like any act of diplomacy, the first step is ensuring that the same words mean the same thing to everybody at the table. “Tolerance” can mean very different things to an engineering team and a legal team. Sit down and look closely for these pain points, terms that may not be understood by everyone or that may seem ambiguous in context, and work out the clearest language possible.
While you should try, as much as possible, to communicate with groups of stakeholders directly, it’s unlikely the entire department can drop everything and attend every meeting. So, put in a request that they choose a representative who can speak for the group, and who’s responsible for helping to keep the group informed and to collect ideas and concerns from their team. This gives everyone a stake in the process without consuming everyone’s time.
It’s not just good manners to introduce stakeholders to each other. It also improves communication and helps make their ideas and thoughts more concrete in the minds of your innovation team. It’s much easier to write off a complaint from some anonymous member of the accounting department than it is to dismiss the concerns of Bob, the accountant who shared a coffee with everyone. This has a second benefit, too, helping your employees get to know each other and clients a little better.
Everyone needs a voice.
We’ve all had the experience of only being contacted by a person when they want something out of us. The best way to avoid looking like that person to a group of stakeholders is to keep in touch. Regularly reach out with what steps you’ve taken and ask for input. Send along information promptly when requested, and be available to discuss it. Invite them to meetings and conferences, and if they can’t make it, send along a summary.
Be Clear On Impact
With any innovation, each stakeholder should be able to walk away with a clear understanding of what they’ll be expected to do, and what will change in return. If an idea requires them to spend a few hours now to save dozens later, then they should fully understand that’s the case. If it’s going to save them money, they should have a figure, and that’s doubly true if it’s going to cost them money.
Run Pilots And Tests
Finally, don’t hesitate to put some rubber on the road and try your ideas out. A pilot program or a small test will cost minimal amounts of cash and effort while giving everyone who holds a stake in the program an idea of what it can do for them.
No innovation process will run entirely smoothly as a diplomatic operation. But if you keep everyone’s feelings, and what’s at stake, in mind, you can get everyone behind an idea and watch it soar. To learn more about people management and innovation, request a demo.