In a recent article from Harvard Business Review, researchers reported that one of the most common barriers to innovation is internal politics. But the second most commonly cited barrier was cultural issues. When we looked at that response, we were wondering how a company culture might be inhospitable to innovation and we looked at some of our most commonly reported customer reported obstacles for an answer.
Lack of Time for Innovation
This was the major barrier for most of our customers. This usually means that innovation goals are not a dedicated practice, but something that employees are expected to do in addition to their other existing responsibilities. Making space for experimental activities can have enormously positive consequences for new ideas – most famously Google’s 20% rule (employees spend 80% of their time on the job they were hired for but have freedom to spend 20% of their time on any other project they want) – after all gmail was a 20% time project originally. Can you make innovation someone’s dedicated role and can you give other employees more flexibility in their job description?
No Support from Senior Management for New Ideas
A passion for new ideas and a tolerance for risk starts at the top. Does senior leadership reward new bets and do they celebrate lessons learned from ideas that fail to launch? If you’ve got an innovation program at your company, but no one associates it with the company leadership it’s unlikely to be seen as a company mandate. So when you launch a program, make sure that your CEO or other leaders are part of your messaging strategy.
No Process for Managing Ideas and Testing Concepts
Maybe your leadership is totally bought in, maybe your team has the freedom to test and share new concepts… but if there’s no process to actually do so, it’s unlikely that those ideas will make it to launch. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest problems to solve. If you have some team members dedicated to continuous innovation, they can start by architecting an initial process and then iterate and improve that process over time.
No surprise that a lack of budget would be a barrier for innovation. New ideas need resources. If you’re not finding some room in the budget to prototype and learn, you’re not likely to keep pace with the changing market. We often recommend to our customers that they look for process improvement innovations that will save money first and then re-investing that savings into more experimental concepts in the next round.