Innovation is unquestionably central to any company’s future. Even in mature industries where change is slow, ripple effects can catch even the sharpest team off-guard. This raises the question, should there be team members whose entire job is to collect ideas, research potential changes, and create innovation? Should you have a dedicated innovation department?
How Innovation Departments Work
Innovation departments resemble in-house think-tanks and research and development departments to some degree. As this infographic lays out, these departments have six main tasks:
- Educate employees about potential innovation
- Formulate and share best practices
- Collect ideas from team members
- Share ideas across the whole organization to better refine them and increase buy-in
- Facilitate communication across departments and teams
- Perform internal and external research
It’s worth remembering that every employee should be engaged in this. What sets an innovation department apart is they serve as a resource to encourage and guide your people through the innovative process. For example, if you manufacture a physical product, an innovation department might work with your design department and fabrication team to create a prototype of an employee’s idea. If the idea has promise, the innovation department would craft a committee to refine it and scale it up to a deliverable product.
Having an innovation department also creates a group that’s entirely dedicated to pushing the company forward in ways both large and small. An innovation department can often pay for itself simply by finding and refining procedures and seemingly tiny changes that have outsized impacts.
What Are The Benefits?
One fair question is the difference between an innovation department and a simple innovation initiative. Innovation platforms, open-door policies, and similar institutional approaches will help people speak up about their ideas and approaches. A department dedicated solely to innovation, though, gives them a place to go and a channel for ideas and energy to flow through. A suggestion box can’t shake your hand or compliment your thoughtfulness.
An innovation department ensures that every stakeholder has a voice in the process. An idea that’s a great benefit for the company might fall flat with your customers. A good innovation department has experience in, and connections to, every stakeholder an idea might touch.
Innovation departments also often unearth unexpected data. A big part of the job of any innovation department is simply listening to people as they talk about their needs, expectations, and the tools that will help them deliver better ideas. In some cases, the innovation will turn out to be less about a new product or bold new direction, and more about refining policies and procedures to be more efficient and thoughtful.
A final benefit is simply that teams will see their ideas from the rough drawing they made or the email they were inspired to send turn into something tangible that has a real effect on the company. Employees want to feel like they’re having an impact, that they’re actually changing their workplace or the world for the better. Innovation departments help make that happen.