Innovation Programs in Companies: The Rise of the Innovation Department

No matter how much technology has evolved over the years to help us work faster and smarter, it can also be a very disrupting force, compelling organizations to either adapt to these changes or get left behind.

To cope with this ever-changing business environment, companies are investing more in programs that aim to drive innovation and challenge traditional business models.

While there is no one-size-fits-all formula that works for every organization, your innovation program needs to follow an agile process framework that values early customer feedback, incremental investments, and stage-gate decision points. Put simply, you need to innovate systematically, not intermittently.

The reason for this is because a great deal of research has emerged that proves the power not just of valuable ideas but connections between valuable ideas. That’s why companies use systems like IdeaScale, where anyone (customers, employees, and partners) can submit ideas, combine ideas, build on the ideas of others, and work together to implement any necessary changes. That sort of transparency has proven invaluable for fostering connections between promising themes, ideas, trends, proposals, and early-stage concepts. But to manage complex and powerful corporate innovation programs like that, more and more companies are launching innovation departments to better manage the flow of ideas.

Innovation Department

IdeaScale’s annual research has confirmed that this trend is rising at an unprecedented pace. In fact, nearly 40% of IdeaScale’s customer base is managing their idea management program from an innovation department.  Other firms and forecasters are seeing this too, with Accenture reporting, “there is a gratifying increase in the number of innovation departments formalized within company structures.” This number has only continued to grow each year.

Like many emerging disciplines, however, there are some unique challenges, especially innovation departments are facing. Here are a few of the main ones:

No Established Resources. The roles and responsibilities for the innovation department aren’t yet established, which means that many organizations aren’t sure how to go about assembling a team.

How many team members should there be?

What type of innovation skills do they need to develop?

How much money should be allocated to your innovation program?

Unfortunately, if companies fail to assign adequate resources to these programs, it’s unlikely that they will succeed in the long run. New ideas need a runway for testing, and that runway requires money and people.

Lack of Collaboration. A key aspect of innovation is collaboration – both internally and externally. It can make or break a project. Bringing together customers, industry partners, and workers from different departments enable you to examine processes from multiple angles and continually improve them.

Developing Processes. For a long time, innovation was considered to be an activity that was exclusive to creators and inventors – and that it couldn’t be programmed or predicted. What innovation management has shown, however, is that good innovation is repeatable – but only when there’s a process for sharing and connecting ideas, building out and testing ideas, and socializing that success far and wide. An innovation department needs to provide structure to innovation as one of its responsibilities.

Unmotivated Employees. Many business leaders fear that innovation will distract their employees from their daily tasks. As a result, employees aren’t empowered to innovate. In order for your workforce to feel comfortable taking risks and testing out new ideas, they need the support of their supervisors and other members of executive management. This motivation can take the form of one-on-one meetings, contests, and incentive programs.

No Fixed KPIs. Finally, without a set of innovation metrics, innovation programs can’t track or articulate their value. As we’ve discussed in the past, there are a variety of things to measure from innovation inputs (like ideas generated and percentage of workforce trained in innovation) and innovation outputs (like revenue generated or customer sentiment improvement). Innovation programs in companies need to decide what to track early on and then report on it regularly.

If you want your organization to be successful in the long-term, innovation is critical. Keep a close eye on upcoming trends and make sure you address any innovation challenges that are a hindrance to your business’s success sooner than later.

What do you think the future holds for corporate innovation programs? Let us know!

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