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Innovation within a company can be an uphill struggle - but it doesn’t have to be.
Every company should be keen to innovate - it’s essential for survival. But whilst launching brand new products and services is an important goal, getting there isn’t always easy.
Here we look at what we’ve found to be the biggest obstacles to innovation faced by companies in Ireland, and how to overcome them.
Employees need to understand why innovative projects are taking place in order to be fully on board. Without knowing what to expect they may struggle to adapt to an innovative mindset whilst still completing their daily tasks. They may also be tempted to simply maintain the status quo and shy away from innovative practices.
Clear, open communication is the key here in keeping your staff engaged. Without this, your employees will soon become your biggest barrier to innovation, which is the last thing you need.
A positive way forward is to educate staff around current and future trends, train them up in key skill areas and make workplace collaboration simpler. Encourage employees to share their ideas along the way, as well as to voice their concerns and opinions. Communication and understanding need to be a two-way street.
Following on from the above, top level management also need to be fully invested in innovation – otherwise how can staff be?
Many managers feel concerned about innovation due to the perceived money, time and risks involved. Yes, return on investment can be difficult to calculate and risks must be evaluated thoroughly. But this should not make managers and executives too risk-averse. After all, employees will only feel able to come forward with their ideas if they believe management will take them seriously. Company leadership must evolve around a culture of innovation that encourages it from the top downwards. Essentially, managers being fully on board with innovative work initiatives can help to reassure staff that they’re completely committed.
Management strategy is also crucial. Strategies should be made accessible to all staff and set achievable goals and targets. The strategy should also lay out the parameters of innovative projects and specifically what is expected from each team. Again this harks back to strong communication.
Is enough time being put aside to innovate or it is simply a case of getting on with daily firefighting? It’s easy for companies to become so focused on meeting short-term performance criteria that they don’t leave enough time aside for evaluation and process management.
Business managers need to make innovation part of the fabric of their day to day operations. This should be a top priority. Employees and executives alike should be able to spot innovative opportunities consistently, and a process for discussing ideas put in place.
This is a particularly common one, particularly when staff are being pulled in all directions and there aren’t enough hours in the day. But the problem with this is that no-one actually takes responsibility for innovation, or for evaluating how things are done. Managers typically see this kind of attitude as being lazy, but there’s usually other issues at play. These could be around staff being spread too thinly, or there could be ill feelings around pay and conditions.
With this in mind, gauge where any existing problems lie and try to get to the bottom of why employees don’t see innovative thinking as their responsibility. Remember - if taking calculated risks isn’t rewarded, your staff aren’t likely to put their necks on the line to bring about new ideas.
We can’t emphasise this enough - risk and innovation go hand-in-hand. And as the old saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without cracking some eggs.
Innovation is all about taking a risk and sometimes these risks won’t pay off. But the importance is to value the lessons learnt, not to see failure as simply ‘unacceptable’. Having any kind of stigma around innovation failure will mean that a company’s innovation processes are much more restricted. Bad news in the long run.
Another positive way forward is to avoid risk aversion by optimising your proof-of-concept process. Whilst this may not cut out risk entirely, it will reduce it and help to bring about more informed decisions.
As humans we tend to be creatures of habit and shy away from change – even when the change is necessary and exciting. But innovation projects can feel like an added threat to our otherwise comfortable and predictable routines.
This being known, encourage your team to ‘give it a go’ whilst being prepared to change course later where needed. There should be minimal permission-seeking, instead allowing staff to control (within reason) their own innovative ideas.
Innovation should not be the reserve of management, driven by an innovations department somewhere on high. Instead it should be something the whole company is aware of and actively promotes. Only then will there be more understanding of innovation and less fear of change.
Finding the cash required to innovate is tough when you’re simply trying to survive day to day. But innovation and company growth is something the Irish government strongly encourages with a range of schemes such as R&D Tax Credits and R&D Grants.
We won’t go into a large amount of detail here as there’s plenty of information available on our website. But suffice to say, both options can be incredibly lucrative, offering cash and reduced Corporation Tax incentives for qualifying companies and projects. And, importantly, projects don’t have to have been successful to be eligible.
Of course, you’re also welcome to get in touch with the Myriad Associates team if you would like to speak about any aspect of innovation funding. We’ll be pleased to discuss your R&D plans and see if you can make a claim.
Simply call +353 1 566 2001 or send us a message.