In a marketplace that’s exceptionally competitive, businesses have no choice but to embrace lean-agile practices to innovate quickly. Companies must ensure that their strategies, including their product and service portfolios, are adapting at the pace demanded by the Digital Age. Businesses that succeed in making lean-agile practices their competitive edge, by applying them to new idea generation and talent management, for example, will extend their corporate longevity.
Achieving enterprise agility
To create an environment conducive to innovation, leadership must build and nurture all the right elements – strategy and process, people and culture, and tools and technology.
Setting the innovation strategy is the first step. Understand what your business aims to get out of innovation and determine the best levers to achieve those goals.
Enlist the help of all executives to formulate the strategy and champion innovation. Incentivize them to communicate consistent messages across the enterprise about the goals, why they matter, and how every employee in every function can contribute.
Next, focus on motivating and enabling your people to achieve the enterprise’s innovation goals. Encourage continuous dissatisfaction with the status quo, reward creativity, and empower teams to develop and leverage lean-agile competencies.
In an agile enterprise, leaders encourage teams to fail fast and learn from their iterations. They facilitate the adoption of a system thinking mindset and a design thinking orientation to solve problems, balancing human behavior with business and technology factors such as system interrelationships.
Now, here’s the important part: to lead an agile enterprise, you must re-think from where you source your ideas for improvements and breakthroughs. Tear down the walls and create an entrepreneurial work environment that extends to the edges of the company – the outside AND the inside edges.
The outside edge comprises your frontline talent – the heroes who deal with your customers everyday. The inside edge is made up of functions such as HR, finance, legal, and procurement that support the outside edge. Get each one to look out for market insights and idea fragments that can inspire and form the basis of new and novel concepts to advance the competitive agenda.
Finally, understand the importance of focused experimentation. As a leader, you must welcome new ideas, screening them for market relevance, technical feasibility, and financial practicality. Separate the wheat from the chaff with feedback from customers or end-users within the business. Facebook stages hackathons consistently to develop initial prototypes of new products that have become some of its best offerings such as Chat and Live. Amazon asks its engineers to pitch ideas to its executive committee at the hint of something game changing and decisions are made on the spot. Such a culture of experimentation will help you realize the benefits of being an agile enterprise.
Once you have all of these “cogs” in place and well oiled, you’ll have a high-performing innovation engine. It’s then that your lean-agile practices will truly fuel your competitive adaptation. To learn more about how you can establish this “innovation ecosystem,” read my article Enterprise Agility: Pushing Innovation to the Edge of the Organization in the latest edition of our management journal, Perspectives.