Feature Article - July/August 2017

Innovation Inspiration

Incentives, Rewards Help Incite New Ideas

By Deborah L. Vence

Marketing Innovators also has an incentive platform that allows participants to set goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) and then monitor progress through the platform. This, in turn, helps to inspire performance, as employees can track their growth, stay motivated, remain competitive and, thus, improve productivity.

Smith stressed that every organization today needs to commit to improving employee productivity, igniting morale and capturing market share proactively.

"In my opinion, innovation is the lifeblood of a company's vitality and sustainability, and it can play an especially important role as we move forward in the unprecedented pace of change and disruption in the marketplace," she said.

"I can remember a time in the not-too-distant past when a company was able to leverage an innovation to their advantage for decades ... or years, at the very least. That market no longer exists," she said.

The Internet, she noted, has shortened market cycles dramatically and created consumers who are obsessed with novelty and 'what have you done for me lately?' Organizations have to keep innovating and moving forward, or risk being eclipsed by competitors.

The bar has been raised and leaders need to proactively encourage employees to experiment, modify and explore every aspect of the business.

"I believe that continuous innovation is the only path forward, and the scope and definition of innovation has to be universally redefined," Smith said. "In the past, most leaders I've spoken with equated innovation primarily with the development of new products or technologies, and only a select group of employees were tasked with innovating within the company."

But now, more leaders are viewing innovation as the responsibility of the entire organization and the scope and definition of innovation has evolved to be much broader and more inclusive.

"The hyper-competitive market in which we find ourselves has created the need for companies to look for innovation and competitive advantages in every aspect of their business—and that requires everyone to think about new ways to approach their work," she said, adding that customers today are seeking the "remarkable and the new," and expect "flawless quality to be inherent in every product and service."

"The bar has been raised and leaders need to proactively encourage employees to experiment, modify and explore every aspect of the business," Smith said. "Curiosity, initiative and persistence are sought-after employee characteristics."

What Smith finds most promising about pursuing innovation is that besides its own benefits, it also complements another critical business need: the need to control risk.

"Both innovation and risk operate in the realm of the unknown, and a dynamic balance between the two can yield enormous advantages to an organization willing to pursue both with equal vigor," she said. "Controlling risk is about preparing for the unknown and innovation is about enabling the unknown to emerge successfully from a secure environment. They are two sides of the same coin that afford leaders the best opportunity to control their own destiny in a volatile marketplace."

The first step for leaders who want to encourage innovation, Smith believes, is to clearly define productive, commercial innovation for their organization and distinguish it from what is simply creative, novel or trendy.

"Otherwise," she said, "many new ideas might prove to be useless to the organization if they can't be successfully implemented or commercialized. The transformation from creative to innovative occurs only when real value is created—when the idea significantly alters a process to reduce costs, or when others are willing to pay for it and it produces revenue."

Generating new ideas is important, but it's only the first step, and without a good working framework for what constitutes a viable new innovation, that first step might be squandered.

"I find that when they focus on it, most companies are sufficiently good at generating ideas. The challenge occurs further down the pipeline when they try to bring those ideas to life," she added, "and that's where a formal evaluation plan can make the difference between success and failure."