This blog post is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.
Most organizations want to enhance innovation; to achieve this goal they invest resources in new methodologies, technologies, training, physical spaces, and furniture.
This is great…
However, they often forget that they also need to invest in internal communication. This oversight can be very expensive because it is very difficult—if not impossible—to develop innovative ideas and practices within an organization without a good internal communication strategy.
This is why practitioners have to explain to companies how internal communication can help them innovate. I want to share with you six concrete actions that internal communicators can propose to enhance innovation.
Internal Communication Actions to Strengthen Innovation
- Define innovation
If an organization wants its employees to be innovative, it should begin by clearly defining what it means by “innovation.” It seems like a simple exercise, but it is not. “Innovation” is a nebulous, subjective concept and there are always as many definitions as people participating in the process.
Let me share some the questions we use as triggers to coordinate this dynamic:
- Is innovation to be creative?
- Is it creating things that don’t exist?
- Is it dreaming of the impossible?
- Is it reinventing products, services or processes and methodologies?
- How is innovation different from a disruption, update, improvement, modification or change?
- Is innovation thinking differently? What does that mean?
Internal communicators should facilitate and coordinate communicative spaces where organizational members can clarify their understanding of innovation. If the definition lacks clarity, it will be very difficult to talk about innovation in a consistent and unified manner.
- Think about why innovation is necessary
Internal communicators can also promote and develop open spaces of dialogue so that the organization can think about why it needs innovation. It is important to find a consistent answer to the “reason why.”
When my agency coordinates these spaces for organizations, we tend to find divergent ideas among organizational members. In these processes, there are no right or wrong answers. An organization should listen to itself, discover the views that exist within a team, and then build its own arguments.
- Project how innovation will be generated
After an organization defines the “what” and the “why,” it has to think about the “how.” Generating dynamics for leaders to think, propose and choose the way(s) in which they will make people “innovative.” Some ideas that have been used to help coordinate these spaces include:
- Internal competitions, idea contests…
- Internal events like Ted X, Hackacom, Paloozas, Innovation Day…
- Internal Accelerators or Incubators, Funding Boards…
- Creative rooms with ping-pong tables, armchairs of many colors, rubber floor and Einstein phrases on the walls…
- FabLabs, CoWorking, CoLearning spaces…
- Training in Design Thinking, Scrum, Sprint, Lego Serius Play, Data Science, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Lean Startup, Design Doing, Lombard Method, Kanba, OKR, Manual Thinking, SmartFail…
- Economic incentives and shareholder participation on new ideas, etc.
Over the years, we have discovered that each of these proposals can be useful at some point in the process. Personally, I am convinced that innovation can only be enhanced if it forms part of an organization’s culture and DNA.
- Communicate innovation
An internal communication plan needs to be developed to enhance innovation. It is not enough to simply launch a multimedia campaign, or to make a video with a person jumping behind a multicolored chalk explosion, or to fill the company with beautiful phrases such as “Encourage ways to think outside the Box!”
When we develop communication plans we focus on the following axes:
- Communicate that the organization is committed to innovation.
- Explain why the organization wants its people to be innovative.
- Detail what the organization understands by innovative ideas or practices.
- Inform team members of the processes, tools or resources that the organization will provide to generate innovation.
- Motivate people who want to be innovative.
- Work together with leaders to develop practices that foster innovation on a daily basis.
- Combat ideas and attitudes that destroy innovation
To enhance innovation, internal communicators should help banish ideas that prevent its development. Some of these ideas include:
- Innovation should only be handled by the R&D team.
- Innovation is for “special” people who dress colorfully, are disheveled and wear thick-rimmed glasses.
- Innovation is something separate from everyday work or that only happens in special events.
- Innovation is a recreational activity that takes place when we have free time.
- Innovation is buying technology.
- Promote communication that generates innovation
To enhance innovation, we have to encourage positive communication between people. Some of the things we do to encourage innovation include providing communication tools, facilitating conversations about mistakes, opening training spaces on innovation, and generating communication with external stakeholders.
In general, internal communicators are not called upon to participate in innovation processes. When they are called, they are usually asked to fulfill dissemination tasks. Internal communicators have to demonstrate that we can partner in these projects and that we can collaborate in each phase of the process.
Alejandro Formanchuk is the Director of Formanchuk – Comunicación Interna Cocreada, an agency which has developed +1,000 projects for +250 organizations in 16 countries [www.formanchuk.com]. He is the President of the Argentinian Internal Communication Association and the Director of the Ibero-American Internal Communication Federation.