Building an 'Innovation First' Organization

We sat down with local innovation leaders to learn how they equip their employees to embrace innovation and continuous improvement.

Supporting Innovation Across Southwest Missouri

We know innovation isn’t just for startups. Many of our region’s largest and most established employers are constantly innovating to meet new demands. These leaders are doing important work in our community, which inspired us to create the Springfield Entrepreneurial & Innovation Network. The network is a peer group for local business leaders focused on innovation and continuous improvement. The group is dedicated to innovations and improvements that are driving businesses and our community forward.

You know what we like to say around here. Community is who we are. Forward is where we’re going. We believe our work to convene these leaders plays an important role in moving us all forward. We’re thankful to know they feel the same way.

Building an ‘Innovation First’ Organization

The group recently got together for a roundtable discussion led by James Jeffries, Partner at Kutak Rock and Teresa McGeehan, Owner/Operator of a network of McDonald’s restaurants. James has spent the last 15 years as an attorney specializing in intellectual property, trademark, and copyright law. And before he helped people protect their intellectual property he spent time developing some himself as a software engineer for MasterCard. He’s been on both sides of the table and understands what businesses need to know to protect their innovations.

Teresa McGeehan has worked with the McDonald’s brand since she was 16 years old. Today she owns and operates a network of the restaurants across southwest Missouri that employs more than 1,000 people. She’s worked to implement a wide range of innovations at McDonald’s throughout the years and has a first-hand view into how the brand with more than 38,000 physical restaurants across 100 countries innovates to meet customer demands.

The two shared their insights into how organizations can equip employees to innovate, how leaders can demonstrate an ‘innovation first’ approach, and how you can learn just as much from a failure as you do from a success.

Tips for Building an Innovative Organization

Examine Your Policies

If asked, most organizations and leaders would say they want to be innovative. Those good intentions don’t equate to actual innovations. Whether intentional or not, an organization may have policies or other barriers in place that stifle innovation and discourage employees from bringing forward new ideas.

It’s important to take a look at all policies and revise or remove them, as necessary. It’s also equally important to consider what policies aren’t in place. Organizations may want to codify incentives for employee innovations. If there is no framework for how employees bring ideas forward, how projects are piloted, or how new ideas are evaluated, employees may assume that those activities are discouraged. 

Communicate Your Values

It’s important to have policies in place that reflect a commitment to innovation. Beyond that, it’s important to communicate those policies and values to the entire organization. 

Create a messaging plan that consistently reinforces the organization’s commitment to innovation. Remind everyone of the importance of process improvement, and encourage leaders to echo this message to their teams. Leaders should imagine any employee at any level being stopped and asked if their employer is innovative – What would they say?

Plan for Pilots

Piloting new ideas is an important step in any innovation process. Organizations should have plans in place for how to pilot new ideas, be prepared to designate the appropriate resources to pilots, and should have clear evaluation standards in place for each project.

Involve Everyone

Diversity is a critical component of innovation. Groups formed to focus on innovation should involve employees from all aspects of the organization. It’s important to bring together different perspectives, tenures, and backgrounds. While some leadership presence is likely in the mix, consider asking senior members to take a back seat and refrain from taking charge of the conversations.

Innovation groups and exploratory committees are great – but don’t let these structures become the only means of generating new ideas within an organization. Innovation should be everyone’s business.

Learn from Failures

A truly innovative organization will have plenty of failures. Customer needs may change, business models may shift, and pilots may fail. Organizations have an opportunity to learn at every step along the way. 

It’s important for leaders to be prepared to embrace failures, learn from the process, and encourage everyone involved. The things that don’t work can provide the best data for future innovations. Organizations that embrace all aspects of innovation – including the failures – will ultimately reap the greatest rewards.

Work With Us

Are you looking to build an innovation first culture, but don’t know where to start? If you’re unsure of where to begin or how to conquer common stumbling blocks – let us know! We regularly work with organizations or all sizes to create customized innovation initiatives.