In looking at the macro landscape, it’s evident that many traditional financial services organizations have picked up a clear call to arms. They are re-thinking, re-imagining, and disrupting their own business to keep pace with the level of change driven by technology and customer expectations. Labs, innovation centers, incubators, and accelerators are ubiquitous among top and mid-tier financial institutions. Many of them have their own science around placing bets and enabling test and learn within their organization (i.e., the 'Focus' and 'Enable' parts of the Innovation Engine - Figure A). However, not all of them place equal value on the second half ('Foster' and 'Connect' of the innovation engine), which focuses not on the science, but rather the art of fostering an innovation culture that emphasizes building bridges through multiple connection points.
Figure A: Innovation EngineFostering a culture of innovation might sound challenging given the time change management takes. The great news is that there are easy-to-implement tactics that allow you to score some quick wins for your innovation team as well as the broader organization. Figure B highlights two examples.
Figure B: Two Quick Wins for Fostering a Culture of Innovation
You can also gather immediate feedback on your activities through the process of storytelling. In my previous role at Wells Fargo, the team showcased demos through the innovation lab, and also took the show on the road at various off-sites. The original intent was to present our innovations. However, very quickly, we realized that these forums were valuable for gathering immediate commentary from employees – what do you think about this concept? Do you think your customers would use this? Thumbs up or thumbs down? What could make this better?
Another aspect of fostering an innovation culture is leveraging the power of the crowd for ideas. This can be done through idea forums – think My Starbucks Idea. It can also be done through less onerous mechanisms that aren’t as resource-intense – think hackathons and design-a-thons where developers, designers, and product teams come together to make, tinker, and create around a problem statement. Simpler yet, just gather a cross-functional group of employees who happen to be available, grab a conference room, and have a quick brainstorm around a particular customer or business problem.
Connecting the dots across the organization is really about building bridges, internally and externally, to create a network effect around innovation. You don’t know what you don’t know, so making sure you view different internal stakeholders as part of your innovation constellation is critical to staying connected to key enterprise partners. For instance, there’s no single group that can know everything about the needs of different lines of business customers. So, having the right partners in the lines of business, collaborating with them on ideas, and co-sponsoring pilots, both generates goodwill and ensures that there’s mutual skin in the game when placing bets – no matter how large or small.
Similarly, from an external perspective, it’s always good to keep a pulse on what’s happening outside of the organization. Providing thought leadership around key macro trends and reporting back to the organization is one such way of connecting the dots from outside and bringing it back in. Probably the most powerful way is by making connections with other innovation groups either in financial services, or outside of the industry. Visiting other labs or innovation centers and having a conversation around how you approach innovation and even sharing use cases around innovation agendas can shed light on new customer problems and business opportunities.
In focusing on innovation culture and networks of internal and external partners, you are able to disseminate the job of innovation across the enterprise, rather than contain it to a small subset of employees who get to do the 'cool stuff'. You begin to build the bridges needed to sustain a healthy innovation pipeline and establish relationships that inspire new ideas, while helping you understand the pros and cons of existing concepts. This part of the engine is focused less on methodology and process and more on soft skills – building trust, listening, gathering feedback, making sense of the data, connecting ideas, diverging and converging on new opportunities.
A continuous journey.