Zoe Aitken17 December 2019

5 insights from Australia’s Most Innovative Companies…

Let’s face it, innovation is a tricky game. It requires patience and persistence and often comes with many unexpected challenges along the way. If you’re responsible for driving innovation in your organisation, I’m sure you find it a tough slog at times. And I’m guessing that you’d welcome any inspiration that keeps you tracking and motivated towards your innovation goals? Well here goes…

I recently had the chance to host a panel discussion with two of Australia’s 2019 AFR BOSS Most Innovative Company winners. Justin Graham, Chief Strategy Officer from M&C Saatchi and Jessica Mansur, Senior Innovation Manager at Deloitte joined me to share some of their tips and insights around driving innovation in their organisations. Both of their organisations took out the number one spot in innovation for their respective industries. And both are consecutive winners of the ‘AFR Most Innovative Companies’ award so they can speak with a great deal of credibility on the subject of innovation!

Below are five insights behind their innovation success…

  1. Innovation is driven from the top.

Leadership support is one of the biggest enablers to driving innovation. In both M&C Saatchi and Deloitte, senior leaders are passionate advocates of innovation and continually communicate its importance either through their words and/ or their actions. And by doing so are providing the team with permission to spend time on innovation.

We know that ‘time’ is one of the biggest obstacles to any innovation program. However, through senior leader advocacy, they give the green light to employees to prioritise innovation activities, which is a great starting point for any innovation program!

  1. It’s OK to fail.

Both Deloitte and M&C Saatchi have created an environment where ideas are welcomed, and failure is considered part of the innovation process. Jess and Justin talked about the importance of making their teams feel safe and supported and providing signals to the team that it’s ‘ok to fail’. Justin talked about the fact the many of M&C Saatchi’s greatest successes actually started from failure. Similarly, Jess talked about the importance of creating an environment where employees feel safe and supported in submitting their ideas.

This is critically important as we know that creating a ‘safe to fail’ environment is a key driver in developing a culture of innovation. If we want our teams to push the boundaries, then mistakes will inevitably be made, but we need to let them know that this is OK.

  1. They use micro-funding.

Both panel organisations have an in-house micro-funding program, meaning that employees have access to micro-funds to experiment with early-stage ideas. There are a number of benefits to having a program such as this; it not only communicates to the team that ideas are welcomed and that innovation is a priority, but it also offers a low-risk way to explore a larger number of ideas.

A micro-funding approach means that only a small investment is initially granted, to run early testing on an idea (e.g. anything from $100 to $10,000 per idea). Only when an idea has proved itself, can the team apply for further funding. This essentially means that innovation investment is diversified and is also extremely lean and efficient.

  1. They capture their learnings.

Have you ever heard the saying that ‘FAIL’ stands for ‘First Attempt ILearning’? Well these guys live and breathe this stuff. Both Jess and Justin talked about the importance of capturing learnings from failures and that this was critical to the success of innovation. Innovation learnings are continually built on and fed into future iterations of their ideas.

There is a big difference between ‘good failure’ and ‘bad failure’. ‘Bad failure’ is where something hasn’t worked and there is no understanding or reflection as to why. Learnings aren’t captured and as a consequence, mistakes are often re-lived down the track. ‘Good failure’ is where rich learnings are captured following every failure and are made accessible to everyone in the business to benefit from.

  1. They have passion and purpose.

Justin mentioned that one of their most successful innovations (i.e. that won them the ‘Most Innovative Companies’ award this year…no biggy!) was largely driven by a couple of passionate employees. These employees believed strongly in the bigger purpose behind the idea which fuelled their passion and helped them to push through set-backs along the way. Jess also talked about the importance of garnering internal support of ideas by communicating the bigger purpose or problem they were solving.

The purpose behind an idea acts as a great intrinsic motivator for the team. By celebrating the bigger purpose, it allows you to build a team of passionate innovators. And having passion will hopefully make the bumpy ride of innovation much more enjoyable!