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4 Steps to Drive Innovation in the Workplace

January 22, 2019 Carly Cope


Last week, we discussed the innovation mindset and the concept of vuja de: seeing something familiar, but approaching it with a different perspective to gather additional insight and generate new ideas. We highlighted three guidelines to help you prepare your mind for innovation:

  1. Practice the vuja de mindset: let failure be the fuel, not a hindrance, to new and better ideas.
  2. Think forward at all costs: scrap the “this is the way we have always done it" thinking.
  3. Empathize with the customer: learn the customer by becoming the customer; identifying with their feelings, emotions and beliefs.

Now that your head is in the right space, we will dig into how to drive innovation in the workplace through design thinking; a model described by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie in their book, “Design for Growth.” The authors recommend tackling these four questions when approaching a new or existing challenge in the workplace:

  • #1: What is? Start by dissecting the actual problem at hand. If you’re trying to bring innovation to your relationship with customers, this could mean immersing yourself in the customer’s world: shadowing them, interviewing them, joining them, and observing them on their buying journey. Only when we become the customer can we understand their true needs that need to be addressed.

Tools to use during this stage: customer surveys, interviews, focus groups, user experience tests, and customer persona generation

  • #2: What if? When you know the root of the issue or problem, you can start generating ideas on how to resolve it. In this stage, it is critical that you remove all barriers or constraints from your thinking – going from “what’s currently possible” to “absolutely everything is possible.”

Tools to use during this stage: visualization, group brainstorming, customer journey mapping

  • #3: What wows? Now that you have generated your ideas, it is time to start putting your ideas into viable tests to go to market with. In this stage, you can start crafting prototypes or experiments that you want to test across a small segment of the population.

Tools to use during this stage: assumption testing, prototyping

  • #4: What works? This is the actual test stage. Think of this as a low-risk pilot of your experiment. Here you can assess the success of the solution in place, and determine what adjustments need to be made to make it even better.

Tools to use during this stage: experimentation, measurement

Design Thinking in Practice

SHIFT’s work with a client in the media and advertising space is the perfect example to help illustrate how design thinking is applied in the workplace. As an industry becomes increasingly competitive, it’s critical that revenue generating roles, like advertising salespeople, are equipped to perform consistently at the highest level.

Our client saw changes in the industry quickly approaching: traditional standalone TV advertising declining and integrated omni-channel media rapidly rising. With this knowledge, the client partnered with SHIFT to explore methods for accelerating sales amidst the inevitable changes on the horizon. The SHIFT team leveraged the design thinking model to develop an innovative, sustainable solution.

What is?

Before we could find a solution that solved the client’s needs, we needed to get to the root of the problem. We interviewed and shadowed key stakeholders within the business. By studying the executives, sales managers, and salespeople – during client and prospecting meetings – we could better understand the barriers preventing peak performance. We synthesized our findings and narrowed down the issues at hand:

  1. The salespeople and their managers didn’t have a clear view of what high performance looked like in their role; there was not an existing blueprint or roadmap to follow.
  2. The salespeople were spending too much time performing administrative functions that prevented them from actively meeting with customers to generate new business.
  3. The salespeople didn’t have constructive, compelling sales collateral and messaging to effectively connect with their buyers.

What if?

Now that we understood the core issues, we could start to generate ideas on how to resolve them. Through group brainstorming, visualization techniques, and the introduction of customer personas, we were able to develop new ideas that the organization had not previously considered. We quickly moved from idea generation to concept generation and presented our action plan to the client:

  1. We would shadow the highest performing salespeople within the organization to capture what they do that enables them to perform at consistently high levels. From there, we would create a role blueprint for the sales organization to use to effectively train and develop high performing salespeople.
  2. We would identify specific support functions and team structures that would allow salespeople more time to spend on revenue generating activities, instead of administrative tasks.
  3. We would conduct interviews with customers to understand their buying processes and preferences. From there, we would create compelling sales collateral that would drive higher-level, more strategic sales discussions.

What wows?

In this stage, we moved from brainstorming to execution.

  1. We codified our notes from our interactions in the field and drafted the role blueprint.
  2. We created the job descriptions for the support functions and organizational structures to implement in a few test markets.
  3. We interviewed and surveyed customers and created corresponding personas, messaging, and sales collateral to test in the field.

What works?

We put our solutions to test. We identified specific markets within the organization to implement these new concepts and defined specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure strategy success. We actively tracked the progress of each initiative to identify what was working, what required modifications, and what was ineffective.

This is design thinking in action. This is innovation in action.

How will you drive innovation in your workplace?

These leaders took a chance. They recognized the problem and didn’t grow timid; instead, they transcended. They partnered with SHIFT to face these challenges as an opportunity to maximize performance and embrace the innovation mindset.

This is a familiar story among our clients — and one I am incredibly proud to facilitate.

Want to discover tools that will drive the creative and progressive thinking your organization needs to thrive? Join me for a SHIFT exploration session. You’ll work one-on-one with me, or a fellow SHIFT expert, to identify your goals, devise an action plan, and identify where SHIFT can propel your initiatives.

It’s the first step in each of our client success stories and promises to be the best 30 minutes you’ll spend all week (perhaps, all year). Because together, and only together, we can change the world.

Schedule an exploration session today.

TOPICS: Workplace Innovation