For several years, Centric Consulting has been building a culture of innovation. We’ve learned many lessons along the way, but the most important may be that innovation requires discipline.
When most people think of innovation, they imagine unbridled creativity and thrilling brainstorming sessions with lots of coffee and a whiteboard.
At Centric, our innovation initiative certainly has those aspects at times. But we have come to respect innovation as an evolving focus area focused on building novel ideas around evidence-based objectives. The idea of “evidence-based objectives” is key because the projects our Innovation Advisory Team approves and our Virtual Innovation Lab develops must share one element: providing measurable value to organizations.
However, while targeted value is a key ingredient of our overall innovation mindset, we know there are many ways to get there. We also want to provide our team members the chance to do new things, have fun with their work and provide opportunities for ideation as the start of innovation. So, when we began working with our Technology Service Line, the goal was simply to “build” without worrying about business cases.
Over time, we have realized innovation is a process we can orchestrate and coach others through. Initially, people immersed in a particular process, such as billing, are not prone to change the way they do business overnight. They can get stuck in “harvesting mode,” where they do the same things they’ve always done and in the same way. But by providing them with a step-by-step method for innovation, leaders can encourage employees to break out of harvest mode, start to think differently about their work and look for opportunities to change.
Innovation at the Intersection of Solutions and Needs
When we consider the importance of innovation, we think about steel towns in the 1970s. The communities that did not innovate got left behind, with drastic impacts on residents and regional economies. Unfortunately, we see many sectors facing similar crises today.
To help the industries we serve survive — whether insurance, healthcare, financial services, energy and utilities or the public sector — we now focus our innovation investments at the intersection of the solutions our service offerings provide and clients’ real-world needs. That means prioritizing ideas and driving toward proof of value, not just proof of concept.
But how do you prioritize when Innovator X has Pet Project Y and Innovator A has Pet Project B? To say nothing of the competing pressures from outside the company to solve immediate problems.
One solution is to let the highest-ranked executive rule, but that approach is not part of our culture. Instead, we opted for a more democratic approach. Anyone can submit ideas and present them to our Innovation Advisory Team using predefined templates. We collaborate with a scoring framework on which ideas members think will deliver the most value to clients. Then, we systematically rank them using another set of templates to determine:
- What we want to create
- Who we need to get the work done
- How much to invest in time and resources.
This process allows the team to focus on measurable value and target our innovators’ energies. Instead of a scattershot approach, they can zero in on projects and put their energies there. Plus, our quantitative process removes politics and emotion from the equation while still giving opportunities for employees to be creative, have fun, and deliver valuable solutions.
We’ve learned even with “evidence-based” and targeting value, this approach is a great starting point for innovation efforts. In most cases, the initial idea and its target will evolve through experimentation and learning. For example, we had a pursuit a few years ago on using virtual reality in healthcare settings that has gone through several adjustments and branches since its inception.
Innovation Beyond the Technology
As our innovation program continues to evolve, one burning question is, “How can we apply this innovative tool or process to the market?” Our Executive Investment now focuses on this question and related issues, such as whether innovative products would have more market impact as a piece of software or as a service. We look forward to sharing where we land on this question in the future.
But for now, our teams have been building, and we are close to rolling out one exciting new product internally at Centric. In our next blog post, we’ll talk in detail about the product, the Centric Virtual Assistant (CVA) — how we built it, what it does and how it could help others outside of Centric.
You might note that Centric Virtual Assistant is not a very snazzy name. Often, innovation labs will name their products something like “Project Rocket Launch.” Our choice of a simple, straightforward name reflects our belief in the need to focus on innovation projects, as well as our belief that the most important goal of innovation is not creating new technology — it’s about bringing people together, allowing them to collaborate on projects they are passionate about and sharing their knowledge as they benefit from the knowledge of others.
Ultimately, our goal is to use the products of their collaborative innovation to create products that will build customer relationships and trust. And that goal is definitely part of Centric’s values.
As you approach innovation in your company, remember it requires some measure of discipline. When you have a process in place for collecting ideas, presenting them to your innovation team, and selecting projects based on codified measures of time, investment and value, it will be easier to focus the teams’ efforts around the project. They can then rally behind their efforts and become even more passionate about the result.
We look forward to further developing our innovation tools and templates to help others implement their own innovation labs. Be sure to keep an eye out for more details about the CVA.