Do technology leaders truly have the power to truly drive innovation, or merely talk about it? Seventy-seven percent of technology leaders see greater innovation potential than ever before, according to this year’s 2014 Harvey Nash CIO Survey. But how many describe their company’s innovation potential as actually being realised? A paltry two percent. What’s being called a widening “innovation gap” poses serious questions for businesses operating in Australia.
Now in its 16th year, the survey comprises the views of more than 3200 technology leaders across 30 countries. Among other measures, it tracks how the deepening entrenchment of mobile, digital and cloud technologies has reoriented digital leaders outward, to become more customer-facing. In turn, the findings suggest that this correlates with the increasing number (now an overwhelming majority) who tout the importance of innovation.
In spite of this groundswell of enthusiasm, more than two thirds of CIOs (69 per cent) admit that they invest too little personal time and departmental resources into innovation initiatives to achieve their organisation’s innovation potential. This discrepancy should not be noted lightly — it will prove lethal for many.
Innovation requires two things: a leap of faith, and a positive attitude toward risk. This presents a quandary for Australians, who tend to be somewhat risk-averse — particularly with funding. But burying our collective heads in the sand carries a very real consequence: becoming redundant. Big enterprises run the biggest risk — simply by virtue of their agility and speed to market, smaller players pose a very real threat to their larger counterparts and their market share. Stand still, and you’ll get left behind.
However, prioritising innovation begets a second challenge: preparing your organisation for change. Resistance to change at the leadership and board level will cripple any initiative; communicating the effort poorly will leave the bulk of employees scratching their heads as to its benefit and where exactly they fit in.
Strategy divides the winners from the losers. With any effort to innovate, a few fail-safe tactics include :
- Never presume everyone understands Recently, a high-profile Australian corporate hired someone I consider a true digital leader, but the individual who presented him to the organisation failed to communicate adequately the vanguard nature of his work — which collided with the organisation’s conservative culture. The project crashed and burned. It’s not going to matter that a company appoints a world-class change catalyst or project team to shake things up, if the issues at hand don’t actually call for disruption. Better to over-communicate at the onset to ensure clarity of purpose.
- Align expectations Encourage the senior board and leadership team to view the venture as a long-term commitment. Impress upon them that the hired change agent may look different, that not all of his or her ideas will be relevant, and that not every innovation-nurturing activity will succeed — they may not see any significant progress in the first 12 months. Also note that it often takes a few initiatives and subsequent adjustments before landing the best solution for your organisation.
- Always take it back to ROI Innovation ROI eludes easy quantification, and often demands a period of investment before the results materialise. However, getting management on board from the beginning means elucidating the benefits, one way or the other. By the same token, don’t overcommit: failing to deliver will forfeit crucial support for seeing the projects through.
- Deploy quick wins strategically While you must be careful to emphasise the long-term nature of the commitment, you also have to energise and excite the team. Seize low-hanging fruit to garner quick wins early on — but be careful that they don’t set the tone or define expectations.
While Australian businesses may have a reputation for being more deliberate in their considerations — in this case, going so far as to not always put our money where our mouth is with innovation — we are also known for speed once we do sign on. In true Australian all-or-nothing fashion, we don’t need a multitude of emails and analysis paralysis; once we get the green light, we put everything aside and go for it.
What’s more, innovation doesn’t necessitate tremendous amounts of commitment or money — it can be as simple as a shift in attitude toward design. As more success stories filter through the market, especially for mid-space Australian businesses, confidence will deepen and investment will grow. As they do, we should ask ourselves: how we can all work together and learn from each other? How can we fuel collaboration? Because, simply put, a shared dedication to innovation will position us to lead — iteration by iteration.
About the author
*Bridget Gray is the managing director of Harvey Nash Australia as well as the global Media, Digital and Communications practice leader. For the past decade, she has been involved in recruiting some of the world’s best technology and digital talent.