Churchill Consulting

Setting the Innovation Agenda for 2021

Setting the Innovation Agenda for 2021

  • Posted:
  • Category:Thought Leadership
  • Offering:Strategy
  • Industry:Business

As a turbulent year winds down, we now cast our vision to what comes next. Churchill recently sat down with innovation leaders in Western Australia to define the barriers and opportunities in 2021.

The case for innovation leadership in 2021

History suggests companies who invest in innovation through a crisis outperform peers in recovery. While crises can have devastating human and financial impacts, they also represent major opportunities; as market dynamics are disrupted, the opportunities for new business models emerge.

We saw the mobile technology boom that emerge following the Global Financial Crisis. This enabled paradigm shifting industries to emerge such as online shopping and social media, which have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. Those who invested through the crisis have significantly outperformed their peers, and in some instances become the largest companies in the world.

A year like no other

While the COVID pandemic has been catastrophic in a human context, it has been a watershed in many respects. This year has shown what businesses and people can achieve when required; adapting and transforming in response to extreme adversity in a timeframe never believed possible.

Harnessing this momentum and retaining the agility to implement change at scale in rapid timeframes will become to recovery. As COVID’s challenges begin to subside and crisis response teams stand down, the focus turns to what comes next; this is where innovation will play a key role for many organisations.

Fortunately, the recipe for innovation success is not a secret; in fact, the ingredients are usually held within your people and all you need are the tools and systems to extract this knowledge and support the transition from idea to reality.

Barriers to innovation

In discussion with Western Australia’s innovation leaders, Churchill has identified four barriers to innovation being faced by Western Australian business in 2021.

Innovation culture

Developing a culture that accepts and embraces innovation will be a key to enabling innovation in 2021. Commitment to innovation plummeted in 2020, as leaders focused on surviving the COVID crisis by investing in shorter-term business objectives. Rebuilding a business mindset that encourages innovation, while maximising productivity and minimising unnecessary spending is the core challenge.

Building an innovation culture requires people to ask tough questions and receiving very candid answers; holding people accountable for decisions, while providing the security to pursue implementation. Candour is hard for people to embrace, but it goes hand-in-hand with long-term innovation success.

Resourcing innovation

Resource prioritisation and allocation is vital to ensuring innovation projects are successful. In response to the COVID crisis, Western Australian businesses are doing more with less. Innovation projects rely on access to functional and product expertise to ensure solutions are robust and create and capture value.

Adopting more rigorous screening and prioritisation processes assists the whole business to understand how resources are best allocated to achieve business objectives. It also provides transparency on how and why allocation decisions are made and allows management to direct key resources to promising innovation initiatives.

Strategic alignment

Communicating a compelling innovation vision and aligning initiatives to business strategy has always been key to driving innovation. Without strong communication, innovation initiatives often don’t align with corporate objectives, or businesses find teams are developing innovations that don’t address business needs.

During COVID, communication emerged as an adaptation strategy in many businesses, with leaders regularly communicating information about the Pandemic and immediate responses. Continuing to communicate about markets, customers, and strategic priorities will have benefits that extend far beyond innovation.

Innovation process

Clearly articulated processes to facilitate innovation campaigns and overcome challenges that emerge provides the foundation for sustained innovation success. While creating and implementing new and novel ideas sounds simple, the steps from concept to reality can be remarkably challenging.

A structured innovation process doesn’t have to be perfect; it can grow and evolve over time. So long as people have the tools and knowledge to move through each phase, they can direct their own effort. Further, providing a reference point that demonstrates progress helps retain motivation for people to overcome any setbacks they face.

Innovation objectives

In discussion with innovation leaders from across Western Australian industry, Churchill has also identified four innovation objectives being pursued in 2021.

Executing innovation

Implementing and managing innovation initiatives across their lifecycle, selecting and implementing prioritised initiatives, and ensuring benefits are captured. Managing the innovation portfolio is how the best innovators validate and commercialise their innovations in a way that achieves scale in shorter timeframes.

Innovation execution excellence happens when business and innovation leaders allow innovators to own the process. The focus for innovation management in this context shifts from control to optimisation. When optimisation becomes the focus, innovation management seeks to enable faster delivery cycles by improving the process and recognising contributions.

Enhancing collaboration

Working with wider internal and external networks to achieve positive outcomes has the potential to yield greater benefits than can be achieved alone. A key learning from the COVID crisis is the benefits that can be achieved when complementor and competitor companies work together to achieve mutual objectives.

 Bringing people and organisations together who seek to achieve the same outcome provides the ability to capture multiplier gains. While any one entity can only commit limited resources to an initiative, bringing in others with aligned interests also brings a resource multiple to achieve the same objective.

An example of this occurred during the recent COVID crisis. The North East of WA, specifically Kununurra, had faced major disruption to to the pandemic and was suffering significantly from a lack of tourism in the area. Churchill joined forces with Horizon Power, Tourism WA and the Water Corporation to develop a plan to drive tourism in the area.

Within 30 days, the Save Our Season (SOS) was initiated, which resulted in over 80 executives flying to Kununurra for the weekend. They then promoted the trip and the area in general to their organisation, representing over 200,000 staff in total.

Innovation ownership

It is important to ensure that innovation has effective ownership to provide accountability for execution. Those that take innovation seriously have innovation champions who are the ones responsible for moving ideas forward, ultimately bringing them into reality by mentoring, coaching, and supporting others through the process.

The best innovation champions aren’t always the best and the brightest. Rather, they are confident and resilient people who aren’t afraid to fight for what they believe in. These people are hard to find – but they are in your business – and when you find them, they can become the difference between a successful innovation program and one that delivers average results.

Data to insights

Leveraging the data in existing operations to solve problems and capture opportunities is a persistent objective for innovation and analytics strategies. Operational data continues to grow, and maturity in warehousing and harvesting data grows too. But many businesses are still working out what they can do with all this data.

The roles data plays in a business are still misunderstood. And data alone isn’t useful; until it is turned into information through the process of asking questions. The first step in getting more from that data we have in our businesses is to start asking more questions.

How Churchill can help

Churchill regularly helps WA’s leading businesses achieve their innovation ambitions. This starts by aligning the innovation agenda to strategic goals. We are well equipped to assess innovation culture and design the right innovation processes for your business.

Churchill has also partnered with innovation ideation platform Nectir to support capturing ideas from across your organisation. Those ideas can then be rapidly and strategically assessed to identify those with potential to deliver significant value for further development.

While innovation isn’t anything new, Churchill is constantly researching and bringing new ways to inspire diverse thinking and effective innovation that is fit for our clients. Churchill believes investing in these new methodologies is vital for stimulating innovation within Western Australia is fundamental to fulfilling our purpose, which is to build a more vibrant and prosperous WA.

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