My applied research agenda is focused in three areas:
- Guiding organizations to innovate from the inside.
- Understanding the digital behaviors of your customers and employees.
- Using enterprise tools and methods to communicate and exchange knowledge.
I am researching the capability of IT departments to innovate using internal resources and employees. We’re building a model that steps IT departments (or organizations) through training using IT-specific frameworks and knowledge to foster innovation.
Based on research and industry feedback I have identified four problems with most innovation initiatives:
- Top down structure. Executives and their teams want more innovative employees, teams, and results. But you cannot build an innovation culture through mandate.
- Relevant terminology. Truthfully, the only people who speak using terms like empathy, human-centered design, prototyping, and fail forward are designers. This makes it challenging for your employees to see relevancy in many design thinking concepts.
- Feedback. Building an innovation culture requires feedback and adjustment from all stakeholders. Most innovation initiatives have no mechanism to provide ongoing feedback to make resource and structure adjustments.
- Internal innovation. Why would you outsource an innovation initiative if innovation is a core competency? You need to innovate from the inside using internal resources.
What’s different about our approach? First, our model diffuses innovation knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) from the inside out. We start with small teams. Training small teams means that your innovation KSAs diffuse through your organization from the inside out (see Figure 1).
Second, our model maps design thinking terminology to relatable concepts. Our current model uses IT concepts, for example, Solution Architecture Frameworks, to grow employee KSAs in innovation. The use of existing knowledge structures within IT makes innovation training relatable and relevant.
Finally, our model establishes a feedback loop to inform management and leadership what changes are necessary to foster more innovation. Your teams and employees recognize the barriers to innovation after our training. These barriers are communicated to leadership through feedback mechanisms. Together, we adjust the resources and culture to remove barriers and foster more innovation.
The model’s outcomes of diffusion, relevancy, and feedback, provide your organization with a custom platform for internal innovation. They decrease your reliance on external consultants to give your employees the KSAs to solve problems internally and develop competitive advantages from the inside.
Stages of the Model
This sounds good. But a lot of theory sounds good on paper, you say. How does it work? The model breaks innovation training into three stages. The stages have outcomes that progressively affect more people in your organization (or department) as the effort grows.
At the start, only commitment of basic resources are necessary from executive leadership. Over time, the resources necessary to drive more innovation are identified and communicated back to executive leadership by lower levels of employees through a designed feedback loop. There are three stages to our approach:
Stage 1: Team Training.
In this stage we take High Potential employees (HiPos) through a month-long process of problem framing, brainstorming, gap analysis, prototyping, and implementation. We work with a team to solve a real problem in your organizations and provide HiPos with innovation KSAs throughout the process.
Figure 2: Stages of the ModelStage 2: Training the Trainer.
In this stage, the HiPo employees that were part of the original team serve as innovation mentors. With training, they begin to transfer specific methods and processes they have learned to their peers. We continue to train the HiPo employees on how to effectively transfer their innovation KSAs to others in “train the trainer” sessions.
Stage 3: Project Training.
We train employees and managers in this stage. The training remains project-oriented using the HiPo innovation mentors to scale and reach a larger amount of staff.
During each step, feedback is generated about gaps in innovation resources or processes. The feedback loop repetitively asks the question, what is necessary to improve innovation? The answers to this question come from your employees, not from us or some external source. This is critical. It allows your enterprise to develop a feedback loop where the people responsible for innovation get a voice in the process.
How Do I Get Involved?
I am a Professor with an industry background who wants to perform research that truly works for organizations. To accomplish this, I need to validate this model in real organizations and engage enterprises to map design thinking to your relevant technical terminology. The whole initiative is hands-on. We work with teams and employees to solve real problems, not deliver endless decks of Powerpoint.
I am currently working with the International Foundation for Information Technology (IF4IT.org) to map design thinking to IT concepts. Together, we’ll pilot test this model on IT departments and organizations. We are currently interviewing IT leaders for their feedback on the model. Subsequently, we’ll select sites to pilot the model. If you have an interest in this model and it’s application to your organization, let’s start a conversation. To start a conversation, complete a contact form or reach out to me on LinkedIn.