6 strategies for corporates to drive innovation across business units

By Katerina Mansour - 30 July 2021

Innovation has been a hot topic for many years now. Recognising its importance, the corporate world has been making big moves to drive innovation internally. Innovation departments, accelerator programmes, innovation funds and corporate innovation labs are among the many strategies adopted to embrace innovation today.

According to research, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have gone bankrupt, been acquired or ceased their activity since the year 2000 as a result of digital disruption. This is one of the many factors that has helped push corporates to incorporate innovation into their business model and operations. Among the benefits and drivers of innovation is the desire to stay on top of the competition and ensure a company’s survival.

However, while progress has been made, challenges remain.  A PwC survey showed 54% of innovating organisations struggle to bridge the gap between their innovation strategy and their larger business strategy. Furthermore, the larger the corporate, the more challenging it can be to incorporate innovation efficiently within all business units. Yet, the efficiency of an innovation strategy could be hindered by poor adoption within internal teams.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the strategies that can help corporates drive innovation throughout all business units.     

Innovation days

Innovation days provide several benefits. Corporates typically use them to find innovative solutions to ongoing problems or come up with new products. Furthermore, innovation days are also a way to embrace an open innovation strategy. They involve multiple players (internal and/or external) working together to create innovative solutions.  

An innovation day can be organised in varying ways to serve different purposes:

  • Set a specific theme for the day (new products, ongoing challenges, company strategy, etc)
  • Organise brainstorms, idea pitches, and other thought-provoking activities
  • Organise a competition with a jury to assess ideas pitched by your teams
  • Bring in external players with key expertise to give speeches and run workshops
  • Invite stakeholders from other corporates to present their innovation strategy
  • Present prior or ongoing innovation projects
  • Use the day as a strategy to launch intrapreneurship projects within the company

All in all, bringing departments together can help increase awareness of and exposure to innovation. Individuals who might never be exposed to the company’s innovation strategy will learn more. They might feel more inclined to apply what they experienced to their team’s day-to-day activities. Innovation won’t be a distant and vague concept to them anymore.

This strategy has already been adopted by several large corporates to help drive innovation, including Aéroport de Paris (Groupe ADP). The group’s Innovation Hub hosts conferences and workshops, including innovation days.

Innovation showrooms

Whether it’s physical or virtual, an innovation showroom can help all business units within a company engage with innovative products. You can involve other internal teams in the company’s innovation strategy by exposing them to innovative products. Exposure to innovative startups that the corporate either supports or has invested in can help illustrate the tangible benefits of innovation. Employees can see how their company is adopting innovative technologies. Moreover, visiting the showroom might even give them ideas for new solutions the company could seek out.

Groupe ADP’s Innovation Hub has a technological showroom that showcases innovative technologies and projects the group is currently developing. Employees can visit this room to engage with these innovative products. Similarly, Moët Hennessy’s MH Lab 78 in the 16th arrondissement of Paris has a showroom for innovative technologies. The company’s digital innovation hub showcases products from startups with which the brand has worked. Employees from all of the group’s “Maisons” can interact and experiment with these startup solutions. They can also use this showroom as a way to brainstorm new ideas.

The MH Lab 78, Moët Hennessy’s innovation showroom and hub in Paris, showcases several startup innovations such as this smart display.

Internal webinars

Another strategy to drive innovation throughout a company is internal webinars. They can be scheduled on a regular basis to keep all business units up to date on a variety of topics: ongoing and completed innovation projects, advances in the company’s innovation strategy, new innovative tools being adopted within the company, calls for ideas, etc.

Creating a culture of innovation within a company should be a vital part of one’s innovation strategy. Recurring internal webinars help place innovation on the minds of everyone within a company, not just the innovation department. Indeed, employees outside of the innovation department already have a full-time role within the company. Thus, innovation isn’t typically a priority for them. Webinars take less time than innovation days and are easier to organise. They can happen more frequently and therefore keep innovation at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Internal webinars can serve as a means to present recent successes and current challenges. This, in turn, could also lead to suggestions and ideas coming from other teams. Of course, you can adopt this strategy in different formats. HP Labs uses newsletters, informal coffee talks and peer reviews to share information on its latest innovation developments with its teams.

Organising regular innovation webinars internally is becoming a popular approach to foster a culture of innovation across a corporate group.

Learning expeditions and immersive experiences

Learning expeditions can be a useful strategy to help internal teams develop new practices and experience innovation first-hand. They can include:

  • Guided tours/visits (of other companies’ facilities)
  • Conferences
  • Discussion sessions
  • Workshops
  • Serious games

The goal of a learning expedition is typically to find out how other companies operate and learn from them. This process can help employees identify new management techniques and find solutions to current problems. It can also give employees the chance to grow and advance in their careers through new experiences. These expeditions provide inspiration and help foster innovative thinking. While they typically involve travelling to another country, they can also be done locally.

Another similar strategy is immersing employees in a startup environment. Corporates can help drive innovation within the group by sending employees to observe a startup they have acquired, partnered with or invested in. By spending some time immersed in a startup environment, employees can identify better work practices and feel more in touch with innovation efforts.

Startup relationship management platforms

Another way to extend innovation across business units is to adopt innovative tools. Startup relationship management platforms aim to help corporates build and maintain relationships with startups. Indeed, corporates are increasingly turning to startups as part of their innovation strategy. Yet, corporate-startup collaborations come with challenges. Among those challenges is sourcing quality startups to partner with or invest in. Once you’ve partnered with a startup, these platforms also act as a tool for easy digital collaboration.

Expanding the use of solutions like these to multiple business units can help drive innovation efforts. Through better management of startup-corporate collaborations, these platforms can foster company-wide innovation. Beyond the involvement of startups, they often offer features to call on internal teams for new ideas, sometimes. These ideas can subsequently turn into intrapreneurship projects, be managed within the platform and integrate startups if need be later on.

Yoomap is a well-known startup relationship management platform that has already convinced many large corporates of its benefits: Crédit Agricole, LVMH, Safran, etc. It is also one of Early Metrics’ partners.

Decentralised innovation

Unlike the other strategies in this article, this one involves structural change. Indeed, while it’s quite common now for corporates to create a centralised innovation system (e.g. through innovation departments), another option is decentralisation. Instead of having one department focused on innovation, it might be more beneficial for each business unit within your structure to be responsible for its own innovation efforts. This is especially the case if your business units have significantly different innovation needs.

Many argue that adopting centralised innovation is a mistake. The claim is that creating a culture of innovation and making innovation a core part of a company’s strategy is hard to accomplish with just one department working on innovation. Indeed, having one department try to implement changes in other departments throughout a company can prove to be challenging. If those other departments don’t have innovation as a core part of their strategy, there is often some push-back as they have other priorities. Some argue that innovation needs to be a core part of a company’s strategy, equally implemented into all business units.

Ultimately, the common thread in all these strategies is to keep all employees regularly exposed to innovation topics, even if it isn’t a direct part of their job within the company. Increased awareness, exposure and hands-on experience will help business units better understand the importance of innovation and how innovative strategies could be deployed within their department. Early Metrics offers many products and services which can support large groups in implementing such internal innovation strategies.

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