Getting Back to the Heart of Innovation

What does it mean to be innovative? Every week I read about how top companies are innovating the way they do business. This most often comes in the form of a new technology – better use of data analytics, proprietary content hubs, consumer engagement software, etc. While these are certainly innovative, these technology solutions are not the only keys to innovation.

Being innovative is defined as “introducing something new or different,” – essentially thinking outside the box. Here at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, we are challenging our employees to innovate, and to do so on a scale that works for them – whether that be as an individual, team, office or region. My message to staff here in the U.S. is that you don’t need to be an expert in the newest programming language, or well versed in mobile content platforms, you just have to have an idea that could improve the company.

Don’t be afraid to think small

Sometimes the best ideas are the small ones. Often, it is the small ideas that can be implemented fairly easily at the local level, and, they have a tendency to grow organically into large ones. If a new process works well in one office, then other offices will take notice and implement it themselves – eventually across the company. Bigger ideas, on the other hand take time, buy in and resources.

As we evolve as a firm, and as an industry, grassroots change is what is needed to truly drive innovation. And this does not happen from top down messaging. We saw this recently with our H+K HER mentoring program, part of our new U.S. network for women, H+K HER. We identified a need, created a program to address the need, and it has been such a success that some colleagues from other countries within our network heard about it and are exploring how they might replicate/incorporate/integrate something similar.

It’s all about constant improvement

An idea can come from anywhere, including building on existing programs and resources. An innovative idea also doesn’t have to stem from something completely new, but rather applying thinking from one sector to another, or taking a strong strategy and applying a new point of view. As a firm, we’ve been innovating for decades, and more recently, we turned this lens on our internal policies and over the last nine months have been rolling out – and continuously improving upon — new people, client and new business policies, many of which are perceived internally as industry leading. But like everything else, these will continue to evolve as we do, and as the needs of our employees change.

To that end, we are encouraging staff to be active participants in company policy: to speak up if they see something that could be better. We just launched an online new business Q&A forum where questions from employees are answered in real time, with the goal of helping us better understand how we can improve our new business processes.

The devil is in the details

Innovation isn’t only about coming up with an idea, however, but also doing the necessary risk assessment to confirm if it’s doable. Trying to change without having a plan leads to failure even if the idea is a good one. Worse, this creates the illusion that the idea was the problem, and halts innovation in its tracks. Even if it takes more time, working through the details pays off in the end.

At H+K, we have designated June as Innovation Month. To celebrate, we launched a contest called Innovation Drive. Remembering that the true measure of success is not the creativity or technical skill of the idea, but rather the impact it has on the way we work. We are asking for the best ideas, whether big or small, local or regional, operational or technological. If they apply new thinking, different ideas or a change of direction, we want to know. This, after all, is the heart of innovation.

Mike Coates is President and CEO of H+K Strategies Americas

Please contact us for more information.