Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What's Your Innovation Readiness? Part 2

For Part 1 go here.

The Innovation Task Force of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (which I chair), is trying to develop an assessment tool for association executives to use in determining the "innovation readiness" of their associations. As part of our effort to develop an evidence-based model of innovation for the association community, we want to provide a way for associations to determine where they are on the continuum of innovative practice, and plug them into a set of proven strategies tailored for their own position.

Our draft tool consists of three questions. The first, discussed in Part 1 of this post, is "Does your leadership embrace innovation as one of the strategies necessary to achieve your goals?" If you can confidently answer "yes" to that question, then ask yourself the next question:

Do you have a defined process for how innovation will function in your association?

Having a leadership culture that embraces innovation is not enough. The culture is a necessary first step, but without a defined process for how innovation will occur, culture alone is generally not disciplined enough to capitalize on the innovative ideas that it may produce.

It's important to note that there is probably not one universal innovation process that will work for every association. But in the case studies we examined, all of the successful innovation processes we found included the following attributes:

A. Precise strategy. The problem to be addressed by the innovation process was clearly defined. Teams working on the problem knew what risks were acceptable and unacceptable, and how their success would be measured.

B. Eclectic teams. Who participated in the process was as important as the process itself. Team members were all creative thinkers, usually from different departments in the organization, and brought a variety of experiences and perspectives to the table.

C. Nimbleness. In the case studies, the objective of innovation was invariably to deliver better products or services to a constituency. In these competitive environments, the processes were designed to move quickly and be highly responsive to the needs of the community being served.

D. Clear decision points. These successful innovation processes generated high numbers of creative ideas. The method for selecting which ideas would be pursued and which would not was always defined up front, was clearly understood by all participants, and did not change as the process went forward.

Does your association have a defined process for innovation that encompasses all of these points? If not, give your association a "readiness score" of "2". You've got the necessary culture, but you need to design a process that will allow your association to harness and execute the innovative ideas it produces.

We'd like to hear about your challenges in building such a process and work with you to identify the strategies that can help your association and associations like yours to overcome them.

Please comment if you'd like to get plugged into our process.

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