Innovation in the Time of COVID-19

Isn’t this a crazy notion in a time where many of us are just focusing on survival? How can we even contemplate being innovative and encouraging our workforce to be innovative? It hardly seems possible. However, we believe – as do several other thought leaders – that innovation matters most during and following a crisis when the rules and norms of how organizations operate will have irrevocably changed.

Why Innovation is More Critical Than Ever

In a recent McKinsey & Company article, Innovation in a crisis: Why it is more critical than ever, the authors’ research found that 90% of the executives surveyed believe that the COVID-19 crisis will fundamentally change the way they do business over the next 5 years, and 85% are concerned that the COVID-19 crisis will have a lasting impact on their customers’ needs and wants over the next 5 years. However, only 21% of the same executives surveyed feel that they are equipped with the expertise, resources, and commitment to pursue new growth successfully. Yet across nine distinct industries, an average of 70% of executives expect the COVID-19 crisis to be one of the biggest opportunities for growth, but only the pharma and medical products industry has increased its focus on innovation during this crisis. That might be expected given the intense pressure to find better ways to fight the virus and to find an effective vaccine to prevent the virus, but other industries such as healthcare systems and services and retail are being confronted with unforeseen challenges across every category of the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

Innovation Defined by Baldrige

Innovation is defined in the Glossary of the Criteria because the Baldrige view is a bit expanded from conventional wisdom. “Innovation: Making a meaningful change to improve products, processes, or organizational effective and create new value for stakeholders. Innovation involves adopting an idea, process, technology, product, or business model that is either new or new to its proposed application. The outcome of innovation is a discontinuous or “breakthrough” improvement in results, products, or processes. Innovation benefits from a supportive environment, a process for identifying strategic opportunities, and a willingness to pursue intelligent risks.”

How Leaders Respond is Critical

The same McKinsey & Company article identifies the eight essentials of innovation. One of them is, “mobilize. Are your people motivated, rewarded, and organized to innovate repeatedly?” When was the last time one of your employees came to you with an idea? How did you respond? Even if you had to say, “no,” did you do it in a way that made it clear you welcomed additional ideas in the future? On a recent IHI Daily Nursing Home Huddle focusing on engaging Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) in Quality Assurance/Performance Improvement (QAPI), a question was posed asking if their inputs were sought for making improvements in their center. One of the responses in the chat nearly broke our hearts. “How much is none, not, now, never? Any of our ideas amidst the COVID-19 pandemic are immediately stifled.” CNAs are the essential workers in long term care and other health care settings. How can their senior leaders justify asking them to risk their lives during this pandemic while so obviously disrespecting them?

Encourage Innovation Through Your Workforce

Innovation is not only essential to organizations surviving this pandemic but thriving in the future. And studies have shown that organizations that encourage innovation throughout their workforce have more engaged employees. Employee engagement has been strongly correlated with customer loyalty. And customer loyalty is key to organizational sustainability.

How can you stimulate innovation today?

What actions can you take today to stimulate innovation in your organization?

NOTE: If you’d like a copy of the McKinsey & Company article, just send me an email requesting it.

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