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In Part I and II of this blog I introduced the Innovation DNA program which we ran as an initiative to improve innovation culture at SAP. I shared how at SAP we used a combination of gamification and guerilla marketing to ensure awareness of the framework behind the initiative. I described details of the four steps in the framework, and how we drove adoption of the respective behaviour, skills and accelerators. In this blog I’d like to focus on the last two steps to manifest an innovation framework: SUCCESS and SPIRIT.

Step 3: SUCCESS - Use pragmatic processes to realize ideas & get recognition for achievement

Success is what sells innovation – if no one knows about it, it isn’t there. So success in our context focused on two things:

  • The easier the process to realize ideas, the more likely you are to succeed. A clear Idea to Market process helps you take the required steps to evaluate, specify and pilot your idea.
  • Innovation is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration [Edison] – and we all need to be aware of that ratio. Even more important then to celebrate success: acknowledge and reward your colleagues and teams for their achievements, to show commitment to innovation and to inspire others

So what did we do at SAP to put this process into place, and more importantly how did we inspire and reward?

Taking into consideration that innovation only happens at the end of three phases: from an idea in someone’s brain – to a tangible invention – to diffusion in a market; how do you create a process that supports all three?

To capture every single employee’s ideas at SAP we use a tool called SAP Innovation Management that ensures ideas do not end up in drawers but in a central repository that allows the contributors to share them, get feedback, seek coaching or peers, find experts, identify relevant initiatives and generally shape their spark towards an invention – or know when to end it. To complement that we make wide use of methods like Design Thinking to ensure desirability of an invention, Business Model Development and Innovation to understand business viability and sustainability, and technical workforce utilising agile scrum and other techniques to ensure fast-cycled feasibility.

Once an invention is ready for incubation, there are a number of ways to validate and ensure market diffusion. At SAP, these include:

  • A company-wide Intrapreneurship program, which allows people with disruptive ideas to become little start-ups within the company, giving them the protected environment, funds, coaching and time to bring their ideas to market.
  • Multiple teams and initiatives that support the new development of adjacent product, solution or service innovations

So we take care of ease of success. But what about celebrating success? Celebrating success has two sides: rewarding innovativeness and making it visible. While visibility is about getting buy-in of important sponsors, as well as inspiring others to grow the culture, rewards are about creating the right incentives. There’s a wealth of theories out there about incentivizing innovation, running the full spectrum. In my own experience, not just within SAP but in customer innovation engagements I have found that it is all about the right currency: You have to find out what drives the expected behaviour in your environment. Here are some that worked:

  • Visibility: Executive dinner, executive mentoring, presentation slots at company events, calls, tv, company website; award / certificate of achievement
  • Career advancement: Vocational leave, job exchange programs, learning camps, collaborations with universities, references in social media & business platforms, recommendation letters, performance rating
  • Financial: Spot reward, bonus payment, share options, seed funding, financial success sharing models
  • Others: Relevant gifts, the boss’s parking slot for a month, a temporary office on the executive floor…

So what is the last ingredient we used for our innovation culture recipe? It’s the one thing that fuels the innovation engine:

Step 4: SPIRIT - Be an Entrepreneur (passionate, strategy-oriented, failure-tolerant), supported by committed leaders

We found that to be truly innovative, the best process, infrastructure, initiatives or incentives are useless without the right individual and group mindset.

  • A major part of an innovative mindset is passion. The more passionate you are about a topic, the more likely you are to be well-informed and ready to persist in cases of resistance and failure.
  • All the passion is useless though if you march in the wrong direction, so know and adopt your organization’s strategic vision.
  • Innovation is about letting go of ideas, challenging the status quo and being open to new perspectives – to risk is to fail is to learn, and only that cycle leads to occasional success.

While these are things an individual can learn and embrace, the group dimension brings in another aspect: the larger an organizations the more hierarchies usually come into play. They bring the need for innovation leadership

  • As a leader of innovation, you also need to excel in managing risks, rapid execution and cultivating innovators

I would love to tell you how we were really successful in achieving all this, but to be honest, innovation spirit is not something you can claim, it’s something you keep earning. So I see this as an ongoing journey and will be happily writing on about the ups and downs of it.

About the Author: Tonja Erismann is an innovation and strategy expert and Head of Innovation DNA in SAP’s Global Services Innovation group, with over 15 years of emerging technology management and consulting experience with leading global businesses.

Follow me on Twitter @TonjaErismann