Investing in Innovation to Create a Proactive Culture
Jan 18, 2022 | By Michael Whitmire
Innovation is a priority in most organizations today, but it's also a challenge. According to a survey from McKinsey, 84% of executives agree that innovation is critical for the business, but only 6% are satisfied with innovation performance.
Why the disconnect? Simply put, because being truly innovative is hard. It's not enough to ask employees to generate new ideas or assemble "innovation teams." Such efforts inevitably fail because people are busy doing their day-to-day work and comfortable using the same processes and technologies.
Then again, how do we actually define "innovation?" In this sense, it's the process of identifying areas of improvement and implementing ways to make the changes happen. It's having a proactive mindset instead of a reactive one, with an eye toward the future.
At FloQast, innovation has been a part of our culture from day one. It's how we've been able to accelerate accounting workflow and development and work with partners and customers across the globe. Here's what we've learned about investing in innovation along the way and how you can apply those lessons in your organization.
Innovation Is a Mindset
Innovation isn't an initiative: It's a mindset. Innovative companies aren't happy with the status quo. They're more focused on new opportunities and options, which leads to bigger thinking.
People have a tough time innovating when worried about how the work will get done today. If you're focused on today's deadlines, personnel issues, and problems with your existing tech stack, you're too focused on operations to think about innovation.
Good leaders put their team in a position to succeed. If that team is mired in the day-to-day, they can't think strategically about how they're working if they are too focused on simply getting it done so they can get home on time. Supplying your team with the tools they need to work efficiently and automate manual tasks can go a long way toward freeing up the mental capacity to think about innovation.
Innovation Involves Taking (Calculated) Risks
Most accountants are used to avoiding or, at best, managing risk. It's like, ya know, our job.
There's a lot of risk involved in being an innovative organization. If it ain't broke, why fix it? Highly creative and disruptive ideas often sound crazy or impossible at first — especially to those being disrupted. If team members worry that they'll be ridiculed or shut down when they share new ideas, they simply won't share them.
Likewise, if people face reputational or career consequences for participating in unsuccessful projects, they won't participate.
If you want innovation to thrive in your organization, people need to know that they can share "outrageous" ideas and take risks without putting their reputations or careers on the line.
Innovation Requires (Some) Structure
Ideas can come from anywhere: Market intelligence, customer or stakeholder needs, and the experiences of your team members. But when someone has an idea, where does it go? Many great ideas get lost in the shuffle for a wide variety of reasons.
Having a structure around innovation helps ensure those ideas don't get lost in the shuffle. Your process for moving from concept to launch will vary, but at a minimum, you should have:
- A method of collecting ideas
- A process for vetting those ideas (either by an individual or a collaborative group)
- Proving the concept
- Getting final approval to launch the concept and roll it out to the entire department or organization
- Performing a post-mortem to learn from the experience
Deliberately designing your innovation process will systematize and provide structure for an otherwise chaotic process, shorten the time it takes to get innovative projects off the ground, and increase the rate of successful innovation in your organization.
Innovation Is Not Optimization
Optimization takes what you already have and improves it incrementally. Innovation is about exponential change and growth. Optimization is good, but innovation requires a different mindset.
Until recently, accounting departments and the technology providers that serve them were allowed to optimize at a relatively slow pace. Whether it was resistance to change, a lack of budget, or, even more simply, the belief that things were working just fine, teams would operate similarly to the way they did 10, 15, and 20 years ago. The result: Overworked accountants dissatisfied with little work-life balance and many questions about their futures. However, the convergence of multiple technologies and the digitization of processes have sped up the pace of change.
True innovation often requires diverse specialties and skillsets. As a result, nearly every organization looks for people with new skill sets. According to Gartner, 58% of the workforce needs new skills to get their jobs done. Many companies want to acquire new talent to gain the skills they need, but that strategy is not always realistic in today's recruiting and hiring environment.
Technology can help organizations bridge that gap by allowing them to access talent in any location and automating low-level work to allow accounting and finance professionals to elevate their roles. The pandemic accelerated the virtual world by several years. In many cases, the technology was available before the pandemic, but companies didn't leverage it until they were forced to change.
Driving a Digital Mindset From Within
FloQast helps organizations invest in innovation and drive innovative mindsets by providing finance and accounting professionals with the platform they need to work efficiently and identify opportunities for additional organizational modernizations. It's the bedrock that leads to more nuanced conversations about improving what's already been optimized.
Technology helps propel innovation forward by encouraging experimentation. Combining the right supporting technology with a few creative thinkers can achieve some truly innovative results.
Becoming an innovative company takes more than a whiteboard and a brainstorming session. It requires a willingness to get uncomfortable, shake up the status quo, and a lot of trial and error. Innovation will always be challenging, but with the right mindset, resources, and momentum, you can begin to drive innovative performance in your team.