As companies change course to respond to 2020’s challenges, innovation teams have faced budget cuts, hiring freezes, and changes in strategy. In this workshop, Brant Cooper shares how teams can navigate priority shifts during uncertain times. This session covers:
- The role agility plays in today’s business environment
- Why innovators should lead the pivot when confronting today’s obstacles
- Best practices for problem-solving with the C-suite, and understanding their mindset.
Cooper is the founder of the consulting firm Moves the Needle. He is also the New York Times bestselling author of The Lean Entrepreneur.
The Dangers of Buckling Down
According to Cooper, companies often lean into their core business and concentrate on ways of working with which they are already familiar. However, COVID-19 has deeply affected the core business — from restrictions on brick-and-mortar operations to supply-chain gaps and beyond. With no timeline for herd immunity, Cooper says, teams can’t afford to wait for a return to the pre-pandemic world.
“I think a month ago, people were saying, ‘Listen, if we can just ride this out for a month, we’re good,'” Cooper says. “We need to plan better than that. We know that there’s long-term consequences of this.”
Why Innovators Should Lead the Response
While teams cannot control the length of the pandemic or restrictions on their business, he says, teams can work on going digital and responding to customer needs. Innovation teams, Cooper says, are particularly well-equipped to navigate pivots: “We need to apply the practices that the innovation team uses all the time because they’re used to uncertainty. We have to apply those inside the core business.”
Cooper suggests that innovators guide leadership along and help them stay connected with customers. “Innovation people can [lead] by developing empathy for the leaders and understanding what drives [these leaders]…and what keeps them up at night,” Cooper says. “We can…transition them over to understanding where the uncertainty exists and how that uncertainty needs to be reduced before we execute on those specific programs.”
Working with the C-Suite
According to Cooper, innovation programs often work out of an operational budget and must annually justify returns on that investment. Cooper suggests teams tackle projects on both a near- and longer-term timeline to shift leaders’ thinking. “They understand that ‘Yes, we’ve got these near-term needs and the innovating can affect us and help us there. But we also need to start laying the groundwork for three, four years down the road.'”
Innovators must also advocate for non-traditional ways to measure progress and success, Cooper says. “It’s really difficult to get corporate people to think beyond the standard metrics of efficiency, and money saved, and money earned,” Cooper says. “And what we need to do is start teaching how to look at the metrics that indicate that we’re making progress.”
“The last step of this is really getting their buy-in…[assigning] someone [from leadership] to be a team member, or to at least participate on that project,” Cooper says. He says that this leader can help the team break down silos and invite people from different parts of the business to join in on projects.
“So [innovation] becomes this engine for growth that’s always running,” he says. “It doesn’t have to justify [each] year, because it’s always producing near-term results, but also [long-term] progress.”