7 Reasons Innovation May Fail

When a company uses the term innovation, what comes to mind?

Any number of things I would imagine. In fact, I know. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research lately around the topic of developing an innovative workplace culture. I’ve spoken to a lot of HR professionals in the process. Some of the answers I’ve been given are similar in nature, but a lot were different too.

The more I think about the topic, the more curious I get. Generally speaking, HR professionals think of innovation or an innovative workplace culture as a positive concept. What we don’t think about, in fact, what I’ve not really thought about is the flipside of the coin: Can innovation be a negative concept?

innovative employee with crumpled ideas

The fast answer: you bet it can.

Now before you get upset with me, I’m not trying to squash the idea of innovating or developing an innovative workplace culture. I do, however, think it is important to give you, the HR professional, a fair shake at all the information available.

Here are the 7 reasons innovation may fail.

1.  Trust

I know. Weird, right? Think about it though. Innovation requires a huge amount of trust in order for it to happen. Several HR professionals have told me leadership has to be supportive of employees who want to innovate. The leaders have to trust the employee.

It’s not a one-way street though.

The employee has to place some trust in leaders… that if an innovative idea fails he or she will continue to have a job. It also takes trust in oneself to commit to an innovative idea and see it through.

In either case, if trust isn't there innovation will fail.

2.  Lack of Common Definition

I asked the question earlier, but it’s worth revisiting. There are 100 different ways to describe innovation. There is no common definition.  No common definition, no innovation.

Definition of innovation

Before a company can begin innovating, leaders must define what it means to their company to be innovative. They also have to be strategic. Augie Schulke, the Chief Human Resources Officer for Veolia North America said, “You have to have a strategy in place to enable an innovative workplace culture that will support it. Now, have a structure in place too. You have to have the organization set up so there's communication, the feedback, team-building projects… the structure has to be in place to that."

3.  Lack of Commitment

Getting one person to innovate is hard. Getting everyone to do it, even more difficult. If your company isn’t committed to it, forget innovating. There are costs involved and it’s a slow process.

Not only that, but leadership has to be committed to innovating. Employees can see through leaders who aren’t committed. As a result, there is no inspiration to do the hard work of innovating or changing the culture to support the process.

4.  Innovative Readiness

Is your company, your team, your workforce ready to innovate? While you may think this is similar to commitment, you would be wrong. Innovating requires some education and communication. Employees need to know what they’re trying to innovate. They need clear, concise direction. But most importantly they must know why it’s important.  Without it, they'll sit by and not participate.

5.  Can’t keep up

When companies begin to innovate, it requires everyone to pause a moment, examine the successes and the failures, and decided how to proceed. Skipping this step will ensure your workplace or workforce will be unable to keep up with the changes. Those changes also have to make sense to those individuals charged with enforcing and complying with those changes.

6.  Innovation Before Product

An innovative workplace can be fun and exciting, but if you forget the product or the service you provide in the process… you’re doomed. Your product or service must always drive innovation. Lean on your customers for feedback. Customers will always tell you what they like and what they don’t like when asked. You may also need to look at the numbers to get a good indicator of how your new innovative workplace or strategy is impacting your bottom line.

7.  Shiny, new technology

Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should do a thing. That’s usually how a feel about technology. It’s great sometimes, but it can be a hindrance. Avoid shiny, new technology. Don’t purchase something that is untried and untested. You need to know how it will impact the innovative culture you want to create or the innovation you are so intently pursuing. Do your research. See how it can help you and your company better innovate.

And mind your pocketbook in this regard. Sometimes, there is a high from buying the latest and greatest technology. In fact, if you think about it everyone has to have the next big thing technologically. I have one example for you: Apple’s iPhone. Don’t get me wrong, keep spending money when you need to do so. Having technology is great, but if it’s not going to help you achieve better results on innovation and if it’s not showing a positive return on investment, you don’t need it.  Spending too much can lead to failure.

In conclusion…

In no way am I saying innovation or developing an innovative workplace culture is a bad idea. In fact, I believe it to be absolutely necessary. In order for companies to better their products and employees, they have to innovate in some way. Not keeping up the best practices of your company in the process will certainly lead to failure.