Skip to main content

Striking the balance between innovation and efficiency


Innovation is prized in companies these days. But so is efficiency. And sometimes the two clash, especially when innovative moves spark big changes and uncertainty.

In the book Relentless Innovation, North Carolina-based consultant Jeffrey Phillips offers seven steps for leaders to find the perfect balance between efficiency and innovation:

Top-down focus

Story continues below advertisement

The first factor is a strong focus on innovation from the top of the organization. Reinforce this with stated goals that are consistently measured. It's at the top that decisions are made about allocating capital and meeting financial targets, and senior managers must take the lead.

"The emphasis on innovation therefore must be at least as large as the emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness, and that emphasis must be constantly reinforced, through strategy, communications, executive action, and cultural and operating model change," Mr. Phillips writes.

Be open to new tools, methods

You won't succeed if you try to seed innovation in only one business area or product line. Even worse, he says, is trying to lock the innovation team into one method or approach for innovation, using a single time horizon. You need lots of tools and methods, a variety of time lines, and middle managers across the organization primed for innovation.

Stress the real goal

Treat innovation as a revenue opportunity, not a cost structure. "Innovation won't be successful until the team understands that the ultimate goal of the effort is to create revenue, growth, and opportunity," he stresses.

Become more 'plastic'

Story continues below advertisement

Brain scientists talk about plasticity – the advantages of being open, flexible and nimble. The same holds for innovation. Innovators must steer clear of "silos" within your organization, or even being restrained to sharing ideas only within its walls. They must build broad, horizontal networks.

Keep experimenting

In many companies, experiments are carefully designed and developed over a long period of time to validate a hunch or a theory. Wrong! Try lots of experiments and prototyping. Consider the effort as being as much about discovery and new insights as it is about validating internal perspectives and theories.

Embrace patience

Innovation requires patience, as does creating the systems and culture to make innovation happen. It also requires will. "Inertia and resistance, while subtle, are far stronger than your management team might believe," Mr. Phillips warns.

Plan a Cortez moment

Story continues below advertisement

When Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez landed in the New World, he scuttled his ships so his conquistadors knew there was no turning back. You may need a similarly dramatic moment when you spell out management's commitment to innovation and the targets you have developed.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Report an error
About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.