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The impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) on businesses are many, with swift and wide-ranging responses including an immediate focus on maintaining customer relationships, tightening financial management, and supporting the needs of remote and onsite workers.

Given this operating environment, many leaders may feel that there is little room to give proper consideration to innovation, and for some organisations facing significant challenges, that may be the case. However, for many businesses and their leaders, a continued focus on innovation strategy and activity during this time could provide immediate benefits and better position the organisation for the future.

For businesses that want to nurture innovation during this time, they should consider the opportunities this crisis might be presenting, how to harness diverse thinking within your workforce, use innovation activities to engage a remote workforce and continue to champion the innovation agenda.

Focus innovation efforts on COVID-19 related priorities and opportunities

Businesses are being forced to innovate fast as they respond to radical changes in demand for their core products and services. Similarly, the crisis is creating new opportunities, and those that are investing in offerings that match the market’s current/future needs will be best placed to succeed.

  • Start by developing an understanding of the changing needs of consumers and how your products and services are perceived/experienced?
  • Explore the opportunities for pivoting existing services and products in light of this new environment.
  • Direct product and service design efforts toward new, emerging needs, especially those of your key customer segments and those that are most disrupted.
    • For example, consumers are showing a renewed focus toward purpose-driven and local businesses in response to the societal impacts of COVID-19.
  • At a time when organisations are needing to make decisions quickly, applying an innovation lens can help realise immediate opportunities as well as longer term ones.

Harness your workforce and ecosystem diversity to source new thinking

Most organisations have established a taskforce of senior leaders who make the critical decisions that respond to new business realities. While this enables the business to be agile, it can also result in decisions being made that fail to harness the diversity and depth of perspectives from across the workforce and external ecosystem.

  • Identify opportunities/challenges that would benefit from broader input, diverse perspectives and out-of-the-box thinking, leveraging existing innovation processes such as crowdsourcing platforms or innovation networks.
  • Emphasise a desire to address customer needs, which leverages your employees existing insights, while establishing a customer-centric focus for the organisation.
  • Communicate innovation successes to your staff, with a focus on rewarding and recognising achievements, as a way to promote desired behaviours and send a positive message of support.
  • Engage with your external ecosystem (customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders) and incorporate their insights into your innovation activities, especially as they look for true partners (and potential growth opportunities) in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Leverage innovation activities to drive engagement from remote workers

While there is no shortage of collaboration tools available to organisations, innovation platforms and crowdsourcing tools can encourage employees to connect and co-create new ideas, enhancing morale and employee engagement. More than ever, your teams are looking for signs that the organisation in not only well-equipped to survive the current crisis, but also future-focussed, growth-oriented, agile and willing and able to adapt. Engaging the workforce in innovation activities, in parallel with a strong approach to business continuity and resilience, can deliver positive impacts on morale, engagement and productivity.

Sustain and enhance a healthy innovation pipeline

As organisations adapt to split teams and remote working, concerns are emerging around the impact this will have on maintaining a flow of ideas that will drive growth and business impact. While ensuring that the business is well positioned to survive the disruption remains the top priority, it is also essential to maintain a healthy investment pipeline, and supporting processes, in anticipating the longer-term shifts in customer needs and behaviour.

Leadership championing

Throughout the steady stream of messages from leadership guiding through this environment, leaders need to actively promote an innovation agenda to maintain cultural conditions that support the development of new ideas that drive growth.

  • Ensure corporate communications incorporate messages which reinforce that senior leadership are open to new ideas and are adapting to the disruption by pivoting services or launching relevant new products.
  • Champion relevant innovation challenges, particularly those that seek to uncover longer-term shifts that may endure beyond the crisis.

In the current complex business climate, it’s essential that organisations continue to invest in innovation. Ultimately, innovation may be the key to not just survive, but thrive, through COVID-19 impacts and beyond.


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