Posted tagged ‘Innovation’

Good News! Managing Innovation as a core business strategy has bottom-line benefits

October 4, 2010

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said “America’s innovation engine is not as efficient or as effective as it needs to be, and we are not creating as many jobs as we should. We must get better at connecting the great ideas to the great company builders.”

Throughout U.S. history, basic research in public and private sector research labs has spawned new technologies and inventions that led to new businesses. Those entrepreneurial businesses have been important drivers of the economy and ultimate job creation. Firms less than five years old have accounted for nearly all net new jobs in America over the last 30 years. Yet, as a share of gross domestic product, American federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970.

While federal investment may be important to the long-term capability of improving the economy, a key point highlighted here is that entrepreneurial impetus is a direct result of innovative thought, and a solid strategy for both short and long-term viability. 

According to Bill Ezell of Client Success Group, Inc., impetus is developed at the early stage of corporate development. “It’s more than about new products or services; it is about creating business processes to enable a company to enter new markets.” He continued the thought by saying that his role is about helping companies focus on the business processes that surround a product or service rather than the product itself. This enables risk to be assessed, strengths identified, and alignment developed in concert with market uncertainties. “Certainly innovation is about more than the product itself; it is about the ability to enable entry into new and emerging markets as opportunities arise. “

The dilemma lies in the strategy. “The creation of jobs should not be the focus; rather it should be about the strategy of innovation.”  For economic viability, stated Ezell, “it is important to develop a broader strategy to spur innovation and enable breakthrough technologies and dynamic companies to develop and grow.” Ezell continued by saying that “the value lies in the development of a culture that embraces and understands uncertainty, takes a serious look at innovation as a strategic focus, and develops a product or service for a profit for which jobs become the net outcome.”

The vehicle of innovation lies in the organization through surrounding human capital principles. “We must understand how human capital is managed and developed and what can be done to increase the focus” says Julie Lenzer Kirk at the Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Damascus, Maryland.  “Innovation is the most important impetus to creating opportunity and jobs.”  Kirk maintains that “by definition, innovative strategy creates value and is done best when embedded in the culture.”

Hiring the right people and developing strong cross-functional teams are vital to success. The best innovators have removed “can’t” from their language and consistently and constantly seek ways to bend the traditional knowledge curve.  Although, as Kirk stated, “Flexibility is a key indicator of success; conflict is good for innovative and productive outcomes.”  She continued by saying that “It’s an art not a science” and that innovative thought requires focus and balance to prevent tangent ideas from taking over rational business thinking.

“You have to keep going back to the process” says Kirk.  “Getting sparked” begins with idea generation and is kept in check by consistently reviewing ideas against the goals and objectives of the organization.  The process of “getting real” requires metrics that identify key indicators of success at milestone touch points. This allows for opportunity to be consistently rechecked and aligned with business objectives so that all good ideas are given credence and consideration at the right moment.

Practically thinking, “people need time to think, innovation comes from within and is enabled best when groups are allowed to share and develop ideas” according to Kerri Morehart of Pragmatics in McLean, VA. The objective for Pragmatics is to create an environment where innovation can happen. 

The challenge is in enabling continuous opportunities for idea generation through systematic communication coupled with the removal of the fear many associate with leading-edge thought.  “The value of face to face communication will never be replaced with technology.” In fact, at Pragmatics, employees are encouraged not to hide behind technology and to allow for the integration of solid ‘old school’ principles of face to face communication with ‘new school’ technologies.  By doing so, employees are encouraged and excited about possibilities. When they are, idea generation is increased and the bottom-line is that it becomes a win-win for both the company and the employee.

Morehart added that risk is not a blank piece of paper and without the ability to remain flexible and liquid, the ‘real meat’ of an idea that considers all possibilities is often missed.  Employees are encouraged to constantly think about and develop ideas.  CEO, Dr. Long Nguyen makes innovation very personal and helps employees to keep focus by allowing for and encouraging one-on-one meetings that are focused and real for each employee individually.

By “sticking to the knitting” and developing employee management programs that provide an environment of innovative thinking is proven to be a positive enhancement to the bottom-line. Pragmatics has experienced a 30% growth year over year despite the economy and forecasts the pace of growth to continue.  “Let’s face it, employees love their work and our clients love our outcome” says Morehart.

That simple fact was easily proven through Sean Cohan, Head of Agile Development at Pragmatics. He enthusiastically discussed how innovation enabled agile development to take root at Pragmatics. His passion and excitement for agile was evident in the discussion and his clients are definitely pleased with the outcome. Largely due to his passion for innovative technology and the flexibility of his company to allow development of his ideas, clients of Pragmatics have reaped the benefits of solutions using agile.

Agile development refers to a methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams. Through Pragmatics, clients were provided the opportunity to embrace agile practices.  With each success, the practice was enlarged through increased funding and space so that enhanced technologies could be developed.  Each stage of development along with the success realized with the end-client has proven to consistently increase customer support for agile development.

According to Cohan, “the impetus for development began internally with the need to support web development for a client.  With a need, came ideas, from the ideas, came solutions.” As a result of the success, a whole new business wheel was born and “we were able to expand our reach by launching agile related services with other clients”

According to Morehart, the framework for innovative thinking is embedded in the culture and begins before the employee comes to Pragmatics.  This allows for innovative thought to be fully leveraged in the hiring strategies that consistently source and retain critical thinkers.  This is certainly good news for Leslie Sorg Ramsay of the McCormick Group in Arlington, VA.  According to Sorg Ramsay, “bottom line, we want our clients to do better and retaining the right Human Capital is the answer. In the Human Capital world, we understand how people create success, and the company that embraces innovation is the key factor that enables personal success.  It’s a win-win for all concerned.”  She quoted the head of Pixar’s Training and Development as saying “people are more important than strategy, people create strategy.”

According to Sorg Ramsay, when working with hiring managers,” it’s necessary to fully understand what the company is doing, wants to do, and how they plan to develop their business model.”  By doing so, she is better able to focus her search on the “right fit” and to provide candidates who not only meet short-term needs, but who are also aligned with the long-term goals of the organization.

“It’s a fallacy to think that the talented most innovative people are looking for jobs, they focus on the long-term and want careers” says Sorg Ramsay. “So by working with the Leaders of an organization, we work to bring the best career minded folks to the most innovatively enabled environment.”  To do so “it is important to calibrate requirements with one or two hiring considerations.  This allows us to help streamline the process and ultimately provide only those candidates worth considering for hire.” It’s about partnership and, says Sorg Ramsay, “our ability to enter into a substantive discussion with our clients enables us to develop that vital partnership.”  

The economy is at risk, job growth is anemic at best. Yet, innovation is proof that organizations are dealing with today’s environment without losing focus on their long-term strategy.  As quoted from Dr. Long Nguyen of Pragmatics, “my objective in establishing Pragmatics was to build an organization highly skilled at developing technology-oriented solutions for information management requirements. “  He chose not to develop an organization that could do everything, but to focus on the quality of the service provided. At 30% growth, strategic innovation that is aligned with organizational goals and its processes is a key indicator of success.

For questions and comments, please feel free to contact the contributors to this article:

Bill Ezell, CEO and Founder of Client Success Group, Inc., a management consulting group focused on market and business development and revenue acceleration strategies. Headquartered in San Francisco with offices worldwide, Bill can be reached at (408) 531-1907, bezel@clientsuccessgoup.com, www.clientsuccessgroup.com

Julie Lenzer Kirk, CEO and Chief Muse at Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit that helps women expand economic opportunity by starting and building growth-oriented businesses.  Located in Damascus Maryland, Julie can be reached at (301) 916-5126, julie.kirk@pathforwardcenter.org, or visit their website at: www.pathforwardcenter.org

Leslie Sorg Ramsay, Principal at The McCormick Group, One of the top 25 search firms in the country and the largest independent executive search and consulting firm based in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Leslie can be reached at (703) 841-1700 lramsay@tmg-dc.com, or visit their website at: www.mccormickgroup.com

Pragmatics, solving mission-critical government technology challenges by incorporating technical expertise, process improvement, and innovation to deliver quality solutions that give customers what they need – real results.

–   Kerri Ross Morehart, Vice President, Human Resources at Pragmatics, (703) 761-4033, morehartk@pragmatics.com,

–   Sean Cohan, Agile Development, Pragmatics, (703) 761-4033, choans@pragmatics.com,

–   Or visit their website at: www.pragmatics.com

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