How Entuitive Is Formalizing Innovation to Achieve Maximum Return on Investment
Recently, Entuitive renewed its Innovation Strategy to ensure maximum focus and ROI. Building on the success of its first 10 years, the firm wanted to answer the question, “How can innovation play a role in achieving our 2025 vision?” The answer to this question, the strategy behind the strategy, will see Entuitive earning the most bang for every invested innovation buck.
Keep reading to learn how Entuitive developed its updated strategy and for five key takeways for anyone looking to improve their organization’s culture of innovation.
“That’s Not the Way We’ve Always Done Things”
Anyone familiar with Entuitive’s history knows the firm was founded with a healthy disregard for the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done things,” understanding that always striving to be better tomorrow than they were today was the only way to continually deliver great projects for great clients.
The original innovation framework, known as Ennovation, laid the foundation for a process that would rapidly test ideas to discover what worked and what didn’t, embracing the idea of failing forward when it came to trying new things that would improve the firm.
“When we first started thinking about Ennovation, we asked ourselves what such a process and framework might look like,” says Blaine Jansen, Associate and Chair of the Ennovation Committee. “And more importantly, how could we build resources around it? We determined that there were three distinct pillars of Ennovation: identify, validate, and implement. We built resources, such as our internal ideas site (where staff can submit any and all ideas they might have for improvements) and our annual firmwide Big Ideas challenge, to create opportunities for staff to collaborate on ideas big and small that would improve the way we do things. And if an idea didn’t work out the way it was originally imagined, that was okay! There is such power in what you learn along the way!”
Entuitive U, our unique recruitment platform that aspires to change the way recruitment happens in engineering, is the product of one such Big Ideas challenge. It was submitted and developed by Project Coordinator Stephen Cohos. You can read more about Entuitive U here.
“If You Aim at Nothing, You Hit Nothing”
Remaining true to the firm’s anti-status quo mentality, after several years with the Ennovation framework, the team once again asked themselves how they could improve innovation at Entuitive. The answer was by aligning all innovation activities with the 2025 vision.
Where before the Ennovation framework sought any idea that provided tangible benefit to the firm, leveling up meant homing in with laser-like precision on those ideas that directly supported the vision. The framework itself had proven successful. Now it was time to dig even deeper and get even more strategic.
“If you don’t intentionally evolve your culture, it will simply devolve,” says Brock Schroeder, Managing Director. “Entropy rules and if you let things go on as they always have, you risk devolving into processes far removed from both their original intent and your current intent. To stay on track with our vision, we must aim at it every day and revise it when necessary. If you aim at nothing, you hit nothing.”
This is the key to innovative success and its development at Entuitive took place in three parts.
Step 1: An External Perspective
First, the firm worked with an external advisor to assist with designing and facilitating internal focus groups, surveys, and a discovery of its current innovation state. That external perspective was key to organizing the firm’s innovation activities. “During this work we really became more granular in some of the questions we were asking,” says Blaine. “The main one being what exactly are we trying to accomplish with innovation? This question, and the answer of moving towards the vision, became the keystone to the strategy’s development.”
Step 2: Defining Value
Next, it was clear that staff needed a common understanding of what innovation meant to Entuitive. The process of defining innovation included several important pieces, such as continual improvement, delivering value, and ideas of all sizes. But this presented another question: how to define value in a meaningful way.
“Defining what innovation means to Entuitive also led us to defining what value means,” says Blaine. “We wanted to understand how each activity we test would ultimately add value to our vision. So we had to get clear on what it means to deliver value. After some analysis and discussion, we determined that value creation for Entuitive means revenue generation, cost reduction, or social and cultural benefit. We believe that innovation with one or all of these levers could positively impact our vision for 2025.”
With this approach, the Ennovation Committee could now cross-reference each identified opportunity with at least one of the three levers of value creation. If the idea both moves one of the levers and maps onto Entuitive’s vision, then the Committee allocates resources to testing it out. If it doesn’t, then the idea is parked.
Step 3: A Balanced Portfolio
The third part of the strategy involved categorizing Entuitive’s portfolio of innovation efforts into three groups: core, adjacent, and transformational. A balanced portfolio of ideas is required to incrementally improve and invest for the future. These three types of innovation ensure there’s a balance between all the activities being tested.
“Core innovation relates to what we’re doing right now,” says Blaine. “Ideas that enhance our current service. Adjacent innovation relates to what’s next for the business. For example, a new service that we don’t yet offer but fits into our suite of engineering services. And transformational innovation work is something totally brand new that can really push the industry forward. We don’t want to spend all our resources on transformational ideas without improving our current offerings to the best of our ability. Similarly, we don’t want to ignore potentially transformational opportunities because we’re so focused on what we’re currently doing that we’re not positioned for the future.”
A Culture of Innovation
Perhaps the main benefit of the renewed strategy, says Blaine, is that it allowed the firm to understand its current capabilities.
“When you’re thinking about a culture of innovation, you can’t just put out a call for ideas from staff and expect that to be it,” he says. “The entire firm has to understand the goals and be equipped with time, knowledge, and a culture that supports. Through our strategy work, we took the time to ask things like do our leaders know how to support our staff in innovation? Do we have the correct processes set up? Do we have the right technology to support innovation? As someone once said, innovation is not an ideas problem, it’s a resource allocation problem. Our staff are full of great ideas. It’s our job to set up the firm in a way that can support the genesis and development of those ideas.”
Entuitive’s new bi-monthly Open Ennovation sessions are one such support pillar. Open Ennovation invites all staff to participate in themed sessions with a specific innovation focus, ultimately with an eye to delivering one of the three levers of value creation.
“It’s just getting going but we’ve already had really interesting collaboration come out of these sessions,” says Blaine. “The point is to create a space that allows our people to get thinking or express an idea they already have. Innovation is a team sport and we’ve been bringing the team along with this latest test.”
How to Achieve Maximum Results
The process of redeveloping Entuitive’s innovation strategy has resulted in five key takeaways from Blaine for anyone else looking to up their organization’s innovation ante:
1. Set up an internal space for staff to submit their ideas. Crowdsourcing is key, so make it easy. This is the first basic step to developing a culture of innovation. Simply make a space for it!
2. If you’re already testing out new ideas, or have some in the pipeline, take stock of these activities and whether they will truly move the needle on what matters to your organization. Don’t get lost in the sunk cost fallacy.
3. Similarly, evaluate all new innovation work with regard to the organization’s stated vision or five-year plan. It’s great to test out cool ideas, but is it going to make a difference? “You can’t say yes to every idea, even if it’s good,” says Blaine. “There has to be some parameters to help you make tough decisions and ultimately move toward the vision with every single step.”
4. Define value. Every organization will define value differently. Ideally, value is whatever moves you towards your five-year plan. Is your vision to build 100 affordable homes? Then innovation must specifically add value towards that goal. Keep it simple. Keep it straight.
5. Socialize innovation with your firm. Once you’ve made a space for innovation, actively promote it with your people. Hold workshops with your leaders. Hold regular ideation sessions with your staff. The only way to get your people excited about innovation is by living it every day. Try new things, know why you are trying them, and know how you will be able to tell if they’re working.
For more information on how to develop a culture of innovation, or to learn more about Entuitive’s process, reach out to Blaine Jansen.