Innovation is such a common buzz word; it is starting to make the lists of overused words. However, in a world where most organizations have a shortage of key resources (human and financial) innovation is one of the few methods where significant improvements can be made. The Baldrige Performance Excellence Criteria places significant emphasis on innovation. Requirements can be found in every one of the seven categories.

Let’s start by defining innovation. If you do a search on “define innovation”, 81 million results will be returned. No wonder figuring out where to start is so confusing. A good definition to use is the one in the Baldrige criteria.  The term “innovation” refers to making meaningful change to improve products, processes, or organizational effectiveness and to create new value for stakeholders. That seems simple enough until the next question is presented. What is meaningful in your organization? What is “meaningful” in healthcare is not the same as “meaningful” in the private sector or in a public school.

Consider the sector of your organization. Could ‘meaningful change’ be defined the same way for all organizations in the sector?  Very likely not.  So, where does that leave us? We need to define what ‘meaningful change’ is for each organization. Where should we start to do that?

The place to start is within your organization’s strategic planning process. Consider the diagram below depicting a Baldrige based strategic planning process as designed by Stratex Solutions:

The innovation process, when embedded into the strategic planning process, facilitates the alignment of stakeholder needs and requirements, the identification of organizational needs based on the development of strategic advantages, challenges, and opportunities, and the alignment of approaches to innovation with the organization’s vision, mission, values, and core competencies.

The definition of ‘meaningful change’ will be different for every organization and will evolve over a period of time. The work performed by each organization is never stagnant. It evolves and changes based on performance, the environment, and regulatory requirements. Ensuring an approach to innovation that aligns with your strategic direction makes it less likely time will be wasted chasing squirrels (new initiatives or bright shiny objects). Resources can be scarce, ensure your organization’s deployment of innovation will make the kind of difference in your organization that would meet the definition of meaningful change as defined in the planning process.

Once focus areas for innovation are defined, a plan should be developed to deploy an approach for implementation that has the appropriate integration elements to ensure the organization is not optimizing one set of processes at the expense of others. We’ll explore implementation and deployment in part two of this blog.

Consider ‘meaningful change’ as the definition of innovation for your organization. Then define what ‘meaningful change’ would look like. You will likely find it a different way of viewing innovation, one that is more achievable and will make a difference in your organization’s outcomes.