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Four processes to keep you innovating through change
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Four processes to keep you innovating through change

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

Yet, those who manage to balance innovation and change management generally reap strong rewards. In fact, companies that manage to innovate through a crisis generally outperform the market by 10%. Post-crisis, they outperform the market by over 30%.

If your organization wants to belong to that class of innovators during future times of change, there are methods you can use to continue innovating even when the waters are murky. Just like with running, you have to make innovation a daily habit in your company—not just an activity you practice when the conditions are right. Here are four ways you can set yourself up for success.

Increase Collaboration Between Teams

While 41% of organizations are now home to a centralized innovation team, only 37% of those same organizations say collaboration happens seamlessly across their teams. If cross-functional collaboration isn't happening, chances are your teams are siloed, and innovation is being stifled — regardless of the presence of a team in charge of innovation.

Collaboration is key to innovation — and since it increases the diversity of opinions in a room, your brainstorming doesn't become an echo chamber. It also allows different backgrounds to inform your ideas and strengthen their overall appeal. Nielsen found that when ideas were developed by teams of three or more people, they had 156% greater appeal with consumers than ideas developed by just one or two people. Over time, that effect stacks up: Research by Forrester and Atlassian shows that large enterprises see an average of $330 million in additional revenue when they increase their collaboration efforts.

Increase the day-to-day communication between your teams by opening up viewing permissions across your tools, such as your Trello boards. If teams aren't working with sensitive or proprietary data, make their boards viewable organization-wide — allowing others to get a better sense of what they're working on and how.

You can also build easy ways for teams to share feedback and ideas with one another. For instance, a product development team could decide independently which feature they'll be rolling out next and simply announce it at the next all-hands meeting. Or alternatively, you could set up a Trello board where salespeople, customer support agents and marketers could share ideas and features requested by customers. Using Trello's Power-Up integrations, users could also attach relevant support tickets, social media posts or emails to make a case for those features. Each employee could then go in and vote for the features they see requested most often.

If your organization wants to belong to that class of innovators during future times of change, there are methods you can use to continue innovating even when the waters are murky. Just like with running, you have to make innovation a daily habit in your company—not just an activity you practice when the conditions are right.

Trello's Voting Power-Up can be a simple (but powerful) way to crowdsource employee opinions.

When this kind of open communication happens regularly across teams, they're more likely to see innovation in their day-to-day work.

Strengthen Your Customer Feedback Loop

While increasing collaboration helps diversify the opinions and knowledge in the room, there's still one key voice that's missing: your customer. Innovating in isolation means that your teams may not be getting customer feedback until they launch a product or change a feature, which could lead to making incorrect assumptions about your customers' needs.

"The mistake is adopting what I call the 'science fair' mentality," says Vicki Huff Eckert, founder of PwC's U.S. and Global New Ventures organization. "Encouraging employees throughout the business to innovate freely but without much, if any, direct contact with the very customers these innovations are intended for."

To truly drive innovation at scale, you need to make it habitual for teams to seek customer feedback at each stage of the innovation journey, from the initial ideation phase to getting product feedback post-launch. For instance, when the marketing team is brainstorming ideas for a new promotion, have them send a survey to several loyal customers in exchange for a gift card. After the promotion wraps up, the marketing team should have the customer support team flag any feedback on the roll-out to learn what went well and what might go better next time, which can be critical data for the product team to lean on for their next iteration cycle.

To make sure seeking customer feedback becomes a habit, bake it into teams' processes. Add a feedback column to your existing ideation boards in Trello, or create an Advanced Checklist item on each Trello card in a brainstorming sprint to run each idea past a company champion. Doing so will help ensure that you're bringing your customer's voice to the table every single time you innovate.

Make Information Easy To Access

When employees can't easily access information, it wastes valuable time and restricts collaboration. And this inaccessibility is more widespread than you might think. According to a study by Wakefield Research and Elastic, over 50% of American office professionals today say they spend more time searching for files and documents than they do answering messages or emails.

Of course, no organization intends to make internal information difficult to access. But when the average enterprise uses 175 apps across teams, it's easy for information to fall into silos. Forrester reports that one of the top collaboration challenges organizations face when trying to increase innovation is having data restricted or not easily accessible within their organization.

A work management platform can solve that problem by keeping information centralized across the different tools individual teams use. Trello Enterprise integrates with dozens of best-in-class solutions, allowing you to pull information from various apps onto Trello cards. For instance, your design team can embed live design files directly from Figma onto a Trello card, the sales team can easily attach contact details from Salesforce to a card and marketing can attach relevant Confluence documents or Google Docs to project cards.

Trello's Confluence Power-Up makes it easy for users to keep information centralized.

That way, teams can share relevant information in one central location — even if they don't have access to the same apps — to reduce wasted time and streamline communication.

Free Up Time For Innovation With Automation

Did you know the average information worker spends three hours a day on routine tasks that could be automated? Extrapolate that over a week, and that's nearly two full weekdays wasted. In a year, that's more than a third of the average person's working year spent on recurring tasks like project updates, sending emails or organizing data.

That's valuable time that could be spent on innovation if companies automate these cumbersome tasks. Forrester predicts that intelligent automation services will support a quarter of remote workers by 2022, allowing them to spend more time on strategic initiatives and innovation. No-code automation — like the type leveraged by Trello's Butler automation tool — can send automated project updates to customers or coworkers, pass off work between teams or schedule recurring tasks and deadlines.

Say goodbye to typing out updates to clients or coworkers — Trello's Butler can take repetitive communication tasks off your plate.

Successfully leveraging automation won't automatically make you more innovative, of course. But what kind of innovative projects could your teams prioritize if over 35% of their daily tasks were wiped off their plates? With that kind of time savings, you could even consider building out a 20% time rule, the methodology popularized by Google. A 20% time rule allows employees to spend 20% of their work time exploring work-related creative projects that may not necessarily have immediate results to team goals, but could make a longer-term impact to the greater company.

Boost Your Innovation Engine With The Right Tools

Creating a culture of innovation that can weather tough times isn't easy. There's not a one-size-fits-all app that will instantaneously transform an enterprise overnight to prioritize innovation. But, you can take the first step by leading your teams and putting innovation-stoking processes in place for your employees. By building systems that make innovation a daily habit among your teams rather than just a fair-weather activity, you can ensure your business is continually improving — no matter what crises come your way.