Comfort Does Not = Innovation
Now enters the next challenge — “innovation” is hard to define within an organization and an agency and therefore hard to manage. Let’s break this down between creating innovation as an agency versus a nonprofit.
If you’re an agency, innovation can represent financial and operational changes. If you have had strength in single-channel fundraising for a long time (i.e., direct mail), it is highly likely that innovation will be driven by the introduction of team members with different points of view and/or experience. There must be an evangelist around innovation, but in the end it requires new skill sets and new ideas to back up the vision of innovation. Innovation also takes an investment — one that should be kept separate from other budgets. By approaching it that way, the return on investment is viewed in a different manner than the budgets identified for the proven products and services already in the marketplace.
How does your agency reward innovation? Does it create an expectation around innovation? For many agencies, the teams are hands down meeting client needs and doing what is expected to achieve client goals. Every agency should ensure it is carving out some time within the schedules of its teams to focus on creating innovation in their particular areas of expertise.
Furthermore, performance management should include goals around innovation development. Be realistic; you cannot expect a creative person to come up with an analytic innovation (at least not on a regular basis, that is), but agencies have some of the best talent in the industry so make sure you are giving those great brains the opportunity to think outside of the box. That means your managers have to give permission to these staff to brainstorm and become visionaries and inventors. But, perhaps most important is the approval to not have only winning ideas. Failure is a critical part of innovation.