The corporate landscape of the 21st century is more dynamic and turbulent than ever before.

We are living in a time when a major, multi-national industry can be disrupted by three guys in a garage. We are learning new ways of working and the future of the workplace is being redefined as we speak.

On top of disruption, customers and their expectations have evolved dramatically as well. Things that were luxuries or novelties only a few years ago are now staples that we expect and rely on. Some companies, like Apple, Amazon, and Google are mitigating, meeting, and anticipating customer expectations extremely well. This changes customer behavior across the board which means that these companies are your competitors whether you’re in the same industry or not because they are setting the standard for what customers expect.

Still, 75% of transformation efforts in large corporations fail. Why is that?

To answer that question, we had Sonja Kresojevic on stage at our recent event in Atlanta. Sonja Kresojevic is a passionate innovation strategist who understands what it takes to bring lean and agile principles into large enterprise organizations. She has 20 years of global experience as a senior executive, building products and driving transformation inside large enterprises including Channel 5 News UK, BBC, and Unboxed.

Why Do Innovation Efforts Fail?

Some companies get stuck in beginning analysis paralysis while others fail to scale their efforts beyond their initial groups. But the main reason for failure is people – people are resistant to change. Period. As a group, we are most comfortable repeating a pattern; stuck on autopilot. People are hard to change, and organizations are typically not set up to support change.

Large, established companies that have been around since the early 1900s aren’t set up for innovation. They are set up for execution of existing business models. They tend to rely on organizational charts that haven’t changed much since the 19th century and a workforce based on 20th century teachings and skillsets. You have to be innovative at scale to change large enterprises. That means dealing with different organizational mindsets and people struggling to make sense of it all.

33% of transformation efforts fail due to lack of leadership support or lack of leadership driving change. 38% because the employees within the organization don’t understand why they’re being asked to change and therefore don’t support that change.

How Do You Start Embracing Change and Innovation as a Company?

It starts with changing processes; it’s crucial to align your innovation strategy with your corporate strategy. Most of all means changing the culture of the organization.

Your goal is an adaptable organization that’s based on continuous innovation and continuous learning to drive growth.

So, what does that mean?

  • Identify the problems you need to solve and how can you can use lean and agile principles to solve them.
  • Embrace uncertainty. You’re stuck until you start fostering an organizational culture that is comfortable with uncertainty and change.
  • Place small bets. Whether you’re building projects or making changes – Start small and then scale up.
  • Customer Centricity. Everything you do must have the ultimate goal of being focused on the customers’ needs and expectations.
  • Agility Matters. Can you make a decision in 5 minutes instead of 6 months? Let go of running every decision through ten committees.

We Need to Change How We Change

When we talk about innovation models and plans, most are still very linear which is a mistake. It doesn’t account for the fact that life and how we operate is no longer linear. If the ultimate goal is an adaptable organization that can react to any change then our change processes need be the nimble and adaptable as well.

It takes years to embed innovation within an organization. It’s going to take three to five years, and everything from customer expectations to operations, workforce, and competitors will change during that time. Thinking you can come up with a static plan at the beginning and then execute on that plan is just plain silly.

Start with alignment – What is the problem you’re trying to solve?

This starts with the WHY – What is your vision? What is your purpose and how will you measure your progress towards that purpose? Metrics are important. This is how you build continuous loops of learning. Just start measuring everything.

How do you measure alignment to your goals? Have a hypothesis to measure impact and use that data to inform when and where you’ll need to pivot along the way.

Transformation is a journey – It’s not a linear path.

Start with your business goals and then define the transformation goals to match. Develop good KPIs and review all of it continuously. It’s not something you can set up at the beginning and leave stagnant.

Bring leadership on the journey

It is crucial to have leadership along for the ride, so they can experience the process instead of expecting a linear plan. You need leadership asking what’s been learned and achieved instead of expecting hard project dates and deliverables by deadlines. Your innovation team needs to be able to easily present leadership with what’s been learned and where they’ve pivoted.

... and bring everyone along

One of the biggest mistakes companies make is doing innovation on the side and then bringing it to the troops late in the game. The net effect, from their perspective, it that the changes just suddenly happen to them. Bringing everyone on the journey ensures that people understand the “Why.” – They’re using the same language. They get to experience what’s in it for them at all levels and all points along the way.

Finally: Make It Sustainable

You can’t rely on individual change agents, heroes, or one person willing to work 80 hours a week to drag an entire organization into change. Start small and iterate based on data. There is only so much change an organization can absorb at one time. Invest in your people. Give them space to breathe, innovate, change, evolve, and transform - the organization needs to do that iteratively over time.

Ready for changing how you change?

Work with Sonja and colleague Jonathan Bertfield on product innovation and lean transformation during their London or New York masterclasses (more info here) or at Innov8rs Miami or Innov8rs Paris