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Communication Strategies for Open Innovation

April 26, 2012 15inno No Comments

This is an excerpt from my latest book, Making Open Innovation Work. CLICK THIS LINK FOR A FREE DOWNLOAD!

Strong communication programs are important at any time within an organization, but never more so than when open innovation is your goal. Without a good communication strategy, your odds for success do not look good. To move forward, people need to know where to go and how to get there. Here are three reasons why communication is a critical element if you want to succeed with open innovation.

• “We are in the matchmaking business.” This quote came from Chris Thoen, former managing director of the Global Open Innovation office at P&G, during his presentation at a CoDev conference. Chris also stated that one of the key objectives of open innovation is to become the preferred partner of choice. As with any kind of matchmaking, we strive to find the best possible partner and in order to do so we must be able to articulate our propositions in an attractive manner. This is very much about communication.

• Find and be found. Let the ecosystem in your region—as well as globally—know what you are doing. Tell about your open innovation initiatives, share your learnings, and ask for input. Messages with substance move very fast within such ecosystems. This can help a company to be perceived as a preferred partner of choice or at least as a company with a potential for this to happen. You need to find the right partners, but it would be great if they also came to you, right? This is very much about communication.

• Open innovation needs to become top of mind within organizations; not just within innovation teams. By now, many innovation teams understand the value of open innovation and those that do not will soon learn the hard way. It is a tougher challenge making the rest of the company fully understand and buy into the value of open innovation. Nevertheless, this has to happen in order for them to change mindsets and behaviors and thus be able to fully support open innovation and benefit from this. This is very much about communication.

As they embrace open innovation, companies are increasingly realizing that they need to change from just branding and promoting the innovation outcome to doing the same for their corporation innovation capabilities. Doing so helps them build their image as an attractive partner and thus supports the goal of building a strong open innovation ecosystem. Obviously, communications comes into play here, too, both with internal and external audiences.

Knowing the strategic goals motivates people and builds a collective sense of purpose. So put a communications plan in place before you even start. Make sure you take every opportunity to turn good news into a story that can work internally as well as externally. The latter is especially useful if recruitment is a serious issue.

Obviously, communicating within a small company is easier than in a large corporation. But that doesn’t mean that developing a solid communications plan is any less important. In a small company, it might be easier for one or two people to throw a wrench into the works, so it’s important that everyone understand why open innovation is important to your company’s future and what they need to do to get on board.

You should develop specific communication points of view for your stakeholder groups. It’s even better if these points of view are aligned with the value propositions.

In a presentation I heard by Jeff Boehm, a former VP of Invention Machine, the innovation software company, he very smartly outlined a four-step process for keeping the need for focusing on innovation constantly in the forefront of employees’ minds through smart communications. Here are his steps with some elaboration from me:

• Positioning: Make it relevant and show success. To keep people on track when it comes to pursuing open innovation, they need to understand why it matters to the wellbeing of the organization they’re part of. In some ways, this may be easier to do in a small company than in a large corporation, because in a small organization it can be easier for people to see how their work impacts the overall organization’s well-being.

They may feel less like just one cog in a giant wheel than someone who is working in a big global corporation. As a result, they may feel see the direct link between what they do and the success of the business more clearly.

One of the best ways to show why open innovation is relevant is to tout success stories. These won’t be available early on but when forward progress is made, make sure everyone knows about it.

• Promotion: Make it obvious. As discussed in Chapter 4, having a communications strategy and plan in place to promote open innovation is vital. Constantly reinforcing messages about the purpose of open innovation and the desired outcomes will assure that employees understand just how important it is.

• Calls to action: Make it easy. This builds on the above. Keep the messages clear and simple to better allow your people to engage in and thus learn about open innovation.

• Sustain momentum: Make it stick. When open innovation is first introduced in a business of any size, it is possible some people may conclude that it is another “flavor of the month” initiative sent down from on high. This is particularly apt to occur if an organization has a track record of introducing new strategies only to abandon them a short while later.

This cannot be allowed to happen with open innovation. Actions from the top must continually show that open innovation is here to stay and will be a continuous focus of company efforts. In other words, do everything possible to build open innovation into your company’s culture.

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