I read a thought-provoking story the other day. Professors Joe Tidd and John Bessant tell of a report presented at the annual conference of a prevalent U.S. industry. As you read the following excerpt, try to guess the industry they’re talking about:
“We are at the brink of change of an unprecedented and exponential kind and magnitude … We must be willing and able to discard old paradigms and engender and embrace manifest change … These required changes include … putting in place systems and a culture for sustainable innovation.”
Did you guess that the report was presented to a high-tech industry? Wrong. The fast-moving manufacturing industry? Wrong again. The hospitality industry? Still wrong. The correct answer is that the report was presented at the 2001 conference of the American Bar Association.
So what’s the lesson in this story? Actually there are two of them. The first is the need to innovate applies to every industry and profession, even professions as tradition-bound as the practice of law. In the hospitality industry, the lesson means every facet of the organization—brands; hotels; management companies; asset-managers; lenders; developers; buyers; brokers; architects; contractors; consultants; accountants; suppliers; associations; schools; publishers; conference producers; and even lawyers—should be practicing innovation.
The second lesson is innovation is a process, which is alluded to in the ABA report where it makes mention of, “ … putting in place systems and a culture for sustainable innovation.” Various versions of the innovation process have been proffered. The “5i’s” framework in the following diagram captures the elements that are common to most of them. In this framework, the innovation process consists of three phases and two conditions. The three phases are identification, ideation and implementation; the two conditions are the condition of having an innovation strategy and the condition of having an innovation culture.
A hotel industry example of the three phases is described in the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly article titled “Service Innovation: Applying the 7-I Model to Improve Brand Positioning at the Taj Holiday Village Goa, India,” written by Aveek Sengupta and Chekitan S. Dev. The authors’ 7-I model is, in effect, a seven-step version of the foregoing three-phase framework. Let’s walk through the three phases as they apply to the Taj Holiday Village Goa hotel in India.
The identification phase is about identifying and understanding the problem or opportunity that will be the focus of the innovation initiative. It could just as well be called the “search and research” phase considering that it entails searching for an innovation target and then doing research to gain insight into it. There are many manners of methods for searching and researching innovation targets, such as strategic issue diagnosis, employee idea systems, task analysis, ethnographic research and living laboratories, to name just a few. In the case of the Taj Holiday Village Goa, management identified a service problem based on relative revenue-per-available-room performance and inadequate guest satisfaction scores. They gained more insight into the problem—the solution that personalizing guest experience was the critical service issue—by researching the guest feedback obtained through its proprietary computerized customer feedback system.
The ideation phase has to do with generating, elaborating and assessing ideas about how to address the issue detected in the identification phase. Again, there are a multitude of methods—including a variety of creativity, feasibility analysis, modeling and decision-making methods—that can be brought to bear on the issue. At the Taj Holiday Village Goa they generated and developed the idea that all guest-facing employees would carry a cell phone and call in guest complaints to a centralized guest services desk. The guest services desk would immediately text all managers and department heads to alert them to the complaint. The responsible department would implement the appropriate service recovery, and the other departments would follow up by treating the guest with extra care.
The implementation phase is about turning ideas into reality. Methods include detailing the design, rapid prototyping, developing business and action plans, and implementing a learning process for continuous improvement. Sepgupta and Dev describe the prototyping process in terms of the “soft launch” of the complaint management system (sort of like the soft opening of a hotel), during which time the bugs were worked out of the system. One problem with the system was complaints were sometimes lost, which was resolved by adding a computerized complaint tracking system. Action planning included a communications and employee training program. The learning process revealed, despite the improved service recovery system, many guests remained somewhat dissatisfied with the hotel. Management responded by modifying the complaint management system to include meetings between guests and senior managers to forestall problems and resolve issues before they became severe enough to provoke a complaint.
We’ll talk about the two conditions of the innovation process in a future column. For the moment, consider there’s no point to innovating if your company culture kills or sabotages every new idea suggested. Also consider having an innovation strategy ensures your innovation efforts are targeted at the things that will have the most impact on your organization’s bottom line.
Kevin Holt is the founder and President of Co.Innovation Consulting, a collaboration and innovation consultancy that specializes in the hospitality industry. The company’s services center on designing and facilitating innovation workshops, longer-term innovation initiatives, organization-wide innovation systems and inter-organizational innovation networks. Innovation targets include products and services, customer experience management, process improvement, market positioning strategies, and organizational business models. Co.Innovation’s unique approach incorporates the use of online and face-to-face collaboration technologies. For more information, please call Kevin at 602-510-8080 or email him at email@example.com.
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