One of the common barriers to innovation in many companies occurs when corporate leaders promote a culture of innovation to employees but then do little if anything to change the structure of the organization or the workflows for employees to allow that to happen.
While innovation is a creative exercise, it also requires practices and processes that are structured if it has any hope of becoming repeatable and productive.
This philosophy is just one of the reasons why IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., a leader in pet healthcare innovation, is ranked #31 on the Forbes 2017 World's Most Innovative Companies list. Not only does the company invest 5X more in R&D than its competitors, it also takes a data-driven approach to innovation that enables it to get useful information into the hands of its customers much faster than its rivals.
"What excites me about this is that if we can get information to our customers faster, can we go to market faster than our competitors," said Ken Grady, Corporate Vice President and CIO at IDEXX. "As the CIO in helping to lead this strategy, we can directly impact the bottom line of the company."
Grady and his team also play a significant role in helping IDEXX to adjust to changing market conditions and product development opportunities. "We adjust our five-year plan regularly given the pace of technology," said Grady. "We conduct a quarterly review of the portfolio with the CEO and the executive committee. There's a cadence and structure around our technology investment strategy."
IDEXX's technology investments are closely aligned with the company's product portfolio and its strategic objectives. For instance, IDEXX is applying machine learning to image analysis in its radiology services to help make image reading faster and more accurate.
Fostering a culture of innovation
Structure also plays an important role in cultivating a culture of innovation at IDEXX. For instance, the company hosts a series of 'Innovation Days' to highlight innovative laboratory achievements and to recognize individual contributors. IDEXX regularly conducts hackathons which encourage brainstorming and creative collaboration between programmers, graphic designers, and other team members on software development and other types of projects. In addition, the company holds science fairs twice a year where prizes are awarded across a variety of categories.
For his part, Grady also presents `CIO Awards' to members of his team in recognition of their collaboration, innovation, and commitment to excellence. "Intelligent innovation is one of the guiding principles of the company, shaping it around technology and what that means to us."
Still, Grady and other company leaders recognize that while innovation isn't risk-free, they encourage employees to take chances. "We're trained to be risk averse, but research is all about failing and learning from your failures," said Grady. "It's an important part of innovation and you need to develop a safe enough place to innovate. We've had some great successes that have stemmed from failures. You have to promote that environment and make it evident to people."
To learn more about Ken Grady and other forward-thinking technology executives in the HMG Strategy network, click here.