There are many fascinating technologies – from big data, artificial intelligence, to blockchain – that can truly enhance the services provided by lawyers, clinicians, engineers and many other professionals. However, incorporating these technologies is not going to happen by itself. Successful incorporation requires professionals to take charge, take on the role of innovation champions, and become gamechangers; A perfect role for ambitious professionals that still have to make their name.
Becoming an innovation champion
Becoming a gamechanger is the ambition of many young professionals. Given the many fascinating technologies mentioned above, there is no better time to take action. However, where to start?
Setting the stage
Before taking any action, it helps to first look around and scout the landscape.
Especially if you plan to significantly change how you currently service your clients. To do so successfully, you will have to achieve better or at least similar outcomes. So, step 1 is to identify what the current Key Performance Indicators are in your organization. For example, revenue, profitability, etc..
Step 1: Identify the current key performance indicators
You probably already have an idea of how to change the game and service current clients better, for example, by expanding your organization’s current offering. Or have ideas on how to attract clients that currently don’t come to you for your services, by analyzing case data your company is sitting on.
Take a look at the company’s mission and vision. How does your idea fit in with the long-term mission of the organization?
Step 2: Define how your idea fits in with the long term strategic mission of the organization
Contrary to common perception, most organizations lack an innovation unit, especially in the professional services. That means you will have to take action. That is, you have to champion your innovation project from the bottom up.
There simply is not someone to assign the task to detail your idea and bring it to practice. There may be a business development department, but they are mostly working on the sales pipeline. They are not engaged with developing new services or reaching out to new markets.
Nobody can do the push-ups for you
If you want to be a game changer, you will have to do the work. Just like it is not possible for someone else to do your push-ups for you. That being said, if there is no support for you to develop that game changing new service, you will have to seek help. Otherwise you will be wasting too much of your precious time. In addition, an experienced coach or consultant can greatly increase the chance of success.
Step 3: Take on the challenge and champion your innovation project from the bottom up.
Accept that you will have to do the work to become a gamechanger. Follow a training or ask for support if you don’t have any experience in bringing novel concepts to practice.
While you are investigating your options, make sure that you engage others. Changing the rules of the game requires a team and a lot of support. You better start building both from the start.
While this may sound complicated, it actually is not. Just start sharing your thoughts with others on the work floor. Start at the water cooler/coffee machine. Vent the idea of organizing a brown bag lunch meeting on the topic. For example, if your interest is in cybersecurity, how about setting up a brown-bag lunch on how cybersecurity is impacting your clients?
I hear the alarm bells go off. How do I prevent my colleagues from steeling my ideas?
Please, don’t worry, because they won’t. That is, at this early stage you just simply should not be sharing your ideas. You should be gathering information about the topic, the possibilities, and the challenges clients face. In these early conversations you are gauging interest, not seeking input or approval for your idea. In all likelihood, nobody would listen or understand your ideas anyway.
If these initial conversations lead to interesting discussions, organize a brown bag lunch to discuss the topic further. For the invite, offer, to share what you learned about the topic at a recent Meetup or conference you went to. State that you would like to discuss over lunch how it [your topic] relates to your clients, organization/department, etc..
If no one responds to your invite – which I seriously doubt will happen – you may need to further specify or broaden the topic. The only way to find out if there is any interest, is to initiate more conversations with your colleagues; Perhaps have 1:1 lunches, and instead of discussing the current Netflix saga, discuss where they see opportunities.
If there were 3 or more people who came to your brown bag meeting, you may be onto something. Now it is time to plan a meeting with your boss. Ask for 15 minutes of his or her time to discuss what you have learned about X – which is aligned with the company’s mission and vision; That you and your colleagues have discussed several opportunities that may be worthwhile exploring further, but before doing so, you would like to get his or her feedback on the topic.
During the meeting
Now, from a timing perspective, it is important to realize that you are not yet trying to start a project or trying to secure resources. You are just advocating to get approval to explore opportunities around the theme you are passionate about and that fits the organization’s strategy.
So, in the conversation with your boss, just ask for that. Is it okay for me to explore this topic further? What do you see for opportunities? Is there something you would like me to focus on? Are there people you could introduce me to, in or outside the company, who will help me understand this topic better?
In other words, you are starting to position yourself as the up-and-coming expert on this topic.
I cannot stress it enough: the goal of this first meeting is not to ask approval for your idea or project. That would be throwing your boss a curve ball. The goal is to get input and to listen.
What you are after is building awareness for the topic you are passionate about and trying to learn how your boss would like you to go about exploring the opportunity.
Please know, there is the possibility that your boss says “no, what you are passionate about is not to be explored further”. While it will not be the outcome you hope for, it is invaluable information. It is up to you to decide what is next. Obey, and move on to the next thing you are also passionate about and that suits the needs of your organization. Or hold on to your passion – which means that the future may not be with your current boss or organization.
After the meeting
If the meeting with your boss went well, you know there is an opportunity out there for you to go after.
Now it is time to get more systematic in your approach and become more diligent in the information you are gathering. Start by defining the goal you would like to achieve.
What do you want to achieve at a minimum, in the coming 2 months of spending your spare time on this topic? Write a white paper on the topic? Give a formal presentation? Take a free online course? Draft a project proposal that outlines the landscape, compares alternatives, and gives a direction of what the organization should do to act on this opportunity?
It doesn’t really matter what you choose to do first, as long as you inform your boss on what you are up to. Surprises are not a good thing in this process!
In addition, you probably want to do all of the above. Just don’t do it all at the same time!
Good luck with planting these first seeds and putting your self out there as the up and coming expert!
I would love to hear from you how it went!