Why Innovation Must Respect Corporate Values
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
When innovation is not in line with corporate values, trouble is almost certain to ensue. Consider Enron, the energy provider that suddenly began growing amazingly fast and then, just as suddenly, went spectacularly bankrupt. The company demonstrated a tremendous level of creativity and innovation in designing products and hiding financial weaknesses. However, that creativity and innovation bore no resemblance whatsoever to responsible values or ethics.
Does this project fit within our values?
Do not follow their example. Whenever you embark on an innovative project, you need to ask, "Does this project fit within our values?" If not, you need to change or even kill the project. This can sometimes be painful. A new food product that promises massive profits, but which could lead to infecting your customers with Ebola might be tempting from a bottom line perspective but hopefully would be way out of line in terms your corporate values.
Likewise, when evaluating ideas, one criteria that should always be evaluated early on is how well the idea fits with your values. If it does not fit, there is little point in pursuing the idea.
If you are thinking, "this is all well and good, Jeffrey, but I do not know what our corporate values are," then your company is failing in one of two ways. Either it has failed to publish and promote its values or it has failed to define those values in the first place. Whichever the case may be, you (or your top management) need to define values right away. A failure in ethics, as demonstrated by Enron or more recently by Volkswagen can be tremendously expensive, if not ruining.
Don't Be Evil
Prior to their initial public offering, Google famously established the motto, "Don't Be Evil." That's a rather strong, if vague, value statement and it has served a purpose. Whenever Google launches an innovation of questionable ethics − usually in the form of apparently infringing on customers' privacy − the press promptly reminds the company of their motto.
Your organisation may not be as big or as frequently in the press as Google, nevertheless, it is worth making a big deal of your core values particularly before embarking on an aggressive innovation initiative. Good ideas all too often push ethical boundaries. Be clear, and ensure stakeholders are clear, on where your boundaries lay.
Even if you are chided in the press, as has been the case with Google, it is better to be chided and reminded to stick to values than to end up bankrupt and in criminal court as was the case with Enron's management team.
Not a Barrier but a Channel
You might think that having to consider values on top of everything else would be an additional barrier to innovation. If so, you are wrong. Rather, a set of values becomes a channel that helps you focus innovation and define innovative goals. If your company is a national chain of shops and one of your core values is giving back to the local community, focusing innovation on how you can do that provides a new channel for innovation and a new way to emphasise your values to your customers and non-customers in the local communities where your shops are located.
In short, if your core values are not integral to your innovation initiative, they should be. Your innovation initiative and reputation will both benefit.
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