A few years ago I developed a simple model that proved an effective lens for designing new programs, practices, or systems. I refer to it as Learn>Innovate>Influence>Execute> and it goes like this:
At the top of the circle is Learn. What you learn is determined by the nature of the project. You may analyze data to identify what needs to change, interview a focus group to identify opportunities for improvement, or you might make a site visit to learn with a business partner. At this point, the focus is purely on gathering information without making changes or taking action.
The next step is to innovate. The nature of the innovation emerges from what you learned in the first step. Perhaps you redefine a process or develop a new tool, or simplify an existing one, or rethink an approach towards measuring success.
But the job does not end when you have developed a solution. Next, you focus on getting support for your innovation by influencing others. You may need to get internal support by influencing your supervisor to approve the innovation or your team to buy-in to a change in behavior. You may have to influence IT to allocate the resources to implement your innovation. You may need to influence a business partner to change their approach or business process. Or it may require – as it often does – employees in another department or area to change behavior in some way, and you’ll need to influence them. The tactics used to influence depend on the situation, the company culture, and the person whom you need to influence.
After you have influenced, you can move forward to executing the innovation. But the cycle doesn’t end with Execute, it continues back to Learn, because you’ll want to learn how the innovation impacted the situation that you identified when you started the process. At that point, you may learn that you need to take a different approach, or you may identify additional opportunities to innovate, or you may learn something from this innovation that you can apply in other situations. Even small changes can lead to large ones.
The model doesn’t end there; it also speaks to the abilities needed to support the process, which are represented by these outer arrows.
To innovate, you must gain business knowledge by learning – knowing Excel and having a pile of data means nothing unless you understand the relevance of that data. To influence and learn, you must invest in relationship building so that you have access to the people that you will learn from and influence. Innovation and execution require technical skills to develop new systems, tools, or processes and to put them into action.
Which step is the most fun? That depends on the individual. Some people are learners, liking to soak up knowledge; others enjoy the development phase of innovation. People-people will get the best reward out of influencing others. And, of course, there are those who take pride in achieving execution.
So that’s the model. Simple, but effective. What do you think? Could you see this play out in your work?