State of Innovation 2015 Part 1: Stepping Up Attention to the Customer

How do you know if your school is increasingly innovative? How do you know if innovation is changing the school culture? How can we improve our chances that innovation actually results in positive outcomes for our students and our school’s future?

Paul Hobcraft, a thought leader on innovation practice, has published a summary of authoritative reports on the state of innovation best practices in 2015.  I will excerpt some of the key findings of these reports, with attribution, and touch on how we can interpret the results in the world of schools.  (So as not to overwhelm the reader, and because you have a couple of weeks to catch up on your reading and reflection, I will make a blog series of several posts out of these reports.)  The data are important enough that I am embedding them in my future workshops for schools that have already launched on an innovation pathway, and that now want to measure and tune-up their process.

Global management consultants KPMG, in their “Global CEO Outlook 2015”  report that the most critical challenges that CEO’s expect to face over the next three years include:

  • Ensuring financial growth
  • Focusing on operational excellence
  • Strengthening their brand

The strategies they prioritize in order to meet those challenges that should resonate with all schools, both public and private, include:

  • Developing new strategies for growth
  • Stronger focus on the client
  • Reducing cost structures
  • Greater speed to market
  • Fostering innovation

Looking forward, nearly a third of CEO’s felt their company would be “significantly different” three years from now, and 85% were concerned about customer loyalty.  The respondents to the study cited the top barriers to innovation within their organizations:

  • Rapidly changing customer dynamics: “Customer loyalty is being increasingly questioned”, a dynamic that will be addressed through “greater engagement, participation, and identification” of current and potential customers.
  • Uncertainty about which technologies and innovations will deliver positive returns on investment require leaders to “explain potential returns, seek out additional resources and…bring innovation to the fore.”

As we increasingly understand that education is not immune to trends which are breaking across most or all global industrial sectors, we find important lessons from these non-education leaders. Customer/families have an increasing array of options for education; unlike 20 years ago, many schools have to fight for market share. Both tuition-charging and free schools have to demonstrate real differentiated value to their customers.

The best strategy is to radically increase the frequency and level of interaction we have with students, parents, and potential customers. Rather than telling customers why we offer a good product, we listen to their concerns and include them in the process of design and innovation.  We involve stakeholders in ongoing, authentic strategic practice that yields real, demonstrable innovation which meets individual student needs.  We increase loyalty be ensuring that our customers are authentically engaged, not just as users, but as creators and sustainers of the school organization.

Is this more difficult, time consuming, and messier than putting together a strategic planning committee once every five years? It sure is.  But that is the reality of the markets in which we live.  Customer loyalty is fragile and will not survive years or decades of hoping that the world will slow down around us. If your school is gearing up for a next round of strategic planning using essentially the same worn-out process you did five, ten, and fifteen years ago, you are missing an incredible opportunity to shift the culture of your school from “it will be OK because it always has been” to  “how might our customers see us as the greatest school for their child?”

Up next:  the profile of effective innovation leaders.

 

 

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