Strategy shift

A new approach for integrating innovation into organizations' strategic processes

Joelena Leader

Dr. C. Brooke Dobni is a Professor of Management and Marketing whose research expertise is in the area of strategy and innovation. Dr. Dobni was the past Associate Dean of Professional Programs at the Edwards School of Business and held appointments as the Acting Dean of the Edwards School of Business (2009-2010), the Head of the Department of Management and Marketing, the PotashCorp Chair for Saskatchewan Enterprise, and is the founder of InnovationOne, a consulting firm based in San Francisco, that works with organizations to enhance their innovation strategies.

Research context & motivation

Dobni’s research began with strategy and branched out into innovation in 2004-2005. His interest in innovation research was inspired by wanting to understand how an organization’s performance is impacted by strategy and innovation.

He explained, “I was interested in understanding what the relationship was between innovation and strategy and also the impact of this relationship on organizational performance, particularly bottom-line performance such as profitability.”

Dobni commented that his main motivator for research is working with organizations to help them embed innovation into their culture. “I want to take theory and put it into practice. That’s my motivator in all the research I do,” he said.

According to Dobni, Innovation is all about creating new value that is recognized by the marketplace and generates higher return on investments. Innovation can help organizations become more effective and efficient and improve overall performance. In many ways, Dobni commented that “innovation can be as simple as the better execution of existing strategy, and as complex as setting an industry back to zero.”

Measuring innovation culture in organizations

According to Dobni, the term innovation was (and often still is) used ubiquitously, yet little was known about how it worked or how to measure it. Drawing on extensive research, he identified twelve innovation drivers, and defined the relationship between strategy, innovation, and performance in organizations.

Driven by his belief that you ‘can manage what you can measure,’ Dobni’s research led to the groundbreaking development of a comprehensive multi-dimensional metric to measure innovation culture in organizations – a measure that has now been utilized by over 6,000 organizations around the world, many of which include Fortune 1000 companies.

As one of the only studies of its kind, his research continues to be recognized and widely used worldwide as a seminal piece on innovation culture in organizations – used in both academia and for commercial use with his consulting business, InnovationOne. He refers to his metric as a “once in a career contribution to the field.” 

One surprising finding from this research was that, for many companies, innovation is viewed as intangible, and while they were interested in learning how to innovate, they are simply at a loss on where to begin.

Dobni said, “We’ve worked for a lot of large companies helping them to develop innovation platforms, and have discovered that they don’t know where to start. They are at the front end of their innovation journey. They know they have to do something, but are not quite sure what.” 

The InnovationOne Health Index (diagram pictured to the right) is used as a baseline tool to measure innovation culture. Contrary to other theories, one of the key findings of Dobni’s work was the correlation between innovation and organizational performance, which has not been previously examined.

Strategy shift

Organizational culture plays a critical role in developing effective tools for driving strategy and performance innovation. According to Dobni, organizations do not tend to deviate from their existing strategies, cultures and processes. Innovation is about culture and the way employees think and act – i.e. learning to do things differently, not being afraid to fail, unleashing creativity, ability to pivot quickly….“All those factors that brought success to an organization (i.e. control, bureaucracy, formalization) in the past are hindering their future agility in an era where competitive environments are rapidly changing. They want to become more innovative but they think it’s risky,” Dobni said. He continued, “One of the most difficult things for an organization is change, and the most risky positioning from a strategy prospective is the status quo.” It is a paradox, he explains, and it is time for the ‘context’ to change. According to Dobni, “It is no longer an option for many organizations.”

In response to this, he described how his latest work is on strategy shift that investigates how organizations can become more innovative using their existing strategic infrastructure. He said, “this strategy shift article is one that talks to the organizations on how they can better introduce innovation to the current strategy process.”

According to Dobni, culture is measureable and this research has identified the key drivers for innovation culture. It is important to define innovation for companies, and having employees understand what innovation is, what it means to their organization, and how they (each and every employee within their scope) can contribute to it and their company’s mission.

“Organizations who have this context simply lead their industries and will continue to widen the gap with the competition,” Dobni said. He continued: “FedEx, Whirlpool, and 3M are examples where the culture is so strong that innovation is essentially their strategy and it shows in their stock price.” In 3M’s case, Dobni feels that they are “30 to 40 years ahead of most organizations in their innovation approach.” In fact, “some organizations will never get to that point.”

With words of advice on incorporating innovation culture in organizations, Dobni said, “If I have learned anything, the first would be to keep things simple. If you can understand it, you can implement it. Second, if you can measure it, you can manage it. That’s been my philosophy and I think organizations tend to complicate things.” For those organizations that have tendencies to be over-bureaucratic, such as governments and public sector institutions, he said, “it is time to press the re-set button.”

Research collaborations

Dobni collaborates with industry research partners at the Conference Board in the United States. Every few years they conduct a survey of their membership worldwide to examine which countries are leading the way in terms of innovative and what innovative organizations are doing differently with respect to processes, practices and methodologies that separates them from those who are not.

Dobni and his partners collaborate on papers including one that highlighted the six traits of highly innovative organizations. This work is focused on, as he puts it, “helping organizations help themselves” by mapping these traits to the innovation drivers of the metric. In this way, they can see where the gaps are, and then develop plans to enhance the organization’s innovation platform by closing the gaps through context management.

In addition to industry and private sector partners, Dobni also collaborates with Dr. Klassen of the Accounting Department at the Edwards School of Business. Dr. Klassen, prior to coming to the university, spent many years working as a consultant with Deloitte. Dobni, who was employed in the oil and gas sector prior to coming to the U of S, said “our backgrounds and research interests were similar. It was a natural fit.” His work extends to beyond organizations to education and international collaborations with faculty at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on innovation and their MBA program.

The wide range of collaborations from private/public sector, publically traded, and not-for-profit where the metric has been utilized and applicable demonstrates its flexibility to examine strategy and innovation in diverse contexts.

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Dobni’s work is featured in a number of leading journals including Strategic Management Journal, Business Horizons, Journal of Business Strategy, Ivey Business Quarterly, Journal of Marketing Management, Management Decision, Journal of Financial Services Marketing, Marketing Intelligence and Planning, the European Journal of Innovation Management, and the Journal of Education for Business. 

 

To learn more about Brooke Dobni’s work, check out his Profile Page!

 

PUBLICATION HIGHLIGHTS

Dobni, C. B. and Sand, C. (2018). “Strategy Shift: Integrating strategy and the firm’s capability to innovate.” Business Horizons, Vol. 61, 797-808.

Assad, V., Dobni, C.B., Colby, E., and Ozyildirim, A. (2017). “Insights from Highly Innovative Companies. Results from the Conference Board and InnovationOne: Global State of Innovation Survey 2017. [Research Report R-1648]. 

Dobni C.B., Klassen, M., and Sands, D. T., (2016) “Getting to Clarity: new ways to think about strategy.” Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 37, No. 5, 12-21. 

Dobni, C.B., and Klassen, M.K. (2015). “Advancing an Innovation Orientation in Organizations: Insights from North American Business Leaders.” Journal of Innovation Management, Vol 3, No 1, 104-121

C. Brooke Dobni, Mark Klassen, W. Thomas Nelson, (2015) "Innovation strategy in the US: top executives offer their views", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 36 Issue: 1, pp.3-13, https://doi.org/10.1108/JBS-12-2013-0115

Dobni, C. B., and Nelson, W. T. (2013) Innovation Nation? Innovation Health Inside the Fortune 1000. Strategian. 

 

 


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