Effective Ways to Reduce Innovation Risk

Wood_reduce innovation risk June 7, 2022 By: Urko Wood

Ideas are great, but sometimes focusing on what members really need and want is a better plan. It can guide a successful journey toward driving more innovation, reducing risk, and aiming for the right goals. Here are some strategies.

A McKinsey study found that 84 percent of global executives believe innovation is critical to growth, and yet only 6 percent were satisfied with their innovation performance. Even more concerning, very few of them knew how to improve the situation.

This likely reflects the situation for many association executives. You know innovation is essential for creating new value and driving growth, but how do you do it without exposing yourself to undue risk?

Because association boards are often uncomfortable with the risks associated with innovation, one solution is to help boards increase their risk tolerance. While that strategy may be helpful, the biggest opportunity for improvement is for executive leadership to decrease innovation risk.

The key to success is to shift your focus away from generating ideas and instead find ways to help your members get their jobs done. The Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) innovation approach enables executive leadership to dramatically reduce risk and thereby increase success rates so that board members can embrace whatever innovation initiatives are introduced.


What Do Members Want?

Most people think innovation is inherently risky and messy. That's not surprising when you consider that 50 to 90 percent of all new offerings fail. Yet, study after study has shown that the primary reason for high new product failure rates is not understanding “the customers’ needs, the competitive situation, and the nature of the market.”

The key to success is to shift your focus away from generating ideas to helping your members get their jobs done.
Some experts claim that misunderstanding the market accounts for 90 percent of all new business failures. Whatever the exact number may be, these findings are important because they tell us that innovation itself is not risky and messy. Rather, it’s the way many organizations are going about understanding their target markets that’s risky and messy. Most associations don’t lack creativity or good ideas, they lack focus and clarity about where the market is underserved, and where the big opportunities lie.

It’s important to remember that customer needs are separate from product or service solutions. This is true for job and criteria statements that capture how members measure success when executing a core functional job.

Listen to Your Members

Keeping this distinction in mind—that customer needs are different from product or service solutions—makes it possible to capture a comprehensive set of member needs that are separate from solutions. It turns out people can tell us what they want if we ask them what they want to accomplish, feel, and experience, rather than asking them for product or service specifications. Simply discovering members needs in this format provides game-changing insights.

Additionally, capturing member needs in a standard word format that is devoid of any solution language makes it possible to deploy a complete set of your target members’ needs to a representative sample of target members in a web-based survey. Target members are then asked to rate each need according to:

  • How important is it to you that you are able to (do x)?
  • How satisfied are you with your ability to (do x)?

Those needs that are important to get done and yet poorly satisfied are opportunities for innovation and growth. The more important and less satisfied a need is, the greater the opportunity for innovation and growth it presents.  Getting these two ratings on every need in the market makes it possible to identify and rank the biggest opportunities in the market with statistical validity. As you can imagine, this gives executive leadership and the Board great confidence that they are focused on the right opportunities.

For example, the leadership team at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) used a similar approach—referenced in Service Innovation: How to Go from Customer Needs to Breakthrough Services, by Lance A. Bettencourt—to increase its relevance and value to HR professionals. Through a combination of personal and group interviews, SHRM discovered nearly 200 HR jobs in 24 different categories, such as recruiting, training, performance management, compensation, and benefits.

Those job statements were then entered into a web-based survey and sent to a representative sample of 400 HR professionals asking them to rate each job for how important it was to get done and their satisfaction with their ability to get it done. By identifying and ranking the biggest opportunities in their market, SHRM was able to address the most attractive opportunities with new training programs, conference sessions, ways to partner with corporations, and other services.

JTBD is a lens that associations can use to understand what members want. It provides everyone in the organization—executive leadership, the board, as well as siloed teams across the organization—with clarity and confidence about where to focus and what to do. It clarifies what type of information to obtain from members, how to get it, and how to use it. This is how associations can reduce risk, change the game, and drive innovation as a repeatable business process.

Urko Wood

Urko Wood is founder and innovation guide at Reveal Growth Consultants, Inc., in Columbus, Ohio.