Customers are increasingly discerning about the products and services they buy. They want to purchase products made by companies that share their values and that are invested in the betterment of the world.
Customer values are important to the innovation process. In many ways, innovation is about finding the common ground between corporate and customer values.
We can’t guess what the customer wants. Products and services cannot be created in a vacuum. They need to be created with an enlightened understanding of the customer and, even more, with the customer’s direct participation in their development.
The success and popularity of startup methodologies in corporate environments is based on developing rapid feedback loops with customers to guide the innovation process and kill projects early that don’t engage the customer with a wanted value proposition. Lean practices articulate the importance of the customer.
Disruptive innovations may or may not serve a company’s current customers in the long run, but they should be consistent with the company’s core values. A company may shift and create new products and services for new markets, but its core values will provide consistent guiding principles for innovating.
An innovation project should be easily articulated by anyone on the innovation team in terms of the firm’s strategic vision and core values. These are the guiding principles of the project. An executive should be dubious if any member of the innovation team cannot articulate a project in these terms.
Further, innovation isn’t only about product engineers and customers. It’s also about engaging a team across the organization and soliciting regular input from business developers, marketing managers, supply chain managers, accountants, and finance managers.
The value proposition needs to converge these viewpoints into a product or service, or even a better understanding of what the customer wants. If an engineer develops a product the customer wants, but the business development team can’t sell it or the marketing team can’t market it or the accounting department says the support costs are too prohibitive, the product isn’t an innovation. Innovations need to find support across the entire business model and with all the stakeholders who will play a role in its success.
Innovation is the exploration and discovery of value propositions that customers want.
It’s not just about customer and corporate values. Employee values need to align as well. How can CEO’s engage employees around the firm’s values and strategy as well as develop a talent pipeline? Prospective employees are discerning in where they choose to work, seeking out organizations that share their own values. If CEOs can’t find common ground, they won’t be able to grow an engaged, committed workforce and will struggle perpetually with the disconnect between corporate and employee values.