There is little doubt that measuring Return On Investment (ROI) is a solid business principle that helps guide corporate decisioning. However, for purposes of this blog post, I want you to think of ROI as a return on imagination, ideas, and innovation. It is the return on innovation that will allow companies to maintain their competitive edge and create sustainable growth even during a rough recessionary period. Peter Drucker said, “An established company which, in an age demanding innovation, is not able to innovate, is doomed to decline and extinction.”

Drucker’s quote mirrors my sentiments exactly…I have observed far too many companies forget about the need for and power of innovation.  Without a dedicated focus on innovation, it is only a matter of time until a business cannot attract or retain talent, suffers from obsolescence due to the innovation of others, and watches their brand fall into decline.

Does your company suffer from the lack of innovation, or does it reap the many benefits of innovation? The answer can likely be found by examining your company’s organization chart. Who is in charge of innovation management? If you don’t have a dedicated C-suite position focused on innovation you might really want to re-evaluate your direction. While I’m not typically a fan of “title inflation,” I have rarely witnessed a company with a chief strategy officer, chief innovation officer, chief imagination officer, chief idea officer, chief thinking officer, etc. who are not experiencing sustainable growth and increases in brand equity. It is these companies who have a positive culture, and who are attracting and retaining the best talent.

Innovation is not the same thing as process engineering. Implementing Six Sigma or other process engineering programs to achieve short-term incremental gains in existing processes is not the same thing as adopting an innovation management approach. A focus on innovation seeks gains in new areas which may require completely new business processes to be adopted.

While both process engineering and innovation management are necessary, and can and should overlap, they are not the same thing. Simply open up any business magazine and look at the companies receiving the majority of the news and editorial coverage, and you’ll find they represent the best in innovative organizations. These companies realize the value received from innovation and choose to be market leaders as opposed to market lagers.

So how do you adopt an innovation management approach for your business? Begin by considering the following best practices recommendations:

1. Make innovation a full-time initiative: Part-time efforts yield part-time results and even worse zero effort yields zero results. Externally hire or promote from within the best creative thinker and innovative strategist you can afford. Equip this individual with resources and watch your company grow. Nothing catalyzes growth and change like innovation.

2. Gain “active” leadership support: Innovation doesn’t work in isolation. It is one thing for your executive team to talk the talk, but quite another to have them walk to walk. Form a “thinkubator’ facilitated by your chief innovation officer and comprised of department heads, business unit leaders, and other senior executives to regularly brainstorm about innovation  Great ideas come from great minds, and if your leadership isn’t involved in the practice of innovation your business will suffer.

3.   Get your head out of the sand: Avoid the DITWLY (Did It That Way Last Year) syndrome. It has been said that the definition of insanity is to continue doing things the same way that you always have while expecting different results. Attend trade shows, conferences, continuing education workshops, and other events that expose your leadership team to the latest thinking. Hire an executive coach, bring in consultants, outsource, or do whatever is necessary to drive new ideas, creative thinking, and innovation.