Get Ready to Accelerate the Innovation Profession

by Paul Hobcraft

Get Ready to Accelerate the Innovation ProfessionSometimes you become concerned, this is one of those moments. I’m getting concerned that we need to take some urgent action.

The Corporate Innovation Manager – is stuck in the middle.

Recently I was going through a report, a very helpful one on the on the Corporate Innovation Function – summarizing key findings and detailed results from a study commissioned by HEC Paris.

I was also reading some views expressed by Reinhard Büscher, Head of Innovation Policy at the European Commission, on the role of the innovation manager (IM).

Both paint a rather dismal picture of the position of the Innovation Manager within organizations – very fuzzy not yet well defined.

Briefly although HEC’s study suggests the main role of the IM is to create growth and to differentiate the company in its markets but it also paints the IM into a corner and certainly not in the corner office! The IM seems to be locked into the process of managing ’just’ innovation projects, fighting the resistances and misunderstanding of middle managers and relying on symbolic projects that are short term. Mr. Büscher seems to be equally implying IM’s (current) role is managing the contractual innovation process.

Also both see the IM as often self-taught, limited in organized help, needing resources, having a reliance on external consultants and that the roles are very much a work-in-progress where the IM has limited time to explore and learn, they are busy fixing the plumbing!

Can this perception be reality and can it be altered, should it be?

This is a shame, a great shame, if both observations reflect the present evolution of IM. It is further back than I thought, hence why I’m more concerned than I should be.

If the IM is consigned to this as his role- managing the process; innovation will never rise up fully to the top of the organization, it will be consigned to specialists and board members will simply just refer to ‘these’ people, as and when. Innovation will never achieve the necessary daily ongoing dialogue in and around the board if it stays locked outside. How can this be altered?

Innovation is consistently ranked among the top three strategic imperatives within organizations yet it is not fully represented by an Innovation Management specialist. Can you imagine not having finance in board meetings? Of course innovation is represented part time, by the Marketing Director, by the Research Director, by anyone who wants to jump on the innovation bandwagon if it fits their personal agendas. I’ve read it should be the CEO’s role but 99% of the time it is not, much as it would often like to be. Will it change? If so soon?

Some personal suggestions- firstly the recognition of IM’s problems lie deep.

Julian Burkenshaw & Gary Hamel have been arguing about the need for Management Innovation for some time, visit their site of the Management Innovation Exchange or the MIX. They state the most critical challenges facing management today and relevant to the IM’s role.

  1. We need to retrain managerial minds. Wealth creation needs creativity skills and we need to reduce down the reliance on analytical and deductive skills.
  2. We need to unleash human imagination. The lack of often human engagement is not given enough space today in the traditional organizational structures, this is suppressing the flow of knowledge.
  3. The de-politicizing of decision making. The personal agenda’s at all levels of organizations blocks. Autocratic leaders, stubborn middle managers and an organization steadfastly refusing to change still prevails in many instances.
  4. A lack of holistic performance measures. Often the bias towards quantifiable, short term metrics and narrow stakeholder interests tend to dominate. How can a broader set of stakeholders needs be accounted for, especially the consumer. Measuring on the impact of our activities on the ‘multiple’ communities touched is beginning to emerge. There is hope IM will get more onto this agenda as it can drive this substantially.
  5. The overworked dual dilemma of reducing fear, increasing trust is the last one of the five challenges. The nagging sense of uncertainty dampens initiatives and supports mediocrity. The ability to manage this is vital for innovation to permeate down an organization. It can be such a positive force to bridge this fear versus trust equation that will always be in ‘play’ and needing active balance in our uncertain world.

What can the IM do about overcoming these five big challenges?

Firstly they have to be acknowledged, recognized. A bit like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) perhaps- they need talking about. They need framing and this leads to another part of the Mix story

What is stopping IM’s moving forward?

  • Limited bandwidth: not enough time or resources – how to build slack into the role, how to show increased long term value.
  • Surrounded by old and orthodox thinking – where to seek out like minded individuals
  • Disincentives to act: fear of change, executive self-interest – prepared to disrupt the status quo by seizing on all the winds of change swirling around the organization and offering a road map out of these through innovation.

Of course there is a big gap between healthy rhetoric and reality-addressing this is something we need to do.

Here are some of my thoughts, supplemented by others within this blog site already outlined that might help in thinking this through.

The best step is to build a deep capacity for innovation within yourself.

This needs to become an overwhelming force of innovation knowledge and value that it gets noticed, it gets valued, it gets appreciated, it gets adopted by many who see the value in following this approach. It trickles down and contributes everywhere. It is truly open innovation management.

Firstly, it is based on the five essential skills the external consultant should posses as the IM is the internal consultant, the Intrapreneur that is working towards recognition and seeking change. These are:

  • Persuading – the proposing and reasoning
  • Asserting – setting expectations, evaluating, using incentives
  • Bridging – involving, listening, disclosing everyone to everyone.
  • Attracting – finding common ground and painting a vision that others share.
  • Moving away – the disengaging where necessary and the avoiding to reduce conflict and confrontation.

Secondly, IM has a role of advocacy, supportive and a real broker of innovation knowledge that helps others in their roles. These form the three inter-related circles that provide a IM’s true value.

Thirdly, the person needs to focus on four aspects that they measure themselves against in their daily tasks to act and contribute, manage and support

  1. Have Creativity and Continuous Improvement as a consistent MUST.
  2. Risk-taking for calculated risks and entrepreneurial push always in the mind.
  3. Relationship building to maintain and build relationships that are through visible networks
  4. Implementation obsession that always wants to turn ideas into actions, then into results that are seen and valued to have impact and return.

Fourthly, develop or work actively upon important personal characteristics

  • A person that has innovation in their DNA, that possess that natural inclination to explore and articulate and not just passing through, they are in for the long run.
  • Already is very experienced and capable strategic thinker with the ability to extract and shape those ideas on the journey to commercialization for others to ‘see’.
  • Solid and broad strategic and commercial tactical experience; you can quickly zero in on the core challenges and then map these out, creating an inspiring plan of action to address them that gains identification, balances reality and pushes beyond to achieve something new and different.
  • Creative Sensibilities and a Contagious Positive Passion: You get excited by big transformational ideas but you work tirelessly on moving innovation through the system.
  • You have strong opinions: always ready to defend your gut feel but support it with commercial and strategic rationale by seeking it out and bringing it to the decision table.

Fifthly, manage the Ten Commandments for IM’s (Timothy Schellhardt, adapted)

  1. Do any job needed to make your project work regardless of your job description if it promotes innovation.
  2. Share credit wisely and lavishly.
  3. Remember, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than seek permission
  4. Come to work each day willing to be fired, ready to be hired.
  5. Ask for advice before asking for resources, so essential.
  6. Follow your intuition about people; build a team of the best or always want to work with the best, others will follow quickly to be part of it.
  7. Build a quiet coalition for your idea, early publicity triggers the corporate immune system and let the results deliver the message so it becomes ‘invented here, supported there’.
  8. Never bet on a race unless you are willing to run in them to the end and if you have to, then run it to the end.
  9. Be true to your goals, but realistic about ways to achieve them. Set challenges for yourself that grow your innovation knowledge stock on a daily basis irrespective of pressures.
  10. Honor your sponsors, never talk behind their backs, and always talk them up irrespective but factually and with decent insight.

Six, have a clear roadmap – agreed as you enter the job and to be measured against.

This should include:

  • Clarity about the innovation strategy and how, where and why it fits from the Board- no one else so you have a clear mandate that you apply.
  • Ensure recognition is being granted for a place on innovation at all management meetings at all levels to raise its importance. Establish that.
  • Get innovation seen as the ‘beating heart’ of all work that creates value and provide the message, time and time again until all hear it.
  • Design a clear strategy to break down the resistance at middle management level from day one and reduce their misunderstanding and personal fears of what you represent and get that measured by others to show progress.
  • Seek to take a longer-term perspective in actions, orientation and solutions and make sure this is balanced against the daily delivery need of the role.
  • Build a network of collaborators, integrate IM knowledge, offer collaborative tools and create simple but reliable innovation tools and get those out!
  • Make sure you can be judged on projects moved through the innovation process and you have identified key success indicators for impact, value and return, how ever crude.
  • Traverse across the whole organization, don’t favor one group over another but equally be realistic in where the resources and mutual support derives from.

Finally, yes do use those external consultants, the ones that bring deep innovation knowledge to your issues and challenges. Rely on them to provide you leading practice, common sense advice and deep emersions into subjects and topics you need answers too but can’t find the time to investigate. They can become your personal innovation coach, managing the innovation stock and ensuring the innovation knowledge stock is flowing through you. This is far more than training or simply information; it is them possessing deep competences in the subject of innovation that you need to extract and apply to your situation.

The innovation manager needs a new agenda.

One that reflects the value and importance of innovation inside (and outside) the organization. If this is not well-articulated, the role will be consigned to being delegated down the organization and I’m not sure it can afford to be.

Editor’s Note: Very soon we will be transforming Blogging Innovation into a full-featured innovation community and information source to help assist and connect today’s innovation professionals seeking to create Innovation Excellence in their organization. Stay tuned!

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

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