Allocating Innovation: The 10% Myth

by Eugene Yamnitsky

When it comes to allocating time for innovation its easy to fall into the trap of declaring the time allocation and assuming that everyone knows what it means.

First, you can’t tell employees to innovate on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9am and 11am. That’s not how the innovation happens.

Also, assuming people will allocate 4 hours out of the 40 hour week is a fallacy. No one works 40 hours, especially in the software industry. People (at least the A players) work until the work gets done based on the goals at hand. Sometimes it’s 40 hours, sometimes it’s 60, and at times even more than that.

So what does it mean to allocate 10% from am arbitrary number of hours?

If someone already works 60 hours, are they “allowed” to spend 6 hours a week on innovation now? Or maybe they are not allowed to innovate at all?!

Innovators to be are not the only ones who are getting confused. Their line managers are confused even more, and don’t know how to support their team members who would like to be involved in the innovation projects. What you may hear a manager say is this: “as long they still complete the work that has been assigned to them, they can innovate all day long”. There is an inherent problem with this approach, as now the innovation time is incremental to the 48 hours the employee already worked that week.

When it comes to allocating time for innovation, this usually follows a “permission to innovate”. This permission means that as an organization, we recognize the need to provide the white space for innovation and incorporate innovation in our values. This also means that now we should treat innovation similar to other goals on the plate.

At Citrix we plan quarterly, with each team and all individuals on the team signing up for quarterly goals. When ideas are selected for validation and small teams are assembled, these teams are asked to invest up to 10% into the idea validation (desirability, feasibility, viability) for about a quarter, so a decision for further investment could be made. We treat “10% time allocation” more as a guideline, and provide the team members and their managers with a list of suggestions on how to support their team members during the innovation project. The main idea is to align the employee’s goals for the quarter with the innovation project, and not to treat the innovation project as an add-on to the regular assignments.

There are two easy ways to do this: let employee sign up for fewer goals, or better yet – replace a delivery goal with the innovation goal. The innovation goal would be outcome based, with concrete learning deliverables, whether it’s a POC or hypotheses validated. This way the employee is accountable to the project outcome like with any other goal, while their overall load doesn’t necessarily increase by 10%.

There is no one correct way to implement the “10% rule”, and there are multiple ways to get it wrong.

Consider what works best in your context, and ask yourself whether at the end of the day the employee and their manager will feel supported, or will they feel like another executive directive “to innovate” was shoved down their throat with no real commitment and support. I hope it’s the former.

image credit: big stock.photo.com

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Eugene YamnitskyEugene Yamnitsky is Director of Product Management and Innovation at Citrix. He leads the ShareFile Product Management team and is responsible for mobile, desktop and web applications, as well as key infrastructure components and the developer program. Eugene also leads Citrix’s Innovation Center of Excellence where he acts as a catalyst for innovation and mentors teams in their corporate Startup Accelerator.

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