The Seven Essential Domains for Innovation Leadership – the Work Mat Approach

The Seven Essential Domains for Innovation Leadership - the Work Mat ApproachOver the next seven days we will document seven important “domains” that determine innovation success or failure.  Each domain creates innovation potential, but sustained, successful innovation requires a unified “framework” in which all of these domains are appropriately engaged and aligned.  The development of this framework, which we call the Executive Innovation Work Mat, is the responsibility of the CEO or senior executive.  They can deliver alignment by engaging and providing this leadership required in innovation.

Through our innovation work it became evident that some firms enjoyed an unusual innovation advantage.  Their innovation initiatives seemed to encounter fewer barriers or obstacles, the teams enjoyed greater clarity and a supportive culture, and the internal rationale and language for innovation is more prevalent and consistent.  It’s evident that as companies establish clearer innovation “frameworks” that are made up of different innovation components (factors like team structure, culture and innovation measures) and cultural best practices (common language, consistent innovation focus, innovation governance) their performance improves.

Isolated activities or a comprehensive framework?

While each of these factors in isolation or in different combinations is beneficial, a cohesive strategy focused on developing and engaging all of these competencies does lead to an aligned and engaged innovation framework.  From this investigation and our research into innovation best practices, we have identified seven domains which are essential for success.  These domains comprise a framework that must be championed by a senior executive or team and constantly reinforced.  Innovation will flourish if these domains are in place and mutually reinforcing, and will sputter when one or more of the domains is lacking or absent.

The domains we identified as critical to an innovation framework are as follows:

  • Aligning innovation to corporate strategy (Strategic Alignment)
  • Defining and sustaining an innovation culture (Culture),
  • Identifying internal and external innovation environments (Environment),
  • Creating a common innovation language, rationale and context (Common Language),
  • Designing and developing an innovation structure (Structure),
  • Establishing innovation governance (Governance)
  • Developing innovation measures and motivation (Motivations and Measures)

Each of the seven domains is a focal point requiring attention

Each of these domains is a focal point that plays a vital role for the success of a sustained innovation discipline.  When enacted in a concerted fashion they create a compelling innovation environment which sustains innovation activities in all facets of the business, and create clarity and discipline about innovation activities.  Given the breadth of the framework and the strategic nature of the framework, it must be championed by the CEO or a team of senior executives.  We believe this innovation “role” – the development and sponsorship of an innovation framework is often overlooked or ignored.

These domains are presented in the Executive Innovation Work Mat

Executive Innovation Work Mat

These seven essential domains contribute to a firm’s ability to sustain innovation. They create a consistent innovation framework, work-flow and environment

Why do we see this rationale for this critical senior executive focus called for?

As innovation becomes a more consistent requirement rather than an occasional exercise, it must align to strategic goals and become part of the planning and execution cycle.   An increased focus on innovation as a consistent discipline requires significant reflection on what needs changing, what impact will this have and how do we proceed to implement change. This requires senior management attention as it has a significant organizational impact. This refocus of strategy and implementation takes time and may require rethinking or reworking some existing strategies, plans, structure or culture, or may require the development of new structures and skills.  Our recommended approach will trigger the necessary engagement in this essential set of strategic decisions that just simply cannot be delegated down the organization.

Innovation needs a well-considered framework

Like any other important corporate initiative innovation requires a carefully considered framework, otherwise the efforts required to deliver innovation will suffer, resulting in sporadic, unsatisfactory outcomes.  Is incremental innovation the best you can hope for?  Innovation, in all its forms, incremental, distinctive, radical or transformational needs the full support and engagement of the senior management, and requires defined strategic goals, structural frameworks and an engaged corporate culture.

While the tactical work of innovation is accomplished by innovation teams throughout the organization, your executive team needs to clearly establish the climate and the frameworks that either will enable your innovators. This requires a clear articulation of strategy and the implementation of a framework that provides the essential building blocks for the organization to work within. You provide the linkage into the strategy, provide the framework and set this in the context of the vision and goals needed to be achieved. You seek out the synergies between strategy and innovation, between innovation and capabilities, between culture, the environment, the process, structure and routines and how it all should be governed.

Defining the innovation path

Your innovation teams need a defined innovation roadmap and through this framework they can picture and organize the structuring of their activities, and highlight and identify the needed scope and definition in order to achieve their best results. Our recommended approach – the Executive Work Mat which follows – becomes the organizing mechanism to communicate, align and highlight areas of understanding or required resolution.  We introduce the Work Mat and seven essential “domains” that must exist for innovation to take root, and for a framework to evolve which supports and sustains innovation.

Through the Work Mat you as the leader provide the guidance as well as offer the inspiration, context and clarity on how the organization captures the ‘essence’ of the organizations commitment document towards innovation’s essential place within your desire for success.  While everyone can innovate, only a committed executive team can establish the structures and frameworks necessary to sustain innovation.

The series of articles lays out an introduction to our thinking

In the following set of articles we’ll develop the rationale for each of these domains as essential contributors when combined to an overall innovation framework. We describe why we believe senior management sponsorship and engagement is critical to the development of an innovation framework for a business and brings that essential alignment necessary.

The Executive Work Mat series

This article is within a series of seven articles that discusses the Executive Innovation Work Mat approach and the seven domains for innovation alignment.

In this set of articles we are discussing specifically each of the seven domains for innovation alignment, our thinking in the rationale and benefits for this combined framework.

Following this article where we have provided an introduction to “the seven domains for innovation alignment” as the overarching piece we develop this out in a series of articles. In total seven articles make up this series.

The next article is entitled “The role that senior leaders must fill for innovation success” then we will lead into discussions on each of the domains.

We will look at the need for innovation to have Strategic Alignment (domain one) as well as develop the context, the communication techniques and encourage an emerging common language (domain two). This then will be followed as we discuss the need for having the appropriate Structure, Processes and Functional design (domain three) and the importance of Governance (domain four). The next two domains are Culture (domain 5) and the Environment (domain 6) and why these need to be worked through. Finally we discuss the final domain where People align with the motivations and measures (domain 7) for relating to innovation.

As a final article we will summarize the benefits of an integrated framework delivered through the Executive work mat and draw some conclusions.

So we offer the Executive Innovation Work Mat which has seven domains that we need to explore within our Work Mat approach. We hope you enjoy the series and can relate to what we are laying out as opening arguments in these.

As you read, just keep asking this

The question that needs asking, time and time again, even though executives ask for innovation, in many cases the goals aren’t clear, the tools and methods aren’t obvious, the culture is resistant to change, governance is lacking, common language and context are absent and the motivations and rewards are hazy at best.

Only clear goals, clear frameworks and definitive motivations will accelerate innovation, and these need to come from a committed executive team reinforcing a strategic innovation framework. We believe if we can gather the relevant parties around the Work Mat then we can “wrestle” over the issues and eventually will emerge a organizing framework that provides leadership engagement.

We would encourage you to read all seven articles to fully relate to this.

The above link contains all seven articles on one page, as listed below:

The Seven Essential Domains for Innovation Leadership- a Work Mat Approach

The Critical Role that Leaders Must Fill for Innovation Success

Striving for Strategic Alignment, Context and Common Language

Critical Structures, Process, Design & Governance are always Needed

Culture & Environment for Innovation- Required Attitudes and Needs

People, Motivators and Measures Deliver Innovation

Benefits for Innovation Leadership Delivered in the Executive Work Mat

image credit: opening curtain image from bigstock

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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.

Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and

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29 Responses to The Seven Essential Domains for Innovation Leadership – the Work Mat Approach

  1. Nicolas Bry says:

    Hi Paul, hi Jeffrey,
    Smart post like always, and comprehensive framework.I like your 7 domains exhaustive approach.
    What regularly matters to me in the innovation path, is to bridge the ‘spiritual identity’ of the innovation with the ‘organizational execution’ of the innovation, linking the BE and the DO across the teams, feeding design with soul.
    Do you think this would cross some of your domains?

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  8. Nice post, and I look forward to reading the series of articles. An holistic approach and framework is, in my opinion, a good way to go. I have two questions for you:

    1. Where within the framework do you consider the company’s risk appetite?
    2. The measurements are most important to consider carefully, as they need to be different depending on which stage you are at. Does your framework allow for this please?



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  21. Guy Larkin says:

    This is a really interesting framework. I am doing some research for ISSIP (International Society of Service Innovation Professionals). Do you have any case studies on how this is being used and implemented? Or would you be willing to answer a couple of questions? The goal of the project is to understand current innovation practices and how they apply (or not) to service companies. Thanks!

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