Yesterday we introduced the Executive Innovation Work Mat, which consists of seven “domains” that accelerate and sustain innovation success. Today we examine who must ensure the innovation framework is built and then sustained by the work mat. When the framework is poorly developed or unaligned, innovation is occasional and sporadic, creating a gap between executive expectations and corporate delivery. The breath and strategic nature of a consistent, sustained innovation framework suggests that only the CEO or a team of senior executives can accomplish this task.
Executives need to fill a leadership gap, and define a robust innovation framework. Recent research backs this assertion. DDI released a research report in April 2012 entitled “Creating the Conditions for Sustainable Innovation”. So what was the first finding in the research? “Leaders are not actively engaged nor are they personally invested in driving innovation”. This finding fully supports our assertion that there is a leadership gap where innovation is concerned, and leaders must become more actively engaged, and support the development of an innovation framework.
Which individual or team in your organization is most important for innovation success?
Many people will argue it is the most creative person in the company, the individual with the best ideas. Others will argue that it is the person who can make the idea a reality. Others will suggest the head of R&D, or individuals responsible for marketing or product development. Perhaps these answers are true in entrepreneurial companies or very small firms, but not in larger organizations. In larger organizations we believe the CEO or another empowered senior executive is the most important person for innovation success,
The CEO has the ability to:
- link innovation to strategy, and
- create focus, engagement and passion for innovation, and
- direct funds and resources to good innovation programs, and
- speed good ideas to market as new business models, products and services, and
- ensure defined innovation processes and metrics exist so innovation is sustainable.
In mid-sized and large companies, leadership and engagement from CEO ‘s and senior executives are vital to innovation success. What’s more, these leaders want innovation to happen, more consistently, more purposefully and with better result.
Not only do CEO’s and executives want innovation, they demand it to drive organic growth and profits and to create differentiation. We know this because you’ve made it clear. In survey after survey approximately 70% of CEO’s report that innovation is one of their top three priorities. Yet the gap between “saying and doing” indicates a gap between vision and implementation.
The consequences of this gap are significant and include:
- Poor execution of innovation goals
- Failure to achieve strategic goals
- Limited organizational design to sustain innovation
- Innovating for tomorrow often becomes a casualty of managing for today
- The growth of disbelief or cynicism when innovation isn’t pursued.
Over-promise / Under-deliver
Recent research from the National Science Foundation in the United States found that less than 20% of manufacturing firms and less than 8% of services firms reported releasing an “innovative” new product or service in the previous three years. While close to 70% of CEO’s say innovation is a top priority, the gap between talking about innovation and delivering innovation is wide. If innovation is to become a critical capability, executives must demonstrate that innovation is crucial to corporate success, through their engagement, communication, investments and actions. Most importantly, executives must understand the important role that they play to develop and sustain innovation.
We believe that many executives simply don’t know what their role in innovation is, or ought to be. Executive leadership must become actively engaged in innovation to shepherd their vision to fruition.
The important role senior executives must fill
We believe CEO’s and senior executives play a vital role in the success or failure of innovation, but the roles are often poorly defined or remain unclear on who has what accountability. Since the roles are undefined, they are rarely well executed. Innovation can be misunderstood and not explicit enough.
It’s not enough for executives simply to demand more innovation – senior executives must demonstrate links between corporate strategy and the work of innovation, provide deeper insights into its contribution to the company’s goals, between their vision and the activities necessary to create new products and services and finally, between their expectations and the actual culture of the organization. This brings together all the necessary alignment points, so it can deeply integrate within the strategic goals required to achieve the necessary growth.
Senior Executives fail to fill this vital role
Often it is the case senior executives fail when they:
- are unaware their vision needs to be framed into a compelling message
- don’t understand the importance of their role in communicating and motivating,
- miss articulating the value, importance and benefits to both the company and the individual
- don’t resolve the ‘hearts and minds’ in engagement that innovation requires
- are unable to set out an overall framework for innovation and define its value creation
- delegate the role to others who don’t have the power to execute and compromise too readily
- are constrained in their role due to time pressures and/or competing initiatives
- fail to shape, inspire or clarify the necessary linkages and synergies across the company.
Understanding the importance of innovation, and the barriers that innovation will encounter, helps define key activities an innovation senior executive must undertake, and what he or she must do to fill the role effectively. This leads to an important question: if innovation is strategically important, and if engaged senior executives are critical to innovation success, what keeps executives from filling the role effectively?
The difficulties senior executives might have in this role for innovation
There are a number of reasons why senior executives can often have difficulty filling an innovation leadership role, including:
- Fixated on short term financial goals to the detriment of longer term opportunities
- Difficulty balancing the complexities of “important” versus “urgent” tasks
- Pressures of conflicting demands and other growing business issues that take priority
- Convincing others to convert their vision and translating this into operational reality
- Unfamiliar with the variety of innovation tools and frameworks
- Unaware of the level of resistance and inertia that creates the roadblocks
- Have a unclear or incomplete mental model about innovation and what it fully needs
- Concerned about upsetting the status quo
Innovation can be especially challenging because it is so unfamiliar, often intangible, so potentially disruptive, full of possible risk and uncertainty and yet so important. Innovation strategy is a difficult process that requires addressing industry-specific variables, resolving company-specific cultures and operating environments, spotting changes occurring across society, through technology and in new discoveries and then engaging through ‘open’ innovation different approach-specific capabilities in new and diverse alliances. Innovation requires change that can impact the status quo and disrupt the firm’s ability to achieve short term financial goals.
Only an engaged, committed senior executive can create a sustained innovation capability or discipline, yet many lack deep experience, awareness of the evolving tools and techniques and the real importance of their role within innovation.
Filling the gap is critical
For innovation to succeed broadly in any company, executives must sponsor and embrace innovation as a core discipline, built with a deep and evolving set of competencies, not as an ad hoc set of initiatives. Executives must help people within the organization understand why it is important and what benefits innovation holds for each contributor, for the organization and for the customer. They must seek ways to free up their people so they can ‘self-organize’ around a clear, compelling innovation story.
Good innovators are leaders and champions that are good storytellers to engage and motivate others to become involved. The senior executives need to place innovation always within the right context for their teams that provides a strong foundation and validation. Those stories must link to defined innovation processes and goals, and must convey “what’s in it for me” as well as “what is in it for us together” to every individual in the company, to customers and each of stakeholders and prospects as well. Much of the success is predicated on good communication, and good communication is made up of constant messaging and a complete, comprehensive and compelling story that engages both the hearts and minds of all involved.
The Executive Innovation 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 from this article on “the role that senior leaders must fill for innovation success” we move into specific discussion on each of the domains. We have combined domains for this series.
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 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.
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:
image credit: paul hobcraft and jeffrey phillips
Paul 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 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 innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.