I hear it so often. Innovation leaders do not feel they have top executive support and thus they are not able to create the innovation initiatives and culture that their company deserves.
It is unfortunately very difficult to influence top executives. One of several reasons is that you often need to go through your direct own boss, then his or her boss and perhaps even one or two steps further. There are lots of people with their own views on innovation that you need to get by before you reach the top executives. And they might not even listen if you are able to reach them…
So what can you do?
You could start an innovation revolution from the bottom up. Open innovation is a good case on this as you have to deal with not-invented-here issues and the lack of support from executives who do not understand the value open innovation can bring.
Your first step on changing the innovation culture from the bottom up is to bring together a small group of passionate people who really want the best for their company. They know the value of open innovation and they know this is right for the company. Now, they just have to persuade their colleagues.
This small group of people could start by creating a BHAG – a big hairy audacious goal. If you want to inspire others, you need a good, strong vision. Next, it is very much about communication using all channels available in the company. They are most often informal as the group does not really have a mandate for what they are doing.
Here, informal leaders with a strong positive influence on others can really help spread the word. Get them onboard on your mission. Move on with events in which you not only educate others, but also create settings in which like-minded people can network and learn more about each other.
When you initiate networking experiences like this, you need to keep it loose in the beginning. Just focus on the vision and do not set too many rules on how to reach it. Let the network itself work this out. Six to nine months later, you will most likely need to change this and set more direction in order to get the next level in which you focus on creating real results.
With lots of passion, effort and some luck, this is also the time where executives have picked up that something valuable is going on. Now, they might even decide to back such an initiative and turn it into a real culture-changing project. It would have been great if you had this backing from day one, but better late than never.
Yes, it takes some guts to do this, but remember that in the words of Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, two of the most respected names in business, leadership is doing the right things; management is doing things right.
Who says true leadership has to come from the executives? If you lead on things that are right for your company, you will gain followers. Then things can begin to happen…
Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation