It must be a terrible feeling to be trying to innovate in the depths of a corporate morass, surrounded by the urgency of the day-to-day and banging your head on the metaphorical brick wall. Nobody seems to care and the corporate leadership is not only distant in the organization chart but never contribute to innovation.
If you work in the kind of company described above, my sympathy is with you. It’s only slightly better when the corporate leadership issues an edict along the lines of “we must have more innovation”, but without setting the strategic context, providing appropriate resource or taking an explicit interest. This is innovation in a vacuum.
The good examples of support from the top show how it should be done. When A.G. Lafley set the target of sourcing 50% of Procter & Gamble’s ideas from outside the company, he set the agenda. Resources were provided with the External Business Development and Connect & Develop groups. The innovation was not paralyzed with endless reporting and restrictive metrics. Instead simple questions in important meetings ensured that the company responded.
Reckitt Benckiser has delivered the second best shareholder return in the FTSE 100 in the last decade through a relentless focus on innovation, with clear targets and a driven culture. Innovation is an integral part of corporate strategy. The senior management are passionate about the products not just the numbers. At the same time they allow, indeed demand, a very high degree of entrepreneurship and teamwork from the innovators. Innovation is institutionalized and delivers.
The legendary Steve Jobs was also passionate about the products, and insisted that what Apple did delivered absolute simplicity and user engagement. Some may criticize his attention to detail, but it is infinitely preferable to a company where the top managers only care about the numbers.
So ask yourself – where does innovation figure on your leadership agenda? What role do senior management play? Do they lead or hide? Is every innovator clear on what they need to do and why? Do the senior management give explicit, open and clear support to the need for innovation and the people developing it?
The message is clear – top management leadership and support for innovation is crucial for success. They must put innovation into a strategic context, be passionate about product performance, promote entrepreneurship and demand real innovation performance.
Kevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions, and also has experience in life sciences.