TIP: Are top leaders tuned in?

If you have already started your innovation programme, you most likely have a mandate from top management. But do you have their attention?

These days you rarely find an organisation where innovation is not a part of leadership’s mandate. Yet time and resources dedicated to this area are vastly dwarfed by investments in quality, customer service, and efficiency. Why is this?

Innovation is, and will always be, a leap into the unknown. This rarely brings immediate measurable results (i.e. will not impact the quarterly results upon which CEOs are scrutinized).

The same is not true for areas like efficiency, quality, and customer service. These more traditional disciplines are taught as business basics in any university business class. They are the Kool-Aid most executives drink before becoming blind followers.

So, how do we change this?

Get leadership’s active engagement, not just sponsorship
Make sure you get leadership fully engaged by addressing their own business concerns and challenges – CEO, Executive Committee, and business unit leaders. Educate them on the topic of innovation management and show them the tangible and intangible results you’re getting from your innovation initiatives. You’ll get their commitment and engagement, not just their sponsorship and involvement.

As one CEO we’ve worked with once said, “In a plate of bacon and eggs, while the hen is involved, the pig is committed.” You need more pigs than hens, if you really want to pull this off.

Plan and negotiate ahead
Innovation is always a leap of faith. Results are rarely immediate and, when they are, it is mostly from incremental innovations. Undertaking an innovation initiative means embarking upon a long journey with a tentative map and the faith that somewhere ahead there will be an island with buried treasure.

Companies can’t expect results in the short term. The journey requires time. Make sure expectations are clearly negotiated ahead of the initiative’s start (i.e., make sure you align top management’s expectations in terms of expected outcomes). In our experience, it is also fundamental to negotiate at least a three-year budget. No one-year innovation management plan should be put forward as it is too easy to be shut down by short-term results oriented executives.

The good news is that increasing numbers of top executives are developing more realistic expectations regarding innovation outcomes. Arthur D. Little’s 2013 Innovation Excellence Survey found that while the performance of innovations has decreased on average since 2010, satisfaction with this level of performance has increased. This is no excuse to relax your efforts, but nevertheless good news.

Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’s director and co-founder
pcc@exago.com

FROM THE START: Innovation looks easy – it’s not

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