I’ve been critically examining the significant changes impacting the corporate innovation competency, which leads to how organizations drive future growth and impact.
In my first article I critically examined how innovative impact remains a top priority for business leadership, but innovation professionals are (ironically) being disrupted. Other leaders from across the organization (think digital, strategy, product professionals) are co-opting the message of innovation delivery with promises of direct financial impact, quick execution and minimal risk. Sometimes this works well, often not. This raised the question of whether innovation programs are still needed for organizations (spoiler alert, generally yes), which I addressed in my second article.
In this 3rd series article, I’ll shift focus to what actions and strategies that I am seeing drive sustained innovative impact, and importantly, set a model for success moving forward.
I’ve outlined some thoughts, again from a personal perspective. Feel free to add in your own thinking in the comments below, or reach out to me (anthony@ExOxo.co) to discuss your thoughts directly?
Developing new ideas into commercial solutions…
I still come across innovation leaders who have tried to convince me (and their sponsors) why they can’t be accountable for executing / commercialising new ideas. At some level I understand their thinking, but the reality is they are positioning themselves as an expensive, undefined cost-centre, rather than a value driver.
Increasingly (thankfully), I’m seeing innovation leaders form strong partnerships with business unit leadership, to ensure the best innovative ideas are turned into scaled new products and solutions. It’s not an easy partnership, and lots of levers need to be pulled to make it work, but I’m seeing more determination around this than in the past. This is especially true of less mature innovation marketplaces (Asia as an example) and sectors (public sector, health, construction), where previous challenges and lessons are shaping newer programs to focus on creating business impact starts from day 1.
…And defining, tracking impact
Building on the above point, activity is not impact; it’s just a distraction. Increasingly I’m seeing savvy innovation leaders develop robust reporting and governance processes that align to business unit leaders / executives strategic objectives (and vice versa). Even more impressive is when innovation metrics become embedded into the KPIs of these other leaders from across the organisation.
The more decentralised ownership of an organisation’s innovation agenda, the more important it is to centrally maintain transparent metrics that drive corporate / business unit objectives.
As you may expect, I’ve seen this taking place in sectors that are process oriented, such as mature financial and professional service organisations.
Identifying, addressing and responding to shifting marketplace dynamics
In the past 18 months, the pace and direction of disruption has been unprecedented and no one is expecting it to slow down. In response, business leaders want to more effectively respond to these headwinds in a structured, consistent and impactful way.
Fortunately I’m seeing innovation leaders take the lead by building effective horizon scanning and leadership awareness raising processes (at the front-end), but also in developing effective responses at the back-end. Innovation functions are really about building towards future environments and opportunities, so they are best suited to manage the overall process, engaging subject matter experts and leaders as needed. This is an increasingly important need for organisations and an opportunity to add value by innovation professionals. I’ve recently seen some great examples of this within financial services organisations and also some new economy agencies (digital, media, etc), where they see being ahead of the curve as a part of their key value proposition.
Introduce, coordinate, own strategic opportunities
Talking further around those shifting environments, there is a growing range of emerging trends / themes impacting businesses, that may not have a natural home within corporate structures, but nonetheless, are increasingly shaping organisations. Some current examples include new ways of working / culture drivers, hybrid workplace design and management, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) drivers, block chain, cryptocurrency, etc.
These issues are often reactively / discretely addressed, but some (not enough) innovation leaders are taking the lead in introducing and educating executives on these new concepts, identifying supporting resources, forming effective responses and searching for new business opportunities in a consistent way. Innovation is increasingly being positioned as the central point to direct responses and track impact amongst stakeholders, which is a really great opportunity to extend impact.
Identify, build and leverage (internal) competency
I believe the future of innovation management is around mapping (where to go), finding (where you are) and leveraging (how to get additional value) from innovative skills within an organisation. Increasingly (especially out of Europe) you are seeing HR / Talent leaders finally working with innovation colleagues to create the specific steps needed to build a more innovative workforce and culture. Importantly, their focus is often on impact leverage, rather than more general awareness raising or skills development. It’s exciting to see this approach finally taking hold.
Consistent innovation practices
For too long, innovation processes and tools have been bespoke, created over and over again. The thinking was that each organisation and underlying opportunity / problem was unique, so a new approach had to be created over and over again. Well, that’s not entirely true, and what we are seeing are more consistent processes around innovation activities, often digitally enabled, being applied by a range of organisations to drive innovative outcomes. Lessons from previously applied processes are being carried into new organisations, in a more transparent approach than previously achieved.
This is a long overdue development and is an example of where clients are leading vendors to take up this thinking. These clients are more open to learning from colleagues and benefiting from that experience. I’m going to be writing more about this in future articles, as it’s a really necessary development within the broader innovation space.
As mentioned, for innovation professionals, we are going through a radical disruption of our competency, and we aren’t really talking about it (from what I can see at least). So I’d be happy to discuss these with you, and to gather your thoughts, so feel free to reach out and we can set something up?
This article originally appeared in Innovation Management.