Susan and Marlow are busy recruiting people who will take a proactive stance and push against the status quo. Slowly the outlines of the central innovation team start to take shape.

Susan rolled her eyes at me.

“Well, what do you think?”

“What am I supposed to think?”

“You met her.  You interviewed her.  What do you think?”

“I think the same things that you do.  I think that we need either strong, experienced people or really passionate, engaged people for the work to succeed.  She was neither.”

“Deer in the headlights.  I wonder what she was told when her manager asked her to speak with us.”

“Clearly, not much, since she didn’t seem to understand what we were trying to do.”

“OK, let’s regroup.  We are wasting time.  That’s the third candidate for just one role on our team, and none are close to meeting our needs or expectations.  Are we asking too much?”

“Not if this initiative will have any chance of succeeding.  We need people who will take a proactive stance and push against the status quo.  While she seemed very nice, she is a corporate animal and used to taking orders.  We need a few rule breakers and some individuals with real passion for change.  Have we had any luck with the idea of asking for volunteers?”

We’d developed our requirements for the team, and taken two actions to build out the team.  First, we’d identified our wish list – the people we felt would help us the most and be the most difficult to get.  Most of the best people were up to their eyeballs in work, fighting fires and mixing metaphors across the business.  I didn’t care, I was determined to get two or three of these folks on board, even if only as a steering committee member.  The second track we’d pursued was to publicize the roles and the kinds of skills necessary and ask for volunteers.  Of course even these folks would need their manager’s approval, so we hadn’t had many step forward yet.  More direct action was going to be needed soon.  It was probably time to rock the boat, and I was sure it wasn’t going to be the last time this particular boat would get tipped.

Our demands weren’t big.  For a central innovation team in a Fortune 500 firm we were looking for three full time people, and another four or five people who could contribute part-time.  We needed people to help spot and track trends and develop long term scenarios, and who could facilitate an innovation process and eventually an idea management solution.  We also wanted to interact with Accipiter’s HR team so we could begin to change the evaluation schemes to place more emphasis on innovation activities and potential rewards and compensation.  We needed subject matter experts to help us evaluate ideas and move them through a pipeline.  We needed these skills, but more importantly, we needed people who wanted to work on innovation and would commit to working in the face of inertia, quarterly demands and the resistance to change.

Since casting the nets wasn’t working, we decided to fish from the other side of the boat.  Susan and I prepared a short list of ten key candidates from across the business, and asked George and Angus to help us interview and attempt to attract at least three of them onto the team.  In the end we settled on a rotational program, giving high performance executives an opportunity for 18 months to rotate into a position on the innovation team, exercise a wide range of skills, and then move back into a leadership position in a business line or product area.  It was our hope that these individuals would become advocates for innovation throughout the business, but that’s still to be proved out.

The first volunteer we accepted was a young lady from IT of all places.  She clearly wanted to help the organization change, and was very open to new ideas.  She also provided a key skill set, in that she could organize and manage information effectively and helped us get our first intranet site established.  Over time Lisa became indispensable, and her innovation skill sets grew rapidly.  It was also a validation of our approach that someone from the team thought to be the least innovative became one of the leaders of the innovation effort.

Slowly the outlines of the central innovation team took shape.  Susan was acting as the Director of Innovation, and we had three executives in rotational roles from marketing, finance and human resources.  Additionally we’d attracted two volunteers who took on full time roles under Susan.  Lisa from IT took on the responsibility of defining and managing an innovation process, while Gary from business development took on the trend spotting and scenario planning work that we so desperately needed.

By Jeffrey Phillips

About the author:

Jeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project. Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities.