How do innovation leaders access additional resources to enhance the scale and impact of their efforts across complex, global organizations?

I recently had lunch with a friend, who is the global innovation lead at a large, white-collar organization. This guy is smart as a whip, engaging, fun and “get’s it” more than most.

We were talking about his program and some of the innovation focused activities that he leads. Like many innovation program leads, he has a very small team with a broad set of objectives. In his case, he aims to engage a globally disbursed employee base, launch several new ideas every year that generate a financial impact, and ultimately create a more innovative workforce. Sounds easy, right?

As we talked, it seemed to me that his team’s efforts are largely focused on coordinating innovative activities and findings ways to move ideas forward. During our conversation he kept referencing a lack of resources to work on ideas, either through his own group or other product / process development groups.

I see this situation a lot, where innovation program leaders are trying to provide a broad impact across complex, globally disbursed organizations, but they continue to play by the standard, centralized rules of business. In my opinion the world is changing around us, and as personal models of interaction and resourcing shift, the business world is catching up.

As personal models of interaction and resourcing shift, the business world is catching up.

After lunch, I got to thinking about what is holding back innovation leaders from looking at alternate resource models, as opportunities to increase the capacity for idea development and execution. I came up with a few:

  • Tokenism: Every company in the world says that they want to be innovative, but what they are often looking for is a token that they can use to define their organization as innovative. It is the classic case of focusing on activity rather than generating results.
  • Scale can be scary: Going for a broader impact in an organization is more complicated and can expose the innovation program leader to deeper scrutiny.
  • Scale is complicated: It is a hell of a lot easier to manage small teams of people trying to develop innovative ideas than it is to coerce and encourage broader groups of employees.
  • Tracking is more complicated: With a broader crowd of activities driving innovation ideas forward, tracking the success (or failure) of those ideas becomes more disseminated and complicated to manage.
  • Risk profiles change: The traditional narrative is that allowing crowds to develop ideas is more risky, but I see things differently. It is just that the profile changes, from a lack of innovation activity (deeply risky in the long term) to putting appropriate controls around a broader selection of ideas being developed. Both options involve risk, but one has a better chance of being managed.
  • It takes time: Everyone in the business world is looking for a quick buck, but the reality is that any social network takes time to grow and mature to the point that it is generating results. That can take fortitude in a business that runs on quarterly reporting cycles.

Drive scale across the organization

Getting scale at front-end, ideation focused activities is already partly dealt with, supported by various organizations and vendors running activities such as innovation challenges / campaigns. But what else can an innovation program do to drive scale across the organization:

  • Partner with other initiatives or groups within the business: Given that innovation underlies pretty much all competencies and groups of an organization, seek out areas that can support and scale your impact across the organization. Some examples of corporate initiatives include quality efforts, cost cutting programs, business integration teams, etc. (I wrote about this recently).

Senior leadership committees provide not only support to efforts, but also a sense of ownership and access to resources.

  • Identify and retain stakeholder support: I am constantly surprised at the number of innovation groups that don’t have senior leadership committees to provide not only support to efforts, but also a sense of ownership and access to resources. These can be a lot of work to manage but are essential to ensure the long-term success (and scale) of your efforts.
  • Incorporate a robust communication effort around your innovation program: It is easy to get caught in the day-to-day grind of running an innovation program and forget the importance of communicating your successes across the organization. As an example of this, I am increasingly seeing organization hire “story tellers” to promote the innovation successes (and challenges) encountered by organizations.
  • Build networks of connected employees: I have written about these networks in the past, but these days I believe it is essential for organizations to develop networks of employees that are connected around innovation concepts. Call them what you will, Intrapreneurs, Catalysts, Champions—it  doesn’t matter. What is important is to empower these individuals as a collection of resources empowered to drive additional business value (beyond their day-to-day role).
  • Adjust your risk processes and controls: Moving to a broader scale of innovation development requires that you work closely with the appropriate risk owners within your organization and put controls in place that encourage success but also encourage ideas that are going to fail to do so early and cheaply.

After I wrote these thoughts out I talked about them with my friend in depth, but I just don’t think that he is ready for it yet. Perhaps this article is just a passive-aggressive way to get my points across? Who knows, but I will be ready to chat with him when he comes around to my way of thinking.

As always, feel free to let me know your thoughts?

By Anthony Ferrier

About the Author

Anthony Ferrier is a well-regarded executive, entrepreneur, advisor and thought leader on corporate innovation. He has worked with organisations in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia to develop effective innovation strategies that guide organizational change and build cultures that encourage the development of new products and solutions. Anthony has worked with organizations such as Transport for NSW (Australia), Department of Defence (Australia), Bristol-Myers Squibb (US), Fidelity Investments (US), Pfizer (US), Volkswagen (Sweden), Ergo Insurance (Germany), etc.. He currently leads innovation and commercialisation efforts at Swinburne University, and previously led The BNY Mellon global innovation program, as well as co-founding two successful tech-driven consultancies. He has a Master of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

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