Many executives talk a lot about innovation, but they don’t really know how to make it happen. A corporate innovation team asks themselves: How do we “educate” our executives on innovation management and develop stronger corporate innovation capabilities together?

Here you get some of my perspectives on what they should have in mind and do next.

First, understand what is your problem

Do you have executives who acknowledge that they are not as strong on innovation management as they should be or do you have executives who think they know innovation management – but don’t. You need different approaches for the two and the latter is more difficult and sensible than the former.

Next, understand why your executives do not get innovation

Building on the above, there is too much talk and too little real action in either case. The key reasons are lack of education and experience on innovation management, being too far away from the real work of innovation and too much focus on the day-to-day business.

Executives need to have skin in the game

You need to have a couple of executives on your core team who are responsible for making things happen. Don’t turn this into a talk, talk committee. It has to be action-driven and people need to hold real responsibility for its success.

Executives listen to their peers; not to you or external advisors

The most effective way to influence your executives is through people they can relate to and respect. Their peers. Your job is to create the situations where they learn from their peers, but in a way where you still control the content and the messages.

Work with HR – when/if they are ready

Most HR teams lack a strategic role when it comes to corporate transformation, digitalization and innovation. This is a paradox as everyone agrees that people are the key element here. This has to change and you need to help them upgrade their capabilities in this context. If successful, HR becomes a powerful partner as they have a strong influence on corporate training including the executive level.

Don’t go full frontal with the learning activities

Use the next 3-6 months to influence the executives by sharing short pieces of information and insights that fit their specific situation and objectives. Build further on this to help them develop their own ideas on how innovation can help their personal agendas. Then, develop a program to upgrade their mindset, skills and toolbox (and for their key people and teams). Make it action-driven.

Align your efforts to the corporate strategy

Executives need to think of innovation as a tool to reach the goals stated in the corporate strategy – short, mid and long-term. If you don’t know the corporate strategy – or even better – have influence on it, you need to fix it.

Know your mandate – and change it if needed

Have your team been given a real mandate for your innovation efforts? Do you have processes in place to solve the inevitable conflicts between day-to-day activities and your innovation/future efforts? Make up how far you are willing to go if the mandate is not clear nor enforced. Maybe you are at the wrong place?

Is your team ready?

You and your team colleagues need to ask yourself two questions. Do I/we have what it takes to lead our company on this corporate transformation and innovation journey? Think in terms of mindset, skills and capabilities. Next question. Do I/we have a process that keeps us sharp on corporate transformation and innovation? Too many teams invest too little in their own capabilities.

Talk less about innovation and remove the Chief Innovation Officer function

This one can sound a bit strange and counter-intuitive, but the less we talk about innovation as a term and more about “just” doing business in better ways, the more likely you will be to succeed. The reason is the lack of a corporate understanding of and language around innovation. And while we are here; the CEO – and the rest of the executives – should be in charge of innovation rather than giving this role to a Chief Innovation Officer.

Work the key stakeholders

Know your stakeholders (most relevant executives, key people in business units and functions, key external partners). Are they backers, blockers or neutral towards to your initiative and efforts? Why? You need to master stakeholder management to make this work.

Know the TBX

T as in top-down – nothing happens if the top executives (in particular the CEO) are not fully onboard. Getting the employees – B as in bottom-up – is the easy part so you don’t have to spend too much energy here. You will need the energy when you work with the middle managers – X as in across the organization – as they can stop innovation efforts just by doing their job.

Let me know what you think and what you would suggest a frustrated innovation team should do in such a situation.

By Stefan Lindegaard

About the author

Stefan Lindegaard is a Copenhagen-based author, speaker and strategic advisor. His focus on corporate transformation and innovation management based on leadership, the work force and organizational structures has propelled him into being a trusted source of inspiration to many large corporations, government organizations and smaller companies. He believes business today requires an open and global perspective and he has given talks and worked with companies in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
In his role as a strategic advisor and coach, Stefan Lindegaard provides external perspectives and practical advice for executives and corporate transformation and innovation teams. He is a widely respected writer and he has written several books including The Open Innovation Revolution published globally. You can follow his work on LinkedIn Pulse.

Featured image via Yayimages.