What is the role of leadership in an innovation program? In reviewing the stories our clients have shared these past 4 years, I identified two common roles for leadership in an innovation program:

  1. Shaping the vision and goals
  2. Demonstrating commitment to success

Shaping the vision and goals

Whether directly or indirectly involved, leadership is playing a key role in shaping your program goals. In a well-aligned organization, the lion’s share of organizational energy is channeled toward delivering on leadership’s high-level vision. Therefore, an essential requisite for a lasting innovation program is the alignment of program goals with the organization’s overall goals, vision and values.

In some cases, leadership has sponsored the creation of your innovation program and explicitly outlined the program objectives to fit with their organizational vision. In other cases, the innovation program is a bottom’s up initiative. In this case, it’s important to look carefully at the organizational goals that leadership has already defined and architect the innovation program to deliver on those goals.

If you have access to your leadership, talk with them about your program concept and how it aligns with their vision. Gather their feedback on how it can even more closely align with their goals. Ask them directly for their support. It is well worth developing this alignment and buy-in up front, as the support of your leadership will prove invaluable later on.

Demonstrating commitment to success

This is the invaluable work that leadership that will do to make your program a lasting success.

Our partners at Blue Ocean Strategy, Australia recently shared with us the four hurdles to strategy execution. This ties directly into innovation management. Our most successful clients have key leaders at their organizations helping them overcome these four hurdles.  I’ve included some examples below, and I encourage you to reach out to our partners at Blue Ocean Strategy, Australia, if you’d like to dig deeper into how your leadership can help you overcome these hurdles.

Overcoming the cognitive hurdle

Leadership brings credibility and legitimacy to a new initiative.

The success of your innovation program hinges on the participation of individuals across the organization. Those individuals will be more inclined to participate when they see that that leadership is invested in acting on their contributions. Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson says it most succinctly here,

“Just coming up with an idea and throwing it over the fence is not a good use of time…My commitment was that I’ll figure out how to fund it and make it really big.”

Some leaders can help you overcome the cognitive hurdle by serving to announce the launch of the innovation initiative at a high profile event or a quarterly town-hall meeting. Other leaders declare their support in the form of a quote published on the intranet home page or a 30 second video on the landing page of your IdeaScale community. For examples, see this video by Mayor Nenshi, City of Calgary and another by Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.

Overcoming the motivational hurdle

Leadership has the authority to put key incentives and rewards in place to drive participation.

When launching a new innovation program, you will ask a lot of people to be changing what they do and how they do it or asking them to do something in addition to their existing duties. According to the 2019 State of Crowdsourcing Report, for most innovation practitioners, the fundamental obstacle blocking innovation is lack of time (17%).  If you’re not seeing the participation levels you hoped for, this may very well be insufficient alignment between individual KPI’s and the demands of the innovation program.

The CEO of a US-based unified health care system recognizes that individual performance at his organization is methodically evaluated against objective KPI’s, so the CEO created a new KPI. He included meaningful program participation in every employee’s annual review. He carefully defined “meaningful participation” so as to avoid ambiguity in expectations and evaluations. The result was consistently high-quality participation across the organization.

He did not stop there. He also sponsored a pervasive recognition program to celebrate employees with especially impactful contributions to the innovation program. Each quarter, he publicly recognized the employee with the most impactful contribution and published a photo of that employee receiving an award from him directly. Recognition is a powerful motivator. In fact, of our most successful clients, 75% of them are using at least recognition as well as a mix of other incentives.

One key motivator of the Obama SAVE Awards, powered by IdeaScale, was the chance to meet President Obama. Each year, top submitters were awarded the opportunity to pitch their idea to the President himself.

A credit union on the other hand recognizes that their culture is largely driven by friendly competition. In this case, the innovation program sponsors set competitive targets and publicly recognize individuals and teams at regular town hall meetings for leading the pack in reaching those targets. It is incredible to see the participation levels that this friendly competition inspired. The participation metrics in 2019 for this client blew the average IdeaScale metrics out of the water!

What role might your leadership play in the success of your program? If you’d like some personalized coaching on this topic, you’re welcome to reach out to engage an IdeaScale Innovation Strategist for a personalized consultation or workshop, or we’d be happy to put you in touch with one of our expert partners.

Read the full series:

  1. (Currently reading) The Best Innovation Leaders Need to do These Two Things
  2. The Four Essentials For Engaging the Crowd With Your Innovation Program
  3. How to Build YOUR Best Innovation Process

About the author

Whitney Bernstein, VP Innovation Strategy and Customer Success

Whitney Bernstein is VP of Innovation Strategy and Customer Success at IdeaScale. Whitney coaches clients in designing and deploying large scale innovation programs at their organization.  Whitney works with government, non-profit, university, and enterprise clients to fully realize their vision for crowdsourced innovation.

Whitney offers custom tailored interactive workshops on innovation planning and management, as well as workshops on practical skills, mindset, and methods for generating new ideas and making those ideas a reality.

Whitney has experience in government sector innovation as a NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow in the US House of Representatives. Whitney has a PhD in Chemical Oceanography from MIT, and a BS in Chemistry from UC Berkeley.