Over the past several years, a significant amount of my work has been with large companies. In working with them, I have assisted with their innovation processes, specifically, improved the way they should manage their innovation processes. Innovation process management includes methods and software for business-related innovation planning, portfolio management, product development, technology development, ideation and so on. We can easily imagine how these practices are intertwined with other important business processes such as finance, legal, manufacturing, sales and the list goes on. In short, innovation management touches many nerve centers of the organization. Logically, you would expect that insights and commitment from top management is a prerequisite to accomplish the improvements. You also need their active involvement. In this post, I shall outline some of the techniques I use to encourage management’s involvement.
First of all, we need to clarify with the managers that they sincerely have an active role and are accountable. Not every manager knows implicitly what their role and subsequent expectations are. The need to raise awareness around the role and expectations is pertinent. Secondly, we must establish a clear set of tasks or actions for management to undertake.
To summarize, five key actions are:
- Send clear messages that they support and encourage the improvement of innovation management processes to the innovation communities – through letters, posts, blogs, etc. – and that they keep an eye on the quality improvement of the process. The knowledge workers (engineers, scientists, market researchers) need to know that what they do matters to the top of the company.
- Set clear, unambiguous and annual innovation targets. These are the touchstones for the decision making, prioritization and portfolio management. They make clear how the balance of investments over technology and product segments align with the business objectives.
- Ensure that gate keepers do their job judiciously. If they were to fail, the whole initiative could fail and people will become demotivated.
- Articulate to the outside world, for instance through the annual report, that innovation is important and communicate the innovation strategy and innovation agenda. This tactic often motivates people and reinforces leadership’s efforts.
- Audit and evaluate the quality of the innovation management process itself. Answer questions such as: How efficient and effective are we? Are our Rules of Governance still appropriate or should we make an adjustment? How do the people feel about the innovation management process?
Don’t assume that this is an easy process. Top managers are often happy to accept assistance once they understand their role and accountabilities. Personally, I think it is fun to get a group of top managers to discuss this and eventually accept their role in future success.