Whether your company has been innovating all along, or is just getting started with making innovation an intentional focus, there’s one fact that holds true: you can’t accomplish anything without dedicated support for both your overarching innovation program, and the individual challenges it comprises.
Success starts from the top down at each level of your enterprise. You can’t expect results from your innovation program without executive approval and support, nor can you expect results from a single challenge if those overseeing it are less invested than the participants who’ve signed on to take part.
With individual challenges, the crucial liaising role is that of the Challenge Sponsor – who is responsible for motivating and coordinating with the rest of the challenge team, as well as supplying funding and additional talent as needed. Challenge Sponsors answer to the Innovation Program Manager, who answers to the Innovation Executive.
The Innovation Executive basically fulfills the role of sponsor for the innovation program as a whole. They are charged with keeping innovation endeavors moving forward, and proving their merit to the enterprise leaders.
But whatever level of sponsorship you’re responsible for, there is an inherent sense of duty to adhere to – a creed, if you will. Here are directives both a good innovation program sponsor and challenge sponsor should follow:
Be bold – In a sense you’re the biggest cheerleaders of innovation at the company – poised to seek out opportunities for creating positive change (and increased revenue) through innovation. Don’t be a shrinking violet – be a visible presence that reminds everyone that innovation is part of your culture (especially if that’s a new attitude) and something every level and position in the company can benefit from and participate in.
Actively seek out areas of opportunity for innovation, and select and budget projects that generate innovation outcomes. There’s no overstepping here – your job is to be a catalyst.
Empower your team – You can’t innovate all by yourself, and that’s not your job anyway. Your innovation team is there to take the ball and run with it. Do your part by assembling the resources they need to run far. Be involved, but don’t micromanage. Make innovation a “safe zone” – where creativity and taking risks are encouraged.
Tie innovation strategy into the company’s mission – Company leadership is always happiest when day-to-day strategies are designed to achieve overarching company goals aligned with your mission; innovation should work that way, too. Communicate regularly with the C-suite so you have a clear understanding of what the company’s overall goals are, and what their innovation goals are – as they may differ. You’re not innovating for the sake of it. You want to be moving the company forward, whether via baby steps or giant leaps. Every challenge should be vetted with that in mind.
Report successes and ROI – Innovation can seem like an abstract concept to those outside the core team of players, and – especially if you’re just getting started – it may not be clear to everyone else that your innovation program is actually DOING anything. Which is why it’s particularly important to communicate successes to higher ups (of course), but also to everyone else who works at the company – especially if you want them to participate in your innovation endeavors (and you do).
Sharing successes and recognizing outstanding efforts and achievements gets people interested and excited. Also be sure to measure challenge outcomes specifically so you can demonstrate ROI to leadership – who want your innovation program to be worth its cost.
Constantly demonstrate your and your team’s value – In addition to hard data proving your program’s success, consistently working across departments to solve company problems will make your team the go-to when solutions are needed. But don’t wait for people to come to you looking for solutions – be proactive, so your innovation program isn’t sitting idle, yet another investment not earning its keep.
That being said, be discriminating about the innovation challenges you run, as keeping an eye on the details and bottom line will earn you that much more respect with leadership.
Follow this creed to keep yourself in tune with the innovation process, and all the little things on track. Think of yourself as an innovation ambassador, and consistently introduce and reintroduce everyone in the enterprise to your program. Get marketing on board to help spread the word, inspire your innovation team to hunt down problems that need solutions (or host a hackathon to widen your search), and celebrate each milestone along the way to creating a program embraced company-wide.
When you look back in five years, you’ll be amazed at all you were able to inspire by being the one who believed even when others weren’t sure. Let us know in the comments your tips for inspiring a culture of innovation at your company. And check out our Google Hangout Webinar “Selling” Innovation Management Inside the Enterprise.