Characteristics & Secrets of RockStar Innovation Program Managers

Characteristics & Secrets of RockStar Innovation Program Managers
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Managing Corporate Innovation Programs is not easy and finding the right people who can lead the innovation initiative to success is not easy. It takes a unique set of skills to be a RockStar Innovation Leader.

Just what kinds of skills does an Innovation Program Manager (IPM) need to wrangle the complexities of keeping an enterprise-sized Innovation Program on track?

That’s precisely what we asked during out latest Innovation Insights Hangout, Characteristics & Secrets of RockStar Innovation Program Managers. Some of the key traits just may surprise you.

We spoke with three top corporate Innovation Leaders to hear their thoughts on what it takes to do the job successfully:

  • Stephanie Hegarty, IPM at Cisco – whose 14,500 actively engaged community members have implemented 83 ideas (from 2700 submitted!), with year-to-date business outcomes of $51 million
  • Ieasha Taitano, VP of Innovation and Design Thinking at LPL Financial – who is responsible for developing “new approaches to making change” using enterprise-wide strategies and tools
  • Alexandra Pelletier, Presidential Innovation Fellow at the White House – who formerly was Director of Digital Innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital, and appears (along with Taitano) in our eBook, 40 Leaders Driving Innovation in the Enterprise

We asked these innovation leaders a range of questions, from how the IPM fits into a dedicated innovation structure, to what qualities an ideal IPM should possess. You’ll want to watch the full Hangout to soak up all of their insights, but here are a few highlights:

It’s not all about “techspertise”

Like many IPMs, Ieasha Taitano comes from a multi-disciplinary background, having spent time in project/program/process management, facilitation and strategy and business architecture. What these disciplines share is that they’re all about seeing and balancing systems – skills that are definitely valuable to an IPM.

Even so, when Taitano looks at resumes, she’s looking for people skills. “Because those are the ones that are harder to teach. I feel like if you’ve got the people stuff you can move into the tech stuff and fill that in for them if they don’t have it.”

Emotions at work

The “people stuff” is a component that’s often not taken into consideration, but it’s a huge one. Especially helping people overcome emotional anxiety about making big changes. To that end, IPMs are part “anxiety babysitter,” part therapist at times.

Which is perhaps why Taitano characterizes innovation as a “highly charged emotional space.”

Pelletier agrees with the assessment, recounting stories of offering support to innovation team members. “Sometimes they just needed a place to come and let the disappointments be heard, and talk about it, and regain their strength, and go back into the field and really push it forward.”

Disappointments are par for the course, as is failure, according to the panelists. IPMs should “love the word no” because they’ll hear it often as they work to create an innovation culture. But the skill that applies here is understanding WHY it’s “No”. And pushing forward.

Healthy doses of empathy and optimism also come in handy.

Let technology (and the IPM) help you be organized

Ability to be organized is another key quality. The Hangout shares that is critical that an Innovation Program Manager can find the themes and patterns as they manage their way along the not yet visible path in the jungle.

Hegarty, who uses Brightidea’s software to keep Cisco’s innovation efforts on track says, “The dedicated platform is everything. Living in a technology era, we need to leverage technology as much as possible to make life simpler – so we can think about that next big initiative we’re trying to solve.”

Taitano loves innovation platforms for their ability to measure the social traffic around ideas. As exciting as it is when ideas come to fruition, she’s just as excited to see “huge amounts of social interaction and networking happening; to me that’s just as much of a win.”

Of course, that’s just the tip of the Hangout iceberg. Check out Characteristics & Secrets of RockStar Innovation Program Managers today for more great insights from these innovation leaders. And reach out to us if you’re ready to see what Brightidea’s people powered innovation platform can do for your organization.