Sometimes you would be amazed at the underlying tensions that occur when you get into those discussions around the board table on what and where innovation contributes to strategic direction.
Even managing the present portfolio of innovation initiatives gets caught up in these underlying tensions as it becomes another opportunity to open up the old wounds of bruising past battles and get back into those discussions again.
Suddenly the CFO becomes animated over the uncertainties; the research director grows defensive, and the marketing director more strident in why it is constructed that way. The HR director raises their concerns on stretching the resources too thinly and suddenly a fast and furious open debates erupts. Then the Supply Chain director throws in the concerns that the system will not cope with the sudden influx of new introductions in the remaining part of the year.
Each has a valued perspective but much of these are based on past positions, attitudes built up from other pitch battles and scores to be settled. The CEO listens and silently thinks to himself: “what happened to the series of bonding exercises that we had all had invested in, suddenly just gone”.
One of these ‘investments’ made within the board was to resolve the strong personalities around the table that tended to push certain views and try to make it the dominant logic. The very nature of these ‘debates and exchanges’ was that they were not being left in the boardroom but were actually seeping down into the organization and suddenly more of the organization was becoming at odds with each other on where innovation ‘fits’ and what it requires.
Each board member has previously recognized that their own failings in holding onto their positions and acknowledged on one of these away-day sessions they were contributing to this ‘tautness’ that was found across the organization. Yet they simply were falling back into old habits or that fixed mindset. Something had to change and fast.
Fixed mindsets and biases
Holding onto these positions were actually holding the organization to ransom, as it rises up and dominates in these more open debates it freezes positions, alliance are struck that become more opportune and less to do with the right decision for the business.
These have been slowly forming more constraints on the ability of the organization to explore the best options on strategic design, let alone where innovation can support it. This was shrinking the size of the opportunity horizons that could be investigated and linked.
Conflicting needs and holding positions
Often within any debate it is difficult for many individuals to change perspectives; they can’t even change their ‘established’ opinions even when they are being confronted with overwhelming evidence. They ‘dig in’ and become dogmatic, resort to well established and tested fear tactics. Those old chestnuts come trotted out about “complexity, fast changing market conditions, uncertainties of key clients, the downturn effects, our limited resources” etc, etc. to hold their favoured position and deliver their ‘push back’ in exchanges like this. No one ends up the winner or loser, it just becomes a further stalemate
Mental dexterity or imposing my authority becomes the choice for the CEO
The debate has gone on well past its allotted time, the issues were getting caught up in more personal attacks and suddenly innovation becomes the ‘whipping boy’ for some of these disjointed failures occurring. Cool heads have left the room, replaced by accusation and counter accusation and rising tempers.
Suddenly the CEO springs into life, he has listened, observing and considering his options. The first idea he had was one of ‘how can I sack the lot’, but this was quickly dismissed as not sensible, because around this table was the best available talent for tackling their given areas of specialisation. When this team combined it was ‘awesome’ was often made as comments from independent observers. He recognized his job was to orchestrate this ‘tension’ into a more positive set of dynamics.
The choice he had to make was between the ‘carrot or the stick’. He could impose his opinion quiet strongly and had been known for this ‘stick’ approach many times, he actually had become quite legendary for ‘shredding’ both the good and the bad. This time he hesitated.
Recently he had been going through his own discovery of what made up his mindset with a personal coach. The meetings had been brutally honest, still ongoing, and were open and mind shifting as they could be, between two people who had shared experience, enjoyed each other’s life experiences and how they arrived at this point. So he took the option that he saw was the right one – the one that seeks and cajoles, that shifts perspectives and given mindsets.
Learning different approaches can change perspectives
Gently he brings order around the board table. He asks a series of open-ended question “where does innovation contribute to strategy,” “where can it contribute more?”, “what is holding US back from delivering on this promise?”, “why can’t we realize this potential?” and finally “how can WE change this?”. Each question slowly reduces the negative tensions and replaces it with a positive, unifying set of positive tensions, the issue has moved from the ‘you or me’ into the’ us’ frame of thinking.
He begins to draw out the expertise around the table, he gets each to appreciate the proficiency of the other, and he draws out a ‘string’ of positive contributions. The individuals around that table only minutes ago clearly at each other’s throats, have united in finding plausible answers to these questions.
Applying the appropriate intervention
Suddenly the atmosphere changes with the deftness of this intervention. It has not imposed, it has sought out, through asking the experts within the room to tap into their areas of knowledge. The debate begins to move faster and faster, one good idea contributing to another, feeding off, building from and breaking down the issues that hold innovation back in its contribution to strategic direction.
He takes one further step, he reminds each person on the three horizon framework they had all been introduced too fairly recently. (see below for links). “What we have to remind ourselves is that each Horizon needs different mindsets for innovation”.
The third horizon, the more futuristic one, is really different to how we are managing innovation in the current system and its management. That horizon (3) is motivated by vision, value and beliefs. Whereas the one we call the intermediate one (H2), which straddles between the present and the future is more an entrepreneurial mindset, attempting to anticipate changing values and detect the shifts in the market place and as these become clearer, they can lead into the H3 world.
Suddenly the discussion has significantly shifted. The focus has become one of applying different mindsets to approaching and linking innovation to strategic direction, depending on the challenge, complexity and time and by so doing they start sharing uncertainties that contribute even more positively to the debate that need resolution.
Respected solutions and changing context.
Dogma’s can also be extremely positive, they can reinforce solutions, they can underpin approaches that can shape and influence very different attitudes and beliefs. In introducing a framing approach that moves the discussion beyond, into the current drivers of innovation, then the trending aspects that can shape what an organization works upon, and finally, those emerging aspects that remain ‘sketchy’ but does have potential strategic implications, brings a galvanizing change. They keep looping back where they can, recognizing where they need further understanding or just placing a ‘watch’ on that aspect.
Innovation is suddenly linked to a process of change and strategic direction options, that lifts the debate into a series of plausible and coherent set of activities. This focuses the energy around the table on to the defining, yet opening debate, of linking the future work to the shape and the organization’s needs, making the debate as strategic as it can be.
Find out how you can change the tone of any board debate around innovation
Take a little time and view the series on the Three Horizon Framework either on this blog by entering into the search field under “three horizons” or through the series published on the Innovation Excellence site. If you start here under the opening one of five within the series of “Have you considered the three horizon approach” (http://tinyurl.com/c6fed9c ) and then further releases each day during the period that follows this first one dated 31st July 2012.
I can’t promise it can stop all the unhealthy debates around innovation in the boardroom by adopting the Three Horizon framework. What it might change is the perspective of where to focus the expertise and energy to make innovation far more the strategic bedrock, that organizations are looking to achieve, the link towards a healthier future. It’s not personal any more, its considering options in a future-orientated way for their business, to find better ways to thrive not just survive.