Leaders need to engage and drive innovation

It continues to amaze me; actually it is depressing that although our business leaders constantly confirm that innovation is in their top three priorities yet they stay stubbornly disengaged in facilitating this across their organizations, especially the larger ones. Of course I am not suggesting this is all our business leaders but I would argue innovation and its ‘make up’ remains a mystery to nearly all our leaders. They are more than willing to allocate responsibility down the organization, failing to recognize their pivotal role in managing or orchestrating innovation engagement themselves, or even ensuring the mechanisms are fully in place. Why is this?

Time and time again you read one report after another, about the leadership gap in innovation or issues relating to innovation disconnecting from the top of the organization. You can read reports from Booz, Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting, the Conference Board, Harvard Business Review, IBM, A T Kearney, A D Little and many others all reporting issues and gaps in connecting innovation at the top of our organizations. Can they all be wrong, if not then why aren’t our CEO’s listening? Why are we not resolving this and only just keep reporting it?

In March of this year Capgemini Consulting and IESE issued their report called the “Innovation leadership study” and this went deeper than most into the problems.

The study revealed that “the absence of a well-articulated innovation strategy is by far the most important constraint for companies to reach their innovation targets.”

In the report they mentioned not just the lack of many formal mechanisms were missing but the total environment for innovation was missing this explicit innovation strategy. That is a serious failure at the top of organizations in my opinion. How can leaders expect innovation if they remain unclear of their role and function in facilitating and encouraging it? Can this change?

A collaborative effort

Jeffrey Phillips of Ovo Innovation and myself have collaborated on a number of different innovation frameworks over the last twenty-four months or so. These have been  to offer concepts or frameworks that we felt were missing or needed explaining. We have set about the offering up of possible solutions to reduce much of this ‘mystery’  that seems to still surround innovation.

As we shared and exchanged views, we have mutually recognized our personal frustrations on this continued leadership gap towards innovation. This has been triggered even more by this Capgemini report and so we decided on a way forward as our ‘tipping point’ to set about studying this and seeing if we could find a solution to this innovation leadership issue.  Or at the very least, advance this recognition, beyond debates from this constant recognition of a problem, into offering an emerging framing on the ways to begin to resolve this.

A soft launch will happen offering our integrated innovation ‘framing’ as a solution.

We think we have now arrived at a further tipping point and will ‘soft’ launch the integrated innovation framework this coming weekend, starting Sunday 9th September 2012. We will build within a series of seven articles, one per day over a week, which we believe make up the component parts. We will attempt to explain what we see as an integrated executive innovation framework that will be delivered through a work mat methodology approach. These articles will be published initially through www.innovationexcellence.com to gain an audience of innovators and then will be taken out further by our two respective organizations in further field work, validation and consultation.

I recently wrote a series of articles in August and one is perhaps worth reading again, this is “From a buzzword to the imperative.” In this I discuss this need for a framework and then go on and explore different components within a series of subsequent articles, that I felt needed leadership attention.

The present argument needs moving on and resolving

There is no argument surely that we need to break into this leadership gap around innovation? We need to offer suggestions towards their role, to address this lack of engagement or awareness? We need to provide an organizing framework that achieves alignment into the organizations goals and provides the structure across innovation that can ‘cascade’ down and across an organization. The end aim is that so all those involved within the organization, or closely associated with it, can relate too and ‘gather’ around an overarching framework, articulated and constructed from the top, that guides innovation.

We want to narrow this leadership gap and organization understanding so as to achieve a specific connection between leaders and their role in how they can facilitate and bridge this clear divide and present seen ‘impediment’ for innovation. The leaders of organizations are no different from all the employees working within the company, they are all looking to secure a sustaining future and participate in a vibrant one that primarily comes from the innovation engine needed for all businesses and economic growth. The contribution of the leaders within organizations falls mainly on defining their role, laying out its parts in a coherent way for all to relate too. We believe this framework approach can be one of the primary organizing ways for that engagement and identification so much needed.

Tune in please and we certainly hope you can relate to what we are offering

We believe this integrated framework will require some real leadership engagement but we believe the outcome can offer four significant benefits:

  1. The framework can create cohesion and consistency of innovation purpose that will reduce many existing barriers and uncertainties around innovation
  2. As the leadership does become engaged this will demonstrate a significant commitment and promise that will certainly increases the visibility of innovation, lowers risks, encourages more involvement and generation of better ideas.
  3. The framework itself will generate work flows that connect, become more dynamic to explore and promote the innovation skills, capabilities and competencies needed. They become more cohesive, coordinated and focused
  4. As the framework connects, in its understanding and as its impact grows, we certainly believe confidence builds. Both formal and informal areas are addressed in parallel, growing all-round identification and alignment.

A challenging road to travel

To get to this tantalizing promise needs a lot of recognition, engagement, investment and commitment. You don’t suddenly arrive at enacting such a change without some ‘hard yards’ to cover and tough issues to resolve.

We are only at the starting point by offering this integrated innovation framework. We have confidence it will help, what we need is the right audience to listen and simply say “I get it.” For the leaders, to hopefully see its organizing value and fit and their critical role to play in supporting innovation through this organizing and integrated framework so the organization initiates and delivers what is expected, better than today.

Do we see bumps on the way, of course, do we feel they can be navigated, again of course; otherwise you don’t start the journey. We are equipping ourselves for some demanding challenges.

We continue to invest in this framework as we see it does offer real potential

We feel this period of research, investment and consistently exchanging between us both has certainly increased in intensity over the last six months. We have built a structure; a methodology and a guiding set of approaches that help facilitate and provide the CEO and his leadership team with a way to radically reduce that innovation leadership gap.

We can offer a clear ‘way forward’ for engagement and alignment that can help, perhaps radically, the organization to establish innovation firmly into the minds of the boardroom and their vital role to play within this real need for all to engage in.

We seek to bridge the innovation leadership gap

All I can do at this stage is ask you to please explore this series of articles, don’t rush to judge and dismiss, take the more explore and reflect, approach. We simply want you to have a similar identification and equally ‘I get it, maybe we need it’ at this stage. We hopefully begin to bridge the innovation leadership gap and the role they need to play and we feel we offer a way to address the lack of innovation leadership that is clearly ‘out there missing’ in nearly all organizations.

In organizations this needs internal discussions to recognize this ‘gap’ and then gain the leaderships attention to how this can be addressed. The proposed integrated innovation framework might be the place to start and our arguments might be the catalyst.

We launch our “emerging thoughts” in this series of articles on the different innovation domains needed to be explored at the leadership level, this coming weekend 9th September 2012, and each day, during that week. We outline these through the frameworks different domains themselves. Do take a look and I hope you agree, we offer a way forward and are wanting to engage and deploy this framework to the leadership of innovation.

43 thoughts on “Leaders need to engage and drive innovation

  1. Pingback: Leaders need to engage and drive innovation | Technology and Leadership in Education | Scoop.it

  2. Paul, this is an admirable effort and I wish you well. However, in this field of innovation management, we frequently ignore history and what we already know. It’s not new knowledge that we need–it’s recognition of the obvius and doing something about them. As a former Director of Discovery Research for Dow Chemical, I led a study for the Center for Creative Leadership’s Association for Managers of Innovation group which attempted to figure out why so many major corporations’ innovation programs failed and their leaders looking for new jobs. This study can be found at: http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/ci/31/i11/html/11hipple.html In my lifetime I have seen the cycle of innovation and survival/cost cutting go through two complete cycles and it looks like we’re about to start again. Six months in the lab or a study will save you atg least an hour in the library.

    We too often ignore the people side of innovation. All the programs and processes in the world will not succeed if there is not an understanding (note that I did not say alignment–people are different) of the differences in how people socially relate and how they approach problems.


    • Jack,

      Jack of course you have seen it go around the houses many times. We still see so many disconnects, what a pity but lets hope (if that is enough) or believe we can move some of the boulders placed in the way. all the best


      • There are two other interesting aspects of this discussion that aren’t on the table yet and I haven’t seen discussed in many other innovation blogs. First, all the participants in these discussions are by consultants and no one from industry ever participates. Why?

        Second, in my work, I see a large difference in attitude (long term vs. quarterly focus) between publicly traded companies and privately held companies who do not have to reportr quarterly results to all of the analysts. S.C. Johnson would be an example of such a company. This distinction would make an interesting study.


      • It is frustrating that the actual community that is working innovation, stays silent on so many forums or discussions on innovation. Notable execeptions are where leaders of innovation initiatives have their onw blogs or deliver ‘thinking’ pieces into some of the established innovation knowledge sites. I know many read the articles but feel often ‘constrained’by who they work for and not feeling they can participate, even if the views expressed are theirs or feel sometimes a little daunted entering into areas they feel they lack that broader experience, both constraints are a great pity. Perhaps the number of consultants or ‘experts’ drown out the voices from industries and often provide conflicting advice that can leave many simply confused, it is better to just get on with what you are doing. Equally they feel they don’t have the time or intellectual curisosity and simply just get within the bounds of what they can influence or apply their energies. Not an easy one to resolve

        The pressures between public traded companies and private do seem to offer clear differences on how they view the world on the surface but they compete alongside each other for the attention of the final abitrator, the customer. Internally, different frustrations operate, viewing often the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ but the ones who have worked both sides of the fence know, often they are not, just different.

        The issue for me, is not one or the other, it is how you treat innovation in ITS different time horizons. Much of that determination is the view from the top, the culture, the market position, the belief (or not) or what innovation provides, so attitudes I feel (within innovation) come more not from being one type of company or the other (public or private) but that belief that permutates from the engagement of the leadership and recognizing (or not) where innovation fits. If there is a gap between a vision, the strategy and the ability to execute this then the results, by quarter or by year is defined by the inability to extract from within the organization.

        Attitude, Jack and determination and that vision make the big difference. Pressures come from many difference sources


  3. Paul – I agree with everything that Jack has shared and will try to point out a couple of other factors.

    To start “Leaders” are usually very busy. Many of them speed read emails, only listen to pieces of presentations and glean what they can as quickly as possible to identify where there biggest problems are. They do this to spend their dedicated time trying to fix these areas and are looking for immediate fixes to get things moving again.

    Leaders who embrace innovation and elicit new ideas from their people have a different mindset. They are willing to fail for the chance to succeed. The risks associated with this can cost you your career, especially if it’s not valued by your GM/CEO Senior Leadership Team. We typically value do-ing rather than thinking.

    So by the time a typical leader is willing to accept innovation and creativity as skills necessary for his team he has already constructed a team that does not understand “How” to think this way…and is usually unwilling to pay for training and facilitation to help. He or She thinks that anyone can create new ideas and they need to have the team work harder not smarter. Put in more hours rather than sponsoring external collaboration to increase synergy.

    You are engaging the right audience to discuss it – when you can create a dialog environment where I can be “right”, and you can also be “right”…and others can listen without thinking that one of us is “wrong” we have a community of thinkers willing to understand the real Leadership challenges based on a premise and philosophy of “It Depends”. Sometimes we don’t know the answer and need to ask others for their thoughts.

    I have a newsletter that discusses some of this at http://www.rockypeaklc.com/newsletter6.html and have another that is in construction now on “Leading the Qualitative and Quantitative Determination of Ideas”

    -Dr. Dale S. Deardorff


    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. We do need to engage firstly within the innovation community as they are the ones to provide the voice to the CEO and leadership on where they can help and support. Lets see, firstly engagement, then recognition and then…..perhaps


  4. Thanks for this post Paul. We at Brightidea believe senior leadership support is critical and success often depends on how well innovation initiatives are aligned with the larger corporate strategy. If an innovation program is not in sync with strategic priorities the framework is not set to sustain engagement overtime, facilitate better ideation and follow through on implementation. Our library of case studies may also be useful for your audience to learn more on successful innovation programs at top global companies including GE, Cisco, BT among others: http://www.brightidea.com/customers-case-studies.bix


  5. Paul (and Jeffrey), thanks for your efforts in this area. As with all persistent problems, assessment and diagnosis are crucial to effective identification of solutions. Senior leadership is a critical element in the success of any initiative that seeks to introduce change to an organization and one that demands a clear-eyed fortitude.

    Too many leaders are distracted by the simple solution and frustrated by the fact that their complex problems are not resolved. For many the notion of inviting disruption into the systems and processes that they have often spent careers building and protecting is anathema, and the risk acceptance and resilience capacity necessary to embrace it is too often missing in action. There is much work to be done.

    I think you will find many of us willing to explore this issue with you. Your frameworks will serve as an excellent departure point for the current set of compelling and crucial conversations in this area.


    • Drew, it is such a persistent problem, as we say, it has become a boil on the back of our neck, it needs to be ‘lanced’. Of course there is so much to distract leaders, they are pulled in so many different directions but you don’t delegate growth, new wealth creation, your future to others. Presently many of our leaders simple do that!
      There is much work to be done, I call this the new work of this decade and this only comes through innovation. Leaders need to get it!
      Lets hope we provide a sufficient departure point not just more of the same ‘talking shop’ that those we want to listen, simply are not.


  6. Even worse, all too often they send mixed messages that unintentionally impede innovation.

    I once worked in an organization that began an “ideas program” at the corporate office. As it happened, I was submitting 70 or 80% of the ideas received. At each bi-monthly all staff meeting, the CEO or the Exec. VP would spend at least 5 minutes exhorting people to submit ideas, then make fun of me for submitting so many – totally oblivious to the mixed message they were sending.


    • Robin, you touch one of those ‘raw’ nerves, the lack of recognition that mixed messages ‘freeze and discourage’ yet thankfully people like you and many others still push through these ‘head winds’. Lets trust leaders ‘get it’ soon in all its needs to put into place to make innovation really work


  7. I wrote a short book [ Power House] published on Blurb.com on this issue (http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3479759).

    The real problem is that people assumed that the knowledge in their current Knowledge Products would see them through to retirement, so they didn’t work on replacements, next: people ignored the decay of current knowledge leadership; then we didn’t recruit people to be CEOs who understood these issues, we recruited Stabilisors at the expense of Navigators. This has been made worse by the artificial growth curves of the last 15 years based on government borrowed money. It’s arguable that if we removed the artificial growth, the relative rate of growth in the boom years was around 1.5% pa.

    Finally, we need to understand that innovation is a political act. This explains everything. Tools and frameworks are useful, but we need to understand the psychology as well.


  8. Thank you Paul for a very interesting and informative post. My experience with innovation in companies (water, nature protection and engineering companies) is exactly as you state. I am in full agreement with your integrated innovation framework as a positive step forward.

    My rather negative experience has prompted me to design a national system, with governmental buy-in and support, to capture innovative ideas – in this case applied to low carbon innovation but it could apply to any sector. The vision is to create a free government-financed service and toolkit centred on a Innovation Digital Platform (IDP) to support increased technology innovation within a country as a whole.


    • Good to hear from you Patrick, been a while, I assume lost in deepest Africa! We need to change the thinking at the top on innovation. Lets hope we can move the debate froward into a momentum of making change in this essential focal area (at the top)


  9. You are absolutely right. Leaders need to engage and drive innovation. Many leaders talk the innovation talk but then they delegate responsibility and neglect the projects so that they can get on with pressing business issues. Their intentions are good but they underestimate the high-level attention that innovation needs.


    • Hi Paul,
      In many ways it does not necessarily need a high-level of attention, it needs the right level to allow it to be seen, related too and organized around- an organizing framework that is delivered from the top as the shaping mechanism for innovation. There are many examples of these for finance, marketing, brand management, investment criteria that get built into the fabric of the organization- there is a gap, a need for articulating one for innovation in my opinion


  10. Hi Paul

    We look forward to your framework. I agree there is a problem and that most leaders don’t “walk the talk”. Some don’t even talk the talk.. My thoughts:

    * Innovation is a means to the end of better performance and better results. We all know that when well managed and linked to company strategy innovation clearly contributes to superior results. Participants in this conversation are probably more personally passionate about the challenges and rewards of innovation than others.
    * Innovation involves risks and requires risk management, as opposed to risk minimisation. Most businesses, and the boards that leaders report to, prefer risk minimisation. Given the most common management responses to turbulence (more control) and the time needed to put positive innovation strategies and cultures in place (2-3 years) we should not be surprised that, with the exception of companies where a culture of innovation has been established, innovation programs have a chequered history.
    * CEOs have different leadership strengths and their leadership team is at least as important as their own personal leadership for the success of their business. It follows that CEOs do not need to personally lead innovation. (Obviously the task does not appeal to many.) However, if they are serous about innovation they will ensure that one person on their leadership team has responsibility and authority for leading innovation.


    • Hi Darryl, your points as always make sound sense. I don’t think we need the CEO to personally lead but to show their personal commitment, involvement and engagement is another. If they want growth then innovation needs to be not on their agenda but within their minds, they need to show commitment to it. Hand it across to one of the team, the day to day but the strategic connection and alignment is their responsibility to decide and drive, otherwise it remains a guessing game of what the CEO thinks if they are not involved in framing this and seen as doing this


  11. Congratulations to you Paul, and Jeffrey in advancing a framework in a co-ordinated way for management innovation inside corporations.

    Large corporations lack real guidance on innovation as a whole of life process. 2thinknow offer training in this, but innately small and mid enterprises innovate more than most. Undoubtedly there would be some similarity in our thinking in what I have seen. Right now we are focussed on certain subsets like innovation by cities/locations, location and industry data, startups.

    So, I think it will be interesting for you to do what you are doing, and I think the timing is good.

    Keep innovating!

    Christopher Hire
    Exec Dir, 2thinknow


  12. Great initiative, Paul and Jeffrey! And absolutely spot on…

    I think what you (and many reports) highlight reflects the tension most executives face: basically understanding the importance of innovation but failing to implement and execute it properly.

    In my opinion, two issues are particularly crucial here:
    – Strategic approach: strategic thinking, and even more executing strategies in parallel to daily business is essential. This requires a shared understanding of what innovation means for the organization and how it is related to the overall strategy. Both needs to be driven top-down.
    – Behaviour change: Pursuing innovation strategy needs balancing of short term vs. long term thinking and reliability vs. experimentation. This kind of integration needs to be personified by a CEO to serve as role model.

    The conclusion of the following article nails it:
    “if company leaders don’t ‘get’ innovation by doing it themselves, the rest of the organization doesn’t stand a chance.”

    Looking forward to your series of thoughs on the “Strategic Framework”.


    • I pick up on two crucial worlds you use Ralph- approach and change- both of these need combining in the leaders thinking around innovation. They, the leader and his team, need a fresh approach to innovation and to achieve this they need to change their thinking of their role to achieve this. I hope this forthcoming series engages the innovation community to beat down the door of their leaders, who need to listen and offer some of the thoughts we outline as a way forward. We look forward to hearing your views and others, equally wanting and sensing a timing for change, so we can build on this series even more. Thanks for the time to be who you are “a reflective person” that considers and offers so others gain a better understanding.


  13. Hi Paul,
    a great initiative and I’m sure this will turn into a real vade-mecum for us believing in and driving innovation. But, I’m afraid it will not cause the C-suite to change its behavior and approach to innovation. Two key reasons:

    The demand for short-term profits nearly always wins the day. Top executives are under enormous pressure to produce strong financial results each and every quarter. This is the area where they are rewarded for producing results, and their job security increasingly depends on it.

    Top executives are risk-averse. But innovation is scary. Most senior business leaders made it to the top of big companies because they were successful as (current) problem solvers, not as innovators. They are not that interested in considering a new business model or going after an amazing yet high-risk breakthrough when that may undermine their current profitable business. And who wants to risk having a major innovation effort fail on their watch?

    Why are top executives behaving like this? In the end, they are very smart people who made it to the top. The answer: It’s about their survival at the top. They think (and they are mostly right) that investors and shareholders are expecting exactly the results their current behavior is most likely to produce: predictable and continuous growth of share holder return. A proof point: The impact of quarterly reporting on stock prices.

    In our crusade for more innovation we need to target the investor and shareholder community in addition to the C-suite. If they demand more (real) innovation, top executives will listen and act accordingly.


    • You strike at the heart of the problem. Getting the senior business leader looking more towards innovation, it will happen as you say if one targets the wider community (investor and Shareholder) even the end customer voting with their feet. Thankfully survival is changing as tenure reduces and something will eventually ‘give’ to alter their risk appetite. In some ways we are not wanting to change their behavior, more change their engagement and alignment to innovation that goes on. The link between strategy and innovation, if we can reduce this gap then it begins to ‘appeal’ to the leader- one less problem- greater utilization- tighter performance which does play into their short term performance mindset.

      If they can set the frameworks more, still stand back and make the necessary judgement calls then we have shifted the ground. If they engage even more and become more comfortable with increasing risk by increasing their understanding, again there is a real gain.

      Change comes from dramatic events: crisis, poor performance, competitors suddenly changing the game- having a better frame helps for this. Equally the incremental, drip feed, keep performance steady and accepted by the investors gets strengthened the more the CEO engages and aligns their operations to manage innovation more efficenty equally requires a better understanding of the framing and make up of innovation. Engagement becomes key here. often we should talk of ‘shades of grey’ not lurch between black and white.

      Getting the C-suite to listen, to engage in more innovation needs shifting their understanding of the role they can play, providing it meets with the ability to maintain and improve performance. The innovation premium is recognized but still understated for many to feel the need to change. Pushing the innovation premium gets their attention, offering a framework that helps them understand innovation can (hopefully) only help

      regards and thanks for your considered thoughts


    • I agree, as I said earlier. We are trapped in a contradiction, it doesn’t matter what framework you offer “leaders”, if they really were leaders they would be doing it anyway, irrespective of an tools offered. The problem is, how do you sell innovation to people who got to the top without being required to understand or even “want” to do it?


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