Closing the innovation leadership gap

Closing the Innovation Leadership GapWe cannot get away from the reality that in most of our organizations we have a disconnect going on around innovation.

Research shows a lack of engagement around innovation by non-managers, also there are claims through studies that 7 out of 10 of employees do not understand how they can make a worthwhile contribution.

The cynicism around innovation has turned it into nothing more than a buzzword for many, not taken with the seriousness that it really deserves for sustaining growth within organizations and achieving broader engagement to make this happen.

Innovation is treated as more the opportunity taken when it fits and works, often toned down when it does not. There is often a total lack of sustaining strategic commitment to innovation.It is just not integrated into the core of the organization.

Even at the top there is a growing gap of translating and aligning innovation that many of the middle to senior managers struggle with articulating where innovation and strategy fit within the wider corporate goals. Innovation lacks a clear identifying mechanism for all to ‘pull towards’. To “connect” all within the organization with the intent, purpose, conditions and goals of innovation we need to align all the factors associated with innovation.

Some three years back I worked in collaboration with Jeffrey Philips of Ovo Innovation to build an integrated innovation framework, that is designed as a strategic part of the corporate boards’ need to deliver and cascade down the organization. The first intent was to bridge this innovation leadership gap, it needed to gain the leaderships attention that they needed to address this; they were the very people allowing a gap of critical understanding to how innovation fitted into the organizations plans.

I am repeating part of our thinking at that time here and I have specifically pulled out the importance of the leadership’s involvement as this should be where the integrated innovation framework should be designed, formulated and debated.

We called this integrated framework the Executive Innovation Work Mat

The concept of a Work Mat is to ‘wrestle’ over it, to debate and then deliver a formal workout methodology that provides the essential framing desired to be understood throughout the organization to align the innovation activities as much as possible to the strategic direction and goals. It provides the basis for a well-articulated innovation framework for the organization to work from.

Explaining the Executive Innovation Work Mat briefly

The Executive Innovation Work Mat approach has seven domains that need specifically describing by the leadership of an organization for innovation alignment.

Agility Innovation / Ovo Innovation . All rights reserved

These are to achieve a clear Strategic Alignment (domain one) as well as develop the context, the communication techniques and encourage an emerging common language (domain two).

Then we discuss the need for having the appropriate Structure, Processes and Functional design (domain three) and the importance of Governance (domain four).

The next two domains are Culture (domain 5) and the Environment (domain 6) and why these need to be worked through.

Finally we have the domain where People align with the motivations and measures (domain 7) for relating and delivering the appropriate innovation to align around this integrated innovation framework.

The intent is to reduce the gaps between innovation and the goals of the organization

It continues to amaze me, no, actually it is depressing, that although our business leaders constantly confirm that innovation is in their top three priorities, they stay stubbornly disengaged in facilitating this across their organizations, especially the larger ones, it is delegated down and that is a huge mistake.

It is our senior leaders within organizations that have the ability to:
• link innovation to strategy, and
• create focus, engagement and passion for innovation, and
• direct funds and resources to good innovation programs, and
• speed good ideas to market as new business models, products and services, and
• ensure the processes and relevant metrics exist so innovation is sustainable and integrated.

In mid-sized and large companies, leadership and engagement from CEOs and senior executives are vital to achieve innovation success and a common sense of identity. We hear leaders want innovation to happen, that what is more consistently, more purposefully and with better result but don’t understand their enabling role in making this happen.

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

If an organization has no explicit innovation strategy and fails to align this across the organization, then is it so unexpected that innovation continues to disappoint us, failing to deliver into the goals that consistently are developed and circulated across the organization?

Until we resolve this major gap in innovation alignment we hold innovation back

The consequences of the gap are significant:

• Poor execution of innovation goals;
• Failure to achieve strategic goals;
• Limited organizational design to sustain innovation;
• The growth of disbelief or cynicism when innovation isn’t pursued.

Senior Executives fail to fill this vital role for articulating the innovation journey

Often it is the case senior executives fail when they:

• are unaware their vision needs to be framed into a compelling message;
• don’t understand the importance of their role in communicating and motivating;
• miss articulating the value, importance and benefits to both the company and the individual;
• don’t resolve the ‘hearts and minds’ in engagement that innovation requires;
• are unable to set out an overall framework for innovation and define its value creation;
• delegate the role to others who don’t have the power to execute and compromise too readily;
• are constrained in their role due to time pressures and/or competing initiatives;
• fail to shape, inspire or clarify the necessary linkages and synergies across the company.

Understanding the importance of innovation, and the barriers that innovation will encounter, helps define key activities an innovation senior executive must undertake, and what he or she must do to fill the role effectively. This leads to an important question: if innovation is strategically important, and if engaged senior executives are critical to innovation success,

Innovation can be especially challenging because it is so unfamiliar, often intangible, so potentially disruptive, full of possible risk and uncertainty and yet so important. It’s very nature, challenging all that is predictable, planned and complying to effective, repeatable and efficient processes and methods requires this top management’s attention.

Innovation requires change that can impact the status quo and disrupt the firm’s ability to maintain a constant focus on efficiency and effectiveness to achieve short-term financial goals. It can be an internal disruptor requiring different thinking, metrics and risk-evaluations. It is often hard to switch internal mindsets from ‘exploiting to exploring’

Only an engaged, committed senior executive can create a sustained innovation capability or discipline, yet many lack deep experience, awareness of the evolving tools and techniques and the real importance of their role within innovation.

Filling the innovation leadership gap is critical

For innovation to succeed broadly in any company, executives must sponsor and embrace innovation as a core discipline, built with a deep and evolving set of competencies, not as an ad hoc set of initiatives.

Senior executives must become fully involved; they must lead innovation through their own well-articulated vision of how innovation aligns. This informs people within the organization to understand why innovation is important, where they can fit in their contribution and what benefits it holds for each contributor, for the organization and for the customer and provides the potential for longer-term sustainability and the ability to open up the innovation dialogue to allow it to flow and gain increasing identification and organization alignment.


A series around the Innovation Executive Work Mat was recently featured by Hype Innovation discussing the Critical Aspects of an Innovation Vision, Explaining the Integrated Innovation Framework, Valuing and Introducing the Executive Innovation Work Mat and finally Building a Compelling Business Case for the Integrated Innovation Framework.

4 thoughts on “Closing the innovation leadership gap

  1. Bravo, well said Paul….. But recent experience has shown me that most importantly of all the senior exec needs to undergo a paradigm mind shift…a completely different way of thinking. Some CEOs have not even got the ability to think ‘innovation’

    Hope you’re keeping well.


    David Gooch

    Sent from my iPhone



    • David- in reply

      There are a number of reasons why senior executives can have difficulty filling an innovation leadership role, including:

      . Fixated on short term financial goals to the detriment of longer term opportunities;
      . difficulty balancing the complexities of “important” versus “urgent” tasks;
      . pressures of conflicting demands and other growing business issues that take priority;
      . convincing others to convert their vision and translating this into operational reality;
      . unfamiliar with the variety of innovation tools and frameworks;
      . unaware of the level of resistance and inertia that creates the roadblocks;
      . have an unclear or incomplete mental model about innovation and what it fully requires;
      . concerned about upsetting the status quo.


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