Identification sits at the core of innovation

There are so many aspects to get right in innovation. These can be ensuring the culture, climate and environment for innovation are working well, it could mean setting up processes, well-designed procedures and structures, it can be providing innovation governance. Each part has a vital part to play in being combined for innovation, so it can function but these are not the core. Our identification with innovation is that core.

The core lies in the scope and definitions, the context that innovation is set and the identification with these. How often do organizations fail because they rushed into innovation, along those classic lines of: “let’s experiment and learn as we go” as their mentality.  We fail because we don’t take the necessary time to examine the significant differences in innovation terminology, in the different ways or types of innovation, in gaining from ‘evidence based’ research and experimentation. What we expect to see from our day-to-day work seems not to apply to our innovation selection criteria. We experiment indiscriminately, poking a stick around the opportunity haystack looking for that elusive ‘golden’ needle.

Random selection and discarding practices

Organizations have been randomly selecting, then discarding practices constantly, in a never-ending search of more of other organizations best practices, without understanding what these truly entail, or what this truly requires in commitment. No wonder innovation continues to receive a bad ‘rap’ when you often have the innovation blind, leading the blind. There are so many facets within innovation that need a much deeper, extensive understanding that is so often lacking. We love to collect or synthesise and then quickly dismiss what doesn’t work, dispensing with some valuable utility on the way, as we move onto the next ‘complete’ package. Then the cycle repeats itself, perhaps not immediately but in its quiet eroding way that throws innovation even more into question and doubt.

Lost identities, lost opportunities

We have lost our identification, yet this one word strikes at the core of innovation as the essential to have. Everything we do should have an overly binding context to it. If we don’t place innovation within its appropriate framework we fail to contextualize our activities, the intended fit, which offers the real relationship we need. We need to fit our work to the strategic goals.  If this is simply missing then innovation is likely misfiring, or not hitting the targets because it is scatter-gun in approach and its interpretation.

Innovation cries out for an integrated innovation framework.

Offering an integrated innovation framework is the place where we can gain the necessary identification. It is central to what we should be doing; it establishes the boundaries within which innovation should take place. This is the one essential place for leadership engagement. If innovation is never placed in its context, then how do we expect the results often asked for by the CEO? Innovation is adrift, it is actually unsupported, and we don’t achieve that precious identification.

If we don’t  have provided that innovation framework, we leap into innovation, often in good faith, as asked, so we become often hyper-active as we all find our own ways forward. Eventually we stumble along and finally work out our own language and understanding of what innovation means, different to even the persons sitting at the next desk. Just take a look at all the different definitions of innovation you will find, just in one large organization alone. This lack of a clear context is so harmful we add further unnecessary complexity and over time frustrate the organization and confuse the majority.

People disconnect because they lack what is needed to connect! They continue to work hard, often very hard, but sometimes never truly understanding how their tasks and roles contribute to the strategic direction. We need to make sure each person makes their specific connections to an integrated approach for themselves. To achieve these connections you need a shared understanding, a common framework and a common language, to reduce the mental traps and misunderstandings of what innovation is individually meaning. We need everyone to try to get onto the same page.

Educating formulates the understanding

Educating, informing, clarifying constantly simply helps formulate understanding and aids execution. We need to find ways to communicate a common language, a common way to frame the needs expected from innovation.  That needs to come from the top of organizations and then built up by a growing contribution from all as they become engaged. If you can achieve this, you can move to a growing consensus but this takes time. You can eventually achieve a common identity that begins to move ‘mountains’ through collective achievement, that is both distinctive and unique to your organization. A uniqueness that can never be copied, perhaps just admired or envied.

CEO’s that are seen to be successful achieve connections, what is often called that emotional connection through describing the context, setting the values and vision driven criteria and by often pushing the organization towards ‘impossible goals’. It is amazing how this brings alignment as long as it is consistent, constant in its messages and widely shared and understood. Then the leadership makes it their business to position individuals and the decisions over what, where, when and how in the context of this, to allow them to make their decisions, as individuals and within their teams. Innovation activity becomes ‘orchestrated’ not micro-managed.

The value of the middle makes for the new connectors we need.

Middle managers tasks should be increasingly become more those of connectors and facilitators, not the guardians and gatekeepers for the decision makers.  Their work should include the encouragement that everyone is engaged in innovation work, for each person to constantly go back and check against this integrated innovation framework to work out their place to relate to this and become aligned. The middle manager carries through connection and identification.

Through this new work they achieve this ‘shared understanding’ or set about correcting any areas of concern through their own dialogues with senior managers of where any shifts have taken place or seem in conflict with the understanding. This is identification again, for it lies at the core of innovation. Making sure everyone has a ‘sight-line’ and identification into this innovation framework so they stay well-connected. Communication and relationships becomes the key.

Today we are living in a world of knowledge-intensive innovation

To build distinctive competences for sustaining those often elusive competitive advantages, is very much context specific. We need to provide learning events as competence is actually firmly embedded in the specific context in which it is created. If an organization lacks that context of innovation then how can it acquire the appropriate knowledge to give it any advantage? If the CEO and his leadership team can’t articulate the context, then they can’t expect winning at the innovation game. It is not their people failing to deliver innovation, it is them, as leaders, failing to deliver this integrated innovation framework where context sits and identification is gained to seek out knowledge-specifics needed.

Until the CEO identifies with his core role in innovation, the organization remains rudderless.  If he can’t supply what is expected, then it is more than likely the corporate strategy will be ignored, as it has not been placed in its appropriate context.  It fails because it is not communicate in ways that can be understood, it lacks personal identification.

Without the appropriate identification of the opportunities seen for growth not communicated then how can the right innovation be applied? Innovation stays disconnected to strategy. It is arbitrary based on interpretation and choice designated down the organization hoping it aligns. Context set in a clear framework for innovation changes that. It gives innovation a real chance to contribute.

Boundaries and Freedom

How we harness our innovation activity does not need the advocating of tighter controls, it needs articulating the potential and releasing people by underpinning how that will be managed through innovations organization. Ideally this can come through having a clear governance structure and providing the right environment that is needed, so as to allow others to do the work that needs to get done and see how they contribute in meaningful ways. Management’s dictates or rules should not stand in the way, they should be swept aside.  What should be put in that critical space is a common set of agreed organization definitions, a real clarity made up of what connects and why and then ensuring the resources are made available to achieve the innovation ‘called for’. This calls for a focused yet adaptive and flexible leadership, that constantly looks to engage and provides the clarity necessary within a corporate  innovation framework that can cascade down the organization. Leaders need to actively ensure through clear designation that everything is in place for all the appropriate conversations, and is equally ready and listening to the new ‘pulse’ of innovation, they are generating from this new intensity of focus.

Identification becomes the core to innovation

Eventually with enough of this leadership engagement, constantly being articulated and framed for the challenges identified, there emerges a common consensus and organizational language around innovation and its intent. It connects and gains both organization and personal identification and this ‘identification’ sits at the core of innovation.

We get closer to achieving a consistent, more vibrant innovation as it becomes more routine and embedded, for it becomes increasingly linked to everyone’s goals, a certain oneness and because of this, it is sustaining. We identify as we understand what our contribution will be, then the leadership has done its primary job, its aligned innovation purpose to the goals, by laying out the parameters to achieve this.

From a buzzword to the imperative

I keep coming back to the leadership of innovation; we need to move it from the peripheral to a more central one. This is not so much in a leader’s desire and need for innovation, which always seems well stated, but in their ability to lead it, to have it not just in their mind but in their real follow-through, in action and attitude, in their deepening engagement and involvement to it.

“Leadership for innovation can’t simply be delegated”, so tell me how many times have you heard that one? Yet it always seems to be pushed down the organization when you look a little closer. Running a day-to-day business, reacting to the events, achieving the performance to maintain the momentum, planning the future is demanding but innovation is absolutely central to sustaining and securing the future but does it really get enough of the CEO’s time? I think it should figure more in their time but how can this be achieved?

I certainly don’t envy global leaders in trying to balance all that is crowding in on them, that is making up their daily, weekly and monthly agenda’s. Something always has to give and innovation is one of those malleable parts whereas other more pressing ‘demands’ are more real, tangible and definitive and  innovation gets constantly squeezed out at the top. Regretfully for many it does seem innovation ends up as important but not urgent for them to focus upon.

The management of innovation is the management of attention.

I find this an interesting observation. Achieving the management of innovation requires the management of attention was a view outlined by Andrew H. Van, a Professor of Organizational Innovation and Change back in 1986,where it was suggested for management that “the awareness of need deteriorates and their action thresholds reach a level where only crisis can stimulate action as they gradually adapt to the environment.”

I interpret this as Innovation does seems to get gradually pushed back, on the agendas of the CEO and perhaps even the organizations, if the leader is not being actively engaged consistently in it. Nothing has changed today; we still are not achieving this innovation attention.  It slips down their crowded agenda’s as they deal with countless issues running a business. If their organization is in that crisis then innovation will have certainly have grabbed the CEO’s attention but by then it is often too late. We do need to manage innovation more strategically.

How can we change this?

Clearly what comes towards the CEO in ongoing issues does not go away, it only seems to increase in pace and complexity.  Of course, we can call for the CEO to clear the decks and embrace innovation as central in everything they do. I think this call for his attention is not wrong but possibly naïve with what is on their plate to manage.

Where we can demand in their attention is in providing a deeper personal commitment and clearer insight into their understanding of the need to structure innovation to all its necessary alignment points, so it can deeply integrated with the strategic goals looked for. For that to happen it needs articulating somehow.

Influencing and shaping innovation

What I’d like to see is a way where the leader can influence and shape the core structures required for innovation and provide the building blocks for the organization to work within. Something that sets out expectations of where innovation fits within the growth plans and defines critical areas that are essential for innovation to link into the strategy and organizations vision.

Perhaps you can call this an innovation foundation document; perhaps you can take this even further and shape it in a more exciting, compelling format that frames the linkages and synergies between strategy and innovation, between innovation and capabilities, between culture, the environment, the process, routines and how it should all be governed.

How about a leadership alignment framework that articulates where innovation fits?

Something that addresses the critical aspects of innovation to gain a crucial alignment across the organization that provides the strategic underpinning to performance. Its aim is to promote the freeing up of people by taking away many of the debating points around innovation and replace these with a strategic framing recipe, one that looks for the organization to use it, work within it and operationalize it.  This can be dynamic in that it ‘cascades’ up and down the organization as a communicating tool, it also becomes the meeting point to work through, the common language mediation that innovation so desperately needs for all to identify with, as well as the place to offer improving and evolving leadership engagement and guidance.

Can we ask for more?

The leader’s role is to provide guidance, strategic guidance, as well as to offer inspiration and clarity to capture the real essence of an organizations desire to innovation. If we can secure their attention through this strategic framework then it becomes their commitment document towards innovation.

If we can find a clear way for them to combine both the articulating and nurturing they believe is desired for innovation, so it can flourish, as well as offer specific ways to drive and measure this, we are heading in the right direction. Then I think we achieve something important. We draw the organization in and build the innovation activities around common and essential focal points. As we ‘grow’ the CEO’s involvement and attention through this suggested mechanism, this will have a significant impact on identification, commitment and understanding that will resonate throughout the organization and perhaps become more empowering to all.

A goal and its realization

Achieving a framework that builds structure, outlines both the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects and offers the overarching common communicating language is certainly achievable. Something that is clearly articulated from the top,  then cascaded down the organization for it to be further ‘fleshed out’ within the organization, would immeasurably help innovation in the alignment to strategic goals and required attention.

If we can provide a framework that can align, that can engage, and can offer a common set of references to refer too, clearly provided by the CEO and his team, then this surely would be a valuable contribution? It would bridge that often missing element of conveying the top managements desire and commitment to innovation’s momentum. This will work down the organization to plug into and generate that much-needed identification, to energize innovation as the ‘force’ essential for growth.

I want to discuss this further in the weeks ahead as I feel we can gain some much-needed traction on this as there is a clear leadership gap on innovation, no question. I think there is a good solution. Innovation does require a constant communicating and guidance from the top and in providing an innovation alignment framework of how this all is interrelated, we can achieve the attention of management strategically and that could be a huge thing.