Moving innovation into our Core- Part One

Innovation at the CoreInnovation has sat outside the core of organizations central systems for long enough. Arguably this lack of being a core central focus holds the deeper understanding of innovation back.

A core that could offer up the sustaining value and contribution innovation can make, into the growth and future well-being of organizations and having available the level of resources and commitments it needs. Today innovation seems to be falling short in delivering on its promise. Why?

A three part series on rethinking the management of the innovation system.

Part one, building the business case of needed change in how we manage innovation.

Those constant top level concerns need finally addressing

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Are you engaging with all the different voices around you?

How do we manage future discussions

Having different perspectives and voices will enhance your innovation activities, they provide diversity, stimulus and greater options for you to consider the future innovation journey. How do we set about engaging with all these different voices surrounding innovation?

Have you ever worked with the three horizon framework?

It is really useful for managing your innovation activities, drawing out the often conflicting voices within the organization on how to take innovation forward. The approach can unlock you from just being caught in the present, to one of envisaging a future that then allows you to begin to build different capabilities, competencies and capacities.

Find out more here and here and here on the three horizons or within this blog site put “three horizon approach ” into the search box. You will find  I have provided a considerable overview in different posts thoughts on the 3H thinking and why I place such value in it for innovation’s evolution.

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One really big issue is aligning strategy and innovation, right?

Executive Work MatAchieving innovation alignment always needs clear framing.

I would argue most problems or disappointment with our innovation efforts can be attributed to a lack of alignment to the organizations strategy and/or its poor governance with our end results. Here I am suggesting a way to overcome this constant frustration.

Poor strategic alignment can be overcome by working through a comprehensive approach to addressing all areas that impact innovation. One such framework I believe can help, as explained here, through the work mat approach.

I  believe this work mat approach does moderate and organize innovation for greater alignment.  It allows for the senior management to become engaged and shape the direction as it takes a more holistic approach. The work mat contains governance as specifically part of its framing as this can do far more in driving the conditions to innovate.

The intent with developing this work mat approach has been to clearly set out that much-needed ‘greater’ strategic connection through engagement at a senior level, they drive the outcomes, they provide understanding beyond the vision to make the neccesary connections, they fuel the engine and ignite the energy that innovation needs.

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Seeking strategic and innovation alignment conversations

Alignment of Strategic Innovation ConversationsInnovation stands in service to the strategic goals of our organization, or it certainly should!

The first thing is you need to have a solid, thoughtful conversation around the type of strategic emphasis you wish to achieve from your innovation activity, how will it support the organizations strategic direction..

These can be aligned to general strategic needs such as growing market share, differentiation and disrupting adjacent markets, serving the consistent changing and demanding customer needs, or by honing the delivery process, by spotting those and then exploiting them rapidly and effectively. All these become alignment conversations.

Creating clear goals and linking / aligning innovation to those, gives a more agile top-level strategy dialogue as a vital step before you get into the actual innovation concept – delivery stage. Senior executives must establish the manner in which innovation fits within the strategic context established by goals, vision and strategies.

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Developing talent to drive innovation

Talent for innovation visual 1I recently participated in a survey for APQC that was looking to identify the hot topics within product development and innovation. One or two hot spots surprised me, others less so.

In the round-up of results almost two-thirds of survey respondents have placed refining the identification of customer needs and remaining competitive in terms of profit at the top of their product development agendas. I like the increasing emphasis on identifying customer needs

Among the potential research areas respondents were asked about, they felt that developing talent to drive innovation was the most important. The second one was around rapid product development: How to Move Products to Market Faster.

The one that really caught my eye was organizations have allocated the most funds to improvement in developing talent to drive innovation. This is heartening but also a worry.

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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.

Interpreting the Strategic Discussion for Innovation

The struggle for innovation alignment is one of those real challenging issues that are seemingly very hard to resolve, or so it seems. I’m not setting out a comprehensive solution here, well not in this blog, of the suggested ways to address this strategic/innovation alignment issue, as that is far more complex. All I will offer at this point of time is this alignment concern is becoming increasingly top of my mind.

Constructing an innovation conversation framework

What I am offering here is an innovation conversation framework, on how we can approach different strategic value propositions, and where we might need to debate these across the organization, as the points of impact so we can make this move towards a higher degree of innovation alignment.

If we take the three ‘classic’ strategic thrusts of product leadership, operational excellence or customer intimacy, just for illustrative purposes here, then we need to make clear the potentially different emphasis points within any suggested innovation approach that we should take. We must, within any innovation approach, be clear on what and where we should be placing our primary focus.

Aligning innovation within a strategic conversation framework

This framing can be most useful to remind people who are involved that there are significant points of difference. There is a need to agree and align on what we are driving our innovation activity to support any selected strategic direction. This framework can really open up the discussion. It can begin to show the possible implications and challenges ahead.

Equally some might argue that you actually need to combine all three, well I’d certainly want to question that really hard on whether this is possible all at the same time. I would really doubt it, if you just consider some of the aspects I’ve laid out within this framework above.

If it is still demanded, and some leaders can be just that, demanding,  I would suggest you really do need, even more, a framework to remind you of the critical differences and what aspects need clear focus to deliver to the distinct value proposition parts. Each strategic value proposition has significant implications to plan and work through.

Having a top picture in mind certainly helps

Having a top picture of the where to place your emphasis makes some sense. I’m not saying these shown are the ones you will have within your boxes but all I’m offering here, is a suggested framework that captures the key strategic emphasis points, so as you can engage in a deeper discussion before you launch yourself in blue yonder.

This framework can help you to contribute to achieving a greater alignment between the strategic direction (product leadership, operational excellence or customer intimacy) and the key innovation aspects that help to align to this that the organization will need to think about and work through.

Does it make sense to you?