What can executives do to lead their business units and the company as a whole to become more innovative? How can they innovate on how the company innovates? What can corporate innovation teams do to better educate their executives on innovation?
A key thing is that many executives might understand the issues related to these questions, but they lack simple, practical advice to make things happen.
I am working on a list of such advice. Here are my starting points. It is work in progress and your input is highly appreciated.
• Meet the corporate innovators. Corporate innovators not only have external issues to deal with. Internal bureaucracy and power-struggles can be just as difficult. Executives can really make a difference on the latter if they have a better understanding on what is going on. They need to talk more with corporate innovators in order to understand their issues. They also need to talk with the middle-managers as they are often the key to solving these issues.
• Get personally committed. Find a group of people and get personally involved in what they are doing. Help them remove their barriers for making innovation happen. This is a natural next step after meeting the corporate innovators.
• Expand the horizon. Have the innovation unit develop a learning curriculum (collection of articles and blog posts) that is relevant for the innovation issues in the company. Spend at least one hour a week reading and working with this material.
• Maintain the overview. Once executives have gotten a better understanding of the innovation efforts, capabilities and issues in the company, they should organize – or at least attend – frequent meetings aimed at helping them maintain this overview.
• Create a learning culture. Launch and/or support initiatives that lead to more experimentation and appreciate failure as a part of learning. Executives need to accept that they sometimes need to let go of things in order to create the right conditions for innovation to flourish.
• Become a better networker. You cannot have a strong innovation culture without a strong networking culture. Executives can lead the way and show that they are good networkers. This can be defined as having a strategy/purpose (explain to others why you network), an understanding of the right tools (network physically as well as virtually) and a willingness to invest in this (networking takes time).
• Go beyond the usual suspects. Executives have a tendency to select the usual suspects when they need to get important things done. They are most often people with a strong track record of creating results within the company. However, innovation is more unpredictable and not business as usual. Different perspectives are needed to succeed. Look beyond the usual suspects and be willing to take some risks.
• Break down corporate rules and procedures. Any company of a certain size needs rules and procedures to make the big machine function well. However, these rules and procedures often hinder innovation. Occasionally, executives need to take a look at them with the purpose of understanding their impact on innovation and change them if needed.
• Ask more questions. Be more curious. Executives can develop a set of questions that can help them develop a better understanding of innovation. Ask them frequently at different meetings.
• Check if you are on track. Define a simple set of metrics that can help executives know whether they are moving in the right direction.
Let me know what you think of this and please add your own suggestions on how executives can become even better at innovation.